Microsoft social networking push begins with Yammer in Office 365

Microsoft social networking efforts center on Yammer with new Office 365 integration. Industry watchers question the value to enterprise customers.

Microsoft continues to broaden its scope from the declining PC market by strengthening its cloud and browser-based components -- this time with Yammer integration into Office 365.

Tighter integration of the two cloud services offers updated features, such as the ability to participate in Yammer conversations through email without setting up a Yammer account, and enhanced messaging by using texting-like features similar to what end users use today on their mobile phones.

Yammer is Microsoft's hot new product from the 1990s.
Mike DripsIT Consultant

However, the texting feature isn't novel; competitive office collaboration tools from companies such as Cotap, Huddle and IBM already have that built in.

Still, Microsoft's move to have Yammer baked into everyday tools and programs for the enterprise could be a major step toward more widespread integrated social collaboration, according to Vanessa Thompson, research director for enterprise social networks and collaborative technologies at IDC Corp., an IT research firm based in Framingham, Mass.

"Part of the reason why there's a struggle with adopting the tools is because it takes people outside their daily processes and puts them on something else," Thompson said. "But if they are already embedded into what you are doing, then it's OK."

The strategy to integrate Yammer with Office 365 was "inevitable," as Microsoft recognized some weakness in SharePoint's ability to deliver enterprise social features, according to Tim Banting, principal analyst for collaborations and communication at Current Analysis Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based IT market analysis firm.

Industry split on Microsoft's social play

Some IT professionals were divided about Microsoft's strategic enterprise social networking play via Yammer, which Microsoft acquired for $1.2 billion in 2012.

"Yammer is Microsoft's hot new product from the 1990s," said Mike Drips, a Houston-based IT consultant. "Collaboration doesn't happen … because we are all logged into a software program via Yammer or Facebook or Google+; collaboration happens because you have a project with goals and responsibilities."

Pricing details

Office 365 E1 users pay $8 per month and $20 per month for the Office 365 E3 plan. Both plans include Yammer Enterprise Network features.

In addition, social tools can be a distraction, unless there is training around how to use [them] properly, said Brian Katz, director of mobile innovation at a large pharmaceutical company based in New Jersey.

But enterprise social networking can also be a boon for some organizations, he said.

"Yammer has been very popular and has the ability to keep social inside the company, unlike Twitter, which shares with the world," he said. "It is a more focused set of followers that makes it easier to do your company stuff."

Analysts agreed that enterprise social tools could pay significant dividends for businesses if used and implemented correctly. But there has to be a top-down acceptance of the tools, and he believes some managers are too consumed by "command and control" to allow social collaboration to work.

"The biggest barrier to adoption of enterprise social is culture," Banting said. "Managers need to change and encourage their teams to work and learn with them. … It can help businesses find employees who are measured by what they achieve and not how long they're in a seat in the office."

Microsoft social networking moves beyond Yammer

There is sure to be more social tool integration in the future.

Microsoft is working with standards boards to support the Open Graph Protocol, which will help social networks integrate with other lines of business apps, said Brian Murray, Microsoft's director of enterprise social strategy.  Support for the Open Graph Protocol is still a long-term project, however, and Microsoft's shorter-term efforts are to ensure Yammer integrates well with Outlook and SMTP protocols, he said.

Microsoft also plans to update its Office Web Apps with real-time co-authoring and collaboration capabilities. In addition, the Excel Web App now autocompletes in the browser while users type, and it interacts with data-validation-enabled cells.

In addition, a SkyDrive Pro Sync client will be available in the early part of 2014 for the Macintosh platform, Microsoft said during this week's Online Tech Day event taking place in the U.K. It is now available for Windows.

Microsoft will also release a redesigned Yammer mobile app for Apple Inc.'s iPad and provide the ability to start Yammer conversations for documents stored in the SharePoint Online library or the SkyDrive Pro Web client, the company said.

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