For the past week the industry has been abuzz with news of Microsoft’s impending acquisition of Yammer. While the deal isn't official yet, we’ve already seen a lot of speculation on what it might mean for Microsoft customers, especially users of SharePoint. That's because the rumored acquisition is widely viewed as an attempt to bolster SharePoint’s social capabilities.
SharePoint has a lot of strengths as a content management system, and as a former member of the SharePoint product team, I'd be the last to say it's not a powerful tool. But its lack of features for social engagement has become a big liability, as I described in an earlier blog post.
At this point, I think Microsoft is acknowledging internally that the current version of SharePoint – as well as the next-generation “Wave 15” version, which is around the corner – doesn’t provide real social capabilities. The company is probably looking at Yammer as a way to close the gap
But can Yammer fill that need? Can you really bolt social on to a non-social product and magically solve all problems? There are many examples in the software industry of companies attempting to do so, but none has really succeeded. Even if a full-fledged integration could get SharePoint to that point, it would take years to have these two platforms truly act as one. The hurdles are big, since the underlying technologies are completely different. SharePoint is primarily sold as an on-premise platform and Yammer is a pure cloud player. Combining the two is so challenging that I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft decides to only integrate with SharePoint on the cloud and not the classic version.
In addition, Wave 15 is already frozen (moving to beta testing soon), and given Microsoft’s multi-year release cycle, a potential Yammer-fortified version isn’t in the cards until 2014 or 2015 at the earliest. So, in the meantime, we’re left with SP and Yammer as separate products with a very lightweight “web part-based” integration. But are they complementary, and what do you get when you use them together?
Sizing up the Pieces
Today, SharePoint primarily helps organizations manage their documents and build traditional intranet pages, with limited collaboration and sharing. Yammer, on the other hand, is essentially a microblogging tool, a way of sharing short status updates. It also provides user identity capabilities through its profiles feature. What customers will be left with is a confusing strategy where some functionality happens in one platform and some in the other:
- Documents will be managed in SharePoint, micro-blogging in Yammer.
- Blogs will reside in SharePoint, profiles in Yammer.
- Activity stream will be provided in Yammer, workflows in SharePoint.
- Office integrates with SharePoint and not with Yammer, while folder synchronization take place in Yammer but not in SharePoint.
I’ve seen this many times at Microsoft, not just with products the company acquired but even ones it designed from the ground up internally. The typical Microsoft approach to this problem is to leverage the partner ecosystem, tapping third parties who can spend the time and effort to build custom integrations for customers.
That's what you get when you combine SharePoint and Yammer today: A disjointed set of capabilities that aren’t exactly complementary and that don't exactly offer the seamless, engaging experience people expect from a social business solution.
I joined Jive along with my team from OffiSync, the company I founded, after working with most of the social platform vendors in some capacity. With some we had an OEM agreement, and with others we were still in the POC phase. What made Jive unique is the fact that it was the only platform that provided end-to-end collaboration functionality, fully integrated. It offered the ability to build a single social graph with a single identity.
That said, we did believe that a powerful way to further socialize the enterprise was through a tight and deep integration with the Microsoft stack. The mission we embarked on was to build the integration as if we owned the entire stack.
It took Jive and OffiSync years to build a deep integration. Documents are not managed on one platform or the other; you can access the same document from any platform seamlessly. You can use MS Office to collaborate on documents whether they are in Jive or in SharePoint – and have all the social functionality enabled. You can microblog from Jive or SharePoint as if they were one product.
I could go on and on as to how we built the integration, but the bottom line is that our customers, whether they use SharePoint for document management, intranet or BI, benefit from a deep integration that allows them to leverage their Microsoft investments and add a powerful social platform, all while keeping things running as one single system.
A good example is Alcatel-Lucent's Jive-powered community, where 50,000-plus employees connect and collaborate. According to enterprise community manager Jem Janick, "Jive’s ability to integrate with SharePoint means we can provide a seamless user experience regardless of which environment you’re working in." For videos of other customer stories, visit Customer Videos - Jive Social Business Software.
How about you? Have you had experience integrating SharePoint with social products? Are you thinking of doing so? I'd love to get your take.