Microsoft’s $1.2 billion purchase of Yammer in June 2012 is now starting to get traction as the technology becomes more integrated with the rest of the Office suite. Officially described as an internal social network, Yammer is sometimes compared to a company-specific version of Twitter or Facebook (perhaps because all three products share the concept of a newsfeed), Microsoft has been busy adding functionality to Yammer by introducing features such as the ability to participate in Yammer discussions via email or the provision of a Yammer app (for Windows 8 and Windows Phone). All in all, things are progressing as you’d expect following a major technology acquisition.
Since November 6, Yammer has been available to all Office 365 enterprise tenants. Right now, its major point of integration with the other applications appears to be with SharePoint Online. There’s still quite a gap between Office 365 and Yammer as users are redirected to Yammer.com when they want to participate in a Yammer group or look at the newsfeed. No doubt the integration will improve over time as gaps close and functionality is smoothed.
Given the size of Office 365, it takes time to roll out new applications to all enterprise tenants. To discover whether your tenant has access to Yammer, go to the Office 365 Admin Portal and check the set of services that are available there. If Yammer is listed, you have it. Or at least, you can begin the process of setting Yammer up so that it can be used within your company. And you can also open up Yammer to allow interaction with external users who need to share information with people within your company.
Personal (P) Office 365 plans do not have access to Yammer, which I think is reasonable. After all, the personal plans are intended for small companies of less than 50 people or so. If you, like me, work in such a small group, it would be sad if you needed help to collaborate more effectively. Just shout at your colleagues a tad louder. Or use a Facebook group.
If you’ve already got Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync through Office 365, you might ask the question why you might want to use Yammer. Exchange is a great email server, SharePoint does a good job as a collaborative platform for document authoring and distribution, and Lync handles voice communications. But even though Exchange has modern public folders, site mailboxes, and shared mailboxes, it doesn’t have the kind of social networking capabilities that people have become accustomed to in products like Facebook and Twitter.
It seems to me that Yammer is a mixture of Facebook groups and Twitter messages with a mixture of “Likes”. All in all, it’s a combination that is very recognizable to anyone who has used the consumer social networking products, so that covers approximately 1 billion people. Even more important perhaps, the technology comes naturally to new people who are entering the workforce now who have grown up with constant and ongoing social interaction enabled by technology. Just look at the heads-down attitude adopted by people in any public transport today – everyone is busy on their mobile device checking whatever’s going on in Facebook and Twitter; Yammer offers companies the same chance to connect with their employees. The information pumped out on Yammer might be less interesting than gossip, but the hope is that it can improve business results.
Because of its ability to flex and improve, email has proven to be the most persistent and widely used collaboration technology. Over the last 25 years, many attempts have been made to create software that helps people to share information better. In the 1980s and 1990s, Digital Equipment Corporation had a wonderful tool called VAX Notes that was enormously popular within the company but much less so outside; Digital also launched a database-oriented collaborative product called LinkWorks in 1993 that crashed and burned without trace (but took many million dollars of corporate funding with it). I recall an attempt to deploy Groove in 2001-2002 when I was at Compaq; that product was a brainchild of Ray Ozzie (and was sold to Microsoft in 2005), but it failed because of the heavy demands it made on the networks and computers of the time. The history of Lotus Notes goes back to 1989. Notes is not strictly an email product and its application capabilities gave it the ability to be a more powerful collaboration platform than email-centric products like Exchange, but Notes is less popular now than it was in its heyday at the start of the millennium.
What I have learned from collaboration successes and failures is that no one technology is the right answer, even if it seems to be the greatest thing since sliced bread at the time (at least, according to the marketing material). Another thing I have learned is that no amount of executive enthusiasm will persuade people to use collaboration technology. I spent a lot of time at Compaq and HP attempting to persuade technologists to share their knowledge using the tools available at the time. I put a lot of energy into projects such as a SharePoint-based knowledge portal but my efforts were not always well accepted by the user community.
Any technology will probably fail if it does not “fit” the requirements and culture of a company. The question therefore is how well Yammer fits into the culture of any particular company – if it does, the basis exists for Yammer to be successful; if not, implementing Yammer will be an exercise in futility.
The needs of people change and flex as society evolves and I suspect that Yammer will find a niche in companies that have some or all of the following characteristics:
- Large number of employees distributed across multiple locations
- Many different groups
- Young, mobile workforce
- Constant flow of time-critical internal news (like product updates) directed at employees
It can be argued that existing technology can meet the needs of these kind of companies and I suspect that is true too. Every company has its own culture and mode of working and the question really is whether Yammer will fit well into a company. In my view, it’s more likely that Yammer will succeed in a young (less than 10 year old) company than in an older company where habits and working practice has had the time to ossify a little.
Yammer points to the fact that it had 5 million users before it was bought by Microsoft. I’m sure that this was an important point in justifying the desirability of the purchase and the $1.2 billion price. The question is how many Yammer users will there be in five years’ time. In other words, will the technology persist or will it fade and become a backwater of collaboration, used by a few advocates and ignored by the majority in the rush to embrace whatever the latest and greatest collaboration mechanism that’s available then – something like LinkTwitFaceYamBook. I’ll be watching with interest.
Follow Tony @12Knocksinna