Yammer, Office 365 Groups integrate for online team collaboration

Yammer's integration with Office 365 Groups reveals Microsoft's collaboration roadmap, but raises questions for on-premises Office 365 users.

Microsoft Yammer will no longer be sold as a standalone product as the enterprise social software will fold into Office 365 Groups.

Yammer's integration with Microsoft's cloud-based collaboration app, announced last week at Microsoft Ignite, will roll out over the next few months. The integration offers new online team collaboration features and starts to answer questions about Microsoft's collaboration vision.

"There's been a lot of confusion over where Microsoft's team collaboration strategy is heading," said Irwin Lazar, a Nemertes Research analyst. Microsoft has struggled with overlapping features in its various collaboration tools and a lack of integration among them.

With the Yammer integration, Microsoft is now melding various collaboration pieces -- from SharePoint to Groups -- and uniting disparate applications to offer capabilities such as analytics from Office Graph, Lazar said.

Microsoft is also looking to compete with Slack, Cisco Spark and other online team collaboration services. "They've got Slack squarely in the crosshairs," Lazar said.

New features aid employee productivity

The integration is expected to tailor Yammer's social capabilities to help end users become more productive.

They've got Slack squarely in the crosshairs.
Irwin Lazaranalyst, Nemertes Research

"If you're looking for a product that's just about driving social engagement, Yammer's not going to be the best product for you," said Pavan Tapadia, chief product officer at Yammer, at Microsoft Ignite.

The new collaboration features include the ability to share files in Yammer by uploading documents on OneDrive or SharePoint, manage files with SharePoint, share content to Yammer by email and manage Yammer from within Office 365.

The integration with Office 365 Groups also expands online team collaboration capabilities by tracking a user's progress through messages and includes an inbox that tracks conversations across the organization. External collaboration will be supported as outside users can join chat groups and access the full suite of functions.

Tapadia said other capabilities will be added, such as Outlook integration for team calendars, direct messaging for private conversations, deeper integrations across the Office 365 suite and the ability to escalate Yammer group chats to Skype for Business calls.

Integration features raise questions

However, Microsoft must address some feature gaps in order to compete with Slack and Cisco Spark. For instance, Lazar said, Microsoft lacks a real-time messaging feature that would allow users to receive chat notifications on their phones' lock screen or quickly respond to messages following a notification.

"Their chat story is somewhat convoluted," Lazar said. On top of the integration between Yammer and Office 365 Groups, Microsoft offers desktop-based chat for on-premises Skype for Business customers and a mobile chat platform from partner MindLink.

The next step in Microsoft's online team collaboration roadmap could be the announcement of a rumored Skype Teams, which could close the collaboration feature gap, Lazar said.

Microsoft must also address its on-premises Yammer customers. Office 365 Groups is available to cloud customers only and the standalone Yammer Enterprise service will phase out by early 2017, which presents a challenge for Yammer customers who are on premises.

This creates an opening for collaboration vendors like Jive Software to attract organizations that don't migrate to Office 365 for the cloud, he said.

"As Yammer rolls into Groups, it presents a problem for them," Lazar said. "Microsoft needs a roadmap for on-premises customers."

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