Microsoft finally plans to put its $1.2 billion acquisition of enterprise social networking platform Yammer to good use by tightening integrations between Yammer's social capabilities and Office 365 and Outlook.
While some limited Yammer-Microsoft integrations already exist within Office 365 and SharePoint, most businesses have been using the enterprise social platform as a standalone product. Shortly after Yammer co-founder David Sacks announced his departure from Yammer and Microsoft, Microsoft unveiled its plans to bring the Yammer organization under the direction of its Outlook and Office 365 development teams.
The commingling of development teams means deeper integrations between Yammer's capabilities and Microsoft tools, said Owen Runnals, SharePoint practice manager at General Networks, a Glendale, Calif.-based IT company that helps businesses migrate to Office 365 from legacy email and file server systems.
"If Microsoft can bring Yammer to places like Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint ... and allow employees to socialize through Yammer from almost anywhere they work ... it will make adoption of social way easier and the businesses will get a higher return on investment for their Office 365 apps," he said.
Yammer-Microsoft integrations: Office 365, Outlook gets social
Yammer was formerly a freemium social networking tool for businesses until its purchase by Microsoft in 2012. In 2013, Yammer Enterprise was introduced as an add-on that could be included with Office 365 subscriptions for enterprises. This year, Yammer Enterprise was added to Office 365 Academic and Office 365 Midsize Business bundles. But integration was incomplete. Users still had to sign into Yammer separately from Microsoft productivity applications, launching in a new window as a separate newsfeed.
At the 2014 SharePoint Conference, Microsoft introduced a simplified login to Yammer from Office 365 applications so users wouldn't have to re-authenticate. The company also unveiled document conversations earlier this summer, a feature that embeds Yammer's social collaboration capabilities -- such as the newsfeed feature -- into Office 356 apps so users could find the right expertise and leave feedback from within the Microsoft application, according to a blog post by Christophe Fiessinger, group product manager for Microsoft's enterprise social team.
Although Yammer has been folded into Microsoft's development team, deeper Yammer-Microsoft integrations won't happen overnight, General Networks' Runnals said.
It will be a phased integration, but the Office 365 Web portal will feature a link to Yammer, Runnals said. "When I log into Office 365, I have links to my Outlook and SharePoint, and soon there will be a Yammer link so there will be single sign-on across Yammer and Office 365 tools."
Yammer will also eventually become an Office 365 Web App, he said. "In Office 365 right now, I can modify [Microsoft] Word or Excel or PowerPoint documents and I can edit files at the same time as another user. Once Yammer is integrated, I'll actually have a Yammer feed that is on that document so while I'm collaborating with others, we can chat about it and all that conversation is documented so users can see that thought stream."
Despite all the promise of enterprise social tools, many employees still spend half of their day working out of tools like Microsoft Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint, Runnals said. "[Yammer] features are innovative, but something that employees didn't know they needed." Outlook customers, however, are ready for integration with other apps, Runnals said. "Yammer could absolutely be one of those apps if Microsoft takes it down from the portal and brings it down to the client side," he said.
Many Outlook dwellers would appreciate using Yammer as a messaging platform right from Outlook, said Rob Arnold, senior industry analyst at Mountain View, Calif.-based Frost and Sullivan. "This integration which will allow employees to use email the way it's meant to be used [and] not as a project management tool," he said.
Will Yammer-Microsoft integration encourage enterprise social strategies to blossom?
Many Yammer users have adopted the free version of the social platform in the past, which means they didn't get any integration between Yammer and their business tools and therefore, not using Yammer to its full potential, Arnold said.
Some customers were using Yammer very efficiently before it was acquired by Microsoft, but others have seen the tools eventually abandoned for lack of integration with other applications.
Interest in Yammer has grown since Microsoft bought the San Francisco-based company, Runnals said. And many businesses have already invested in Office 365 bundles that include Yammer, so customers are asking about it but haven't necessarily started using the tool, he said. "There will most likely be an uptick of businesses actually taking advantage of their Yammer investment now."
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