Putting Social to Work

The following is a post by Jared Spataro, senior director, Office Division, on the growing role social media is playing in business and how Yammer, SharePoint and Office 365 are coming together to offer a powerful, secure and integrated approach to social collaboration for businesses large and small.


This week we’re hosting the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas, and one of the key themes is social.  While we had more than ten thousand people attend the keynote, I wanted to take the opportunity to share my thoughts on social for those who didn’t have a chance to join us in person.

Business Value

Social has clearly rewired the way we communicate in our personal lives, and there are folks out there claiming that it will do the same for business.  I’ve come to believe that it will have a profound impact on the way people get things done at work. 

To understand why, consider the basic premise of the technology: open conversations and personal connections.  In a world where the pace of innovation has increased dramatically over the last few decades, the name of the game is agility.  Open conversations and personal connections increase the agility of an organization by helping people connect the dots in an ever-changing world. 

When we first started our discussions with Yammer, one of the things that caught my attention was the claim that their customers were “transforming their businesses” with social networking.  It’s not uncommon for technology vendors to make claims, but what surprised me was that they had clear evidence that something extraordinary was happening to the companies that were embracing social.  After spending more time with the team, I learned the secret.  Customers were driving real business results with Yammer, but it wasn’t because there was some inherent magic in a newsfeed.  It was because they had embraced the idea that open conversations and personal connections could help them with their most important strategic initiatives. 

They recognized that the only way they could keep up with the pace of change in their industries was to trust their people, and empower them to organize and decide “in the moment.”   And for these companies, Yammer became much more than a newsfeed.  It became a way to change the way their people worked together. 

Over the last few months I’ve learned a lot about the business value of social from Yammer customers.  I’ve seen companies using Yammer to connect store managers, to coordinate R&D projects with external partners, and to manage logistics for complex shipping operations.  What’s more, the Yammer team has done some great work profiling their customers and identifying common patterns.  They’ve found four scenarios that seem to resonate across industries: increasing employee engagement, improving team collaboration, enhancing business agility, and building cross-org connections. 

Their work here has convinced me that we really are in the midst of a transformation that will have a lasting impact.  Someday, I think we’ll look back and say to ourselves, “How in the world did we ever get anything done without constant access to our network?”  And we won’t be referring to Wi-Fi. ;-)  

Vision

Of course, while we’re excited about the companies that are already using social, we recognize that there’s more to be done.  In fact, if you look at the numbers, you realize that we’re at the very beginning of this journey.  Of the roughly 600 million information workers in the world, only a few million are actively using social networking tools at work.  We’ve clearly got our work cut out for us!  To drive broad adoption, we’re taking a two-pronged approach – what I like to call experiences people want and the platform IT needs.

First, experiences people want.  Metcalf’s law says that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected nodes in the system.  That’s a fancy way of saying the more people there are in a network, the more valuable it is.  So if you want to realize the potential of social networking, you have to get people to participate.  They can’t just sign up and walk away.  They have to use it.

Unsurprisingly, we’re focused on creating experiences that draw people in and encourage them to invite their friends.  Yammer is the model of how to do this right, and it was their application of sophisticated analytics to the software development process that really piqued our interest in our early discussions.  But for me, a great standalone user experience probably isn’t enough to make sure that I join the conversation and STAY engaged.  I don’t know about you, but the last thing I need is another inbox. While I love the idea of a powerful social network helping me get things done, I’m not so excited about having yet another tool to constantly check for new assignments from my boss.

What I really want is social woven into the tools I use to get my work done every day.  We think other people want this too.  Microsoft is in a unique position because we own a fantastic set of assets: social, collaboration, email, and unified communications.  And we want to combine these tools to create new experiences that help people get things done.  I think of it this way: I want a tool that will allow me to start a conversation in a newsfeed, ping one of the participants on IM, escalate to voice and video, follow-up over email, and circle back to the original conversation with an update. 

I want the context of those conversations to follow me across those tools, and I want everyone involved to be able to participate in the interactions regardless of where they are or what device they have with them.  That’s what I want.  It’s possible in fits and starts today, but we aim to make this type of scenario – what we call a “connected experience”—available to everyone.  I get that there are other vendors out there that realize that social is going to be important.  But I don’t know of too many that have the breadth and depth of capabilities to realize this vision.   

