Will Office 365 make slow moving corporations go social?

Office graph will track your connections and actions

The Office graph – the genie in the system? Check out my infographic (or should I say visual notes?) from the Microsoft SharePoint conference.

I attended the Microsoft SharePoint conference in Las Vegas in March to hear what’s new on planet Microsoft (as well as to do a talk). I’ve never been a Microsoft fan girl and when they couple of years ago acquired Yammer, an enterprise social network platform that I had been using and grown to like, I was a bit concerned. Will Yammer  disappear in the belly of the beast, not to be heard of again? The conference was my opportunity to find out where Microsoft is going with social.

Based on my four day infiltration at the conference I think I can safely say Microsoft are pretty serious about social. So serious, in fact, that if you are a Microsoft Office user it will be hard for you to avoid social if/when you upgrade to Office 365 – the cloud version of Office (and note: Microsoft has made it clear that the future of SharePoint and Office products is in the cloud via Office 365).

Integration in itself is nothing new. Many enterprise social tools happily integrate with third-party business software. The difference is that Microsoft’s products are everywhere – even in the big, slow moving corporations. My guess is that when your trusted Word or Excel starts displaying social features you are more likely to start using them. Contrast that with the current situation where enthusiastic enterprise social evangelists are trying to wean you off your beloved email and whisk you away to a new platform. Many people are reluctant to adopt new tools and find enterprise social platforms irrelevant or scary. In a way Microsoft offers the baby step approach to enterprise social.

So what does Microsoft’s vision mean for those using Office?

If you are struggling to get people to use an enterprise social network, and you are in the Microsoft ecosystem, then with Office 365 you might have the Trojan horse you have been looking for. The integration with Yammer will become more seamless and it will become harder and harder to avoid using social features. For example:

  • The boundary between email (Outlook) and Yammer will blur. Email used to be the arch enemy of enterprise social. Now the arch enemies are beginning to merge. Hopefully in the future it doesn’t really matter which tool you use – if you are part of a project group, you can still have discussions through your trusted  email platform and people who prefer Yammer can do so.
  • Yammer will become a more natural part of document collaboration (no need to post your Word or Excel file on Yammer – you can ask for feedback without leaving Word or Excel).
  • Group collaboration becomes more integrated. Creating a Group anywhere in Office 365 will automatically create a corresponding Yammer conversation feed, calendar, document library and inbox where members can collaborate and work as a team.
  • And perhaps the most interesting new development:  the Office graph. The system (Office, Yammer) will learn by observing what you do (and do not do).  If you’ve heard of the Facebook social graph – the algorithm (or group of algorithms) than knows who is connected to who, then this is the Microsoft equivalent. My guess is that the Office graph will help make the idea of “working like a network” (as opposed to working like an email driven hierarchy) closer to reality.

The fusion of Yammer with Office 365 and SharePoint will take us towards a single product. We are not there yet, of course, but the road signs seem to be pointing that way.

Or… does it simply sideline social?

A friend of mine pointed out that Microsoft’s approach is a very document centric way of looking at internal collaboration. He contrasted Microsoft’s vision with that of Jive, which seems to put social in the middle – and build collaboration round it with integration with other software (including Office products). He might be right – but knowing how hard it is to change ways of working – a more subtle, less disruptive approach taken by Microsoft might be the way to go for big, slow moving corporations. Others, especially those not in the Microsoft ecosystem, might want to keep their options open (check out this post by Kostas Kastrisios if you are still debating which platform to choose).

I also wonder what will happen to the Yammer brand. The brand has had a loyal following since the beginning. I can’t see people rallying around a generic, corporate Microsoft Office product. But then again, maybe that makes sense – this is, after all, the corporate approach to enterprise social.

Change is sooo slooow…. or is it?

I know, I know. It takes ages for organisations to update their IT -systems.  But there is a real need for organisations to offer their employees cloud based tools so that they can work remotely and on the move. This is something that will probably speed up Office 365 adoption – at least in some organisations.

What do you think of Microsoft’s approach? Do you think it will help smuggle enterprise social into organisations that are currently dragging their heels when it comes to new, more networked ways of working? Or will it sideline social by making it just a complementary tool to “real” work: document collaboration?


PS. If you want to get a good overview of what’s happening on the enterprise social software front this article on the Computerworld website is worth a read. And if you need help with your enterprise social network do get in touch!

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