SharePoint, SharePoint Online

SharePoint Online: The future of social?

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Enterprise Social Networking, a.k.a. “Social” has become an important part of enterprise collaboration. With Gartner estimating that “by 2016, 50 percent of large organisations will have internal Facebook-like social networks”, and that “30 percent of these will be considered as essential as email and telephones are today”. Social can yield great benefits to organisations that use it correctly, but as with any technology project there are considerations and risks to mitigate. One of those is the choice of platform.

Since SharePoint is a dominant player in the collaboration market, many will consider using its built-in social features, but these are arguably not enterprise class, with critics pointing out limitations and missing features. For this reason, Microsoft bought Yammer in 2012 to provide, as Steve Ballmer put it, “best-in-class enterprise social networking service to Microsoft’s growing portfolio of complementary cloud services”.

Since that acquisition, Microsoft seems to be taking Ballmer quite literally and working hard on integrating Yammer with Microsoft’s cloud offerings. Yammer is free with most Office 365 licensing plans; it was even rolled out to the budget Office 365 Kiosk price plans late in 2014. Yammer also boasts easier activation, single sign on to Office 365 from the Yammer web interface, and in-document Yammer conversations for Office documents… but only in Office 365.

So is social just an online thing?

Yammer and Delve

It certainly makes sense for Microsoft to make SharePoint Online as good as possible, since their strategy is cloud focused. Yammer is an important part of that strategy and helps provide the foundation that new technologies are built on. Take Delve for example; it uses search and other “machine learning” technology to discover and aggregate information from your email, SharePoint documents and, of course, Yammer. This information is then presented to the user as a dashboard of data that shows you what you want before you go looking for it. The jury is out over whether Delve will gain traction in the enterprise but it’s nevertheless a telling sign of how heavily Microsoft is investing in their all-in cloud approach.

As social networking has continued to drive innovation on the web, the features available in Yammer have benefited many. Yammer gives every user a voice and has encouraged social collaboration between employees. Generating conversations across mobile platforms and on the move has seen valuable engagement grow.

With SharePoint being used by 78% of Fortune 500 companies, bridging the gap between those employees based in one city and those in another can be a challenge. A future feature of Yammer will enable real time social communication. By simply starting a conversation or inviting a colleague to specific conversations or group, cross network collaboration can achieved and a community can be created with international reach.

Third parties are offering an alternative for On Premises

It’s not all bad news for On Premises environments though. Other options are available. Since Microsoft isn’t trying too hard to make Yammer the path of least resistance for On Premises social, it creates opportunities for other vendors – such as Beezy – to fill the gap. With a focus on delivering intuitive and innovative enterprise social networking features specifically for On Premises environments, they are certainly a viable alternative. It is also worth re-considering SharePoint’s built-in social capabilities. They may not be as fully featured as tools like Yammer, but they are quite capable and offer a good alternative for organisations that already have SharePoint and are interested in taking a first look at enterprise social networking without too much investment or disruption.

On Premises vs. Cloud

So where does the future lie? Does all this cloud love mean that Microsoft is leaving On Premises SharePoint customers behind when it comes to social? Yammer with On Premises SharePoint is not impossible, there are good features which can be utilised, but you pay for licenses, it’s not as easy to connect the two systems, (demonstrated by the fact that the On Prem integration guide is a 20 page white paper), and you just don’t get the same level of integration and interactive feel. So in the main the answer is yes. As Microsoft moves forward under Satya Nadella and becomes a more open source company, their social efforts are doing so too and are clearly focusing on Office 365 and SharePoint Online.