Second, the platform that IT needs.  As soon as you start to see real adoption of enterprise social networking, you have a problem.  So much of the intellectual property in a company is tied up in the interactions between people.  We see it crisscross many organizations today as email and attachments. In companies where social takes off, we see it show up as conversations and documents in the network. 

This is great news for everyone but the poor soul in IT who is charged with securing and managing the firm’s intellectual property.  The information in a social network is some of the most valuable intellectual property in the company,  and their platform needs sophisticated security, management and compliance capabilities that don’t get in the way of the users but do allow IT to sleep better at night. 

Luckily, with SharePoint we’ve been refining our approach to content management and information governance for more than ten years, and we have a deep set of capabilities we can apply to enterprise social networks.

SharePoint + Yammer Roadmap

I think this vision of the future is pretty compelling.  But after hearing me give the pitch, a lot of people ask, “If that’s your strategy, why did you acquire Yammer in the first place?  Weren’t the social capabilities in SharePoint 2013 enough?”  I like this question because it leads right into the proverbial next steps of our plan. 

We want to go from a world where a couple million people use social to a world where hundreds of millions of people rely on it every day to get things done.  And the first step for us in this journey is SharePoint + Yammer integration.  We’re incredibly proud of the social features in SharePoint 2013, and we think they break new ground in showing how social can be integrated into a broader set of tools.  We acquired Yammer because we felt great about our direction and wanted to put the pedal to the metal. 

Yammer not only gives us a best-in-class social networking service, it brings an incredibly talented team with a shared vision of the future, a proven track record of rapid innovation in the cloud, and a commitment to building connected experiences that end users love.  It doesn’t get any better than that.  Yes, the two products both have newsfeeds, but that doesn’t bother us very much.  We see the people-centric paradigm of Yammer and the more document-centric model of SharePoint as incredibly complementary – and a powerful combination. 

During the keynote session at the conference this week, we highlighted the fact that customers can connect the two today with the Yammer web parts and Yammer Open Graph capabilities.  We also announced that as a next step we’re investing in unified identity, integrated document management, and feed aggregation.  Once we have these foundational investments in place, we’ll be taking advantage of our new, 90-day release cycle for SharePoint Online and Office 365 to add new capabilities that move us toward our vision of connected experiences that combine social, collaboration, email, and unified communications.   

Yammer Packaging and Pricing

To align with our vision and roadmap, we’ve made some changes to Yammer packaging and pricing.  I thought this was important to do for two reasons: 1) it makes it easier for customers to purchase Yammer; and 2) it allows customers to start to experience the power of connected experiences today.  (We still have product work to do, but we already have great customers who are doing amazing things with the combination of Yammer and SharePoint – and the connections will get deeper over time.) 

Here’s a brief recap of what we announced:. First, Yammer standalone.  We’re absolutely committed to maintaining standalone versions of Yammer for customers who just want a best-in-class enterprise social network.  Yammer has historically offered four different options, and we’ve simplified that to two: a free version called Yammer Basic and a paid version called Yammer Enterprise.  As a part of these changes, we reduced the price of Yammer Enterprise from $15 per user per month to $3 per user per month.Second, Yammer and SharePoint Online.  We believe that social and collaboration are two sides of the same coin, and as the roadmap demonstrates, we’re working toward a future where they’re tightly integrated.  To reinforce that notion, we announced our plans to ship Yammer Enterprise with SharePoint Online with no change in price.

And finally, Yammer and Office 365.  As I noted above, we envision a future where social is everywhere — and where people work together using new experiences that combine social with collaboration, email, and unified communications.  As a first step in delivering on that vision, we announced plans for to ship Yammer Enterprise with all of our Office 365 Enterprise offerings (E1 through E4), again with no change in price.

(Note that the Yammer + SharePoint Online and Yammer + Office 365 changes are only available to Enterprise Agreement customers.)  By simplifying Yammer standalone and shipping Yammer Enterprise with SharePoint Online and Office 365, we’re making it easier than ever before to get started with enterprise social networking.

It’s an exciting time in our industry.  So much is happening – and it’s clear that the world is going to be a very different place in five years.  I’m convinced that social is going to play a big role in that future, and I’m thrilled to be involved.  I look forward to sharing more soon.