A Perspective on SharePoint, Yammer, and Microsoft

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I’ve been going back and forth about how to approach this topic for the past week. There’s been a lot of thrashing within the channel, and more than a few industry analysts, SharePoint MVPs, and diehard Microsoft fanboys alike are finding it difficult to articulate much of what is going on. I’m going to make an attempt, even though my plan to come up with a quick little narrative to describe all of the moving parts has resulted in more of a list. I think that each of these topics is worthy of discussion, but i wanted to get the ball rolling by surfacing them all at once. So I am going with the list – which is more of a stream of consciousness effort to just get the many ideas floating around in my head down onto paper (er, I mean screen).

What is happening with Microsoft and SharePoint? Why so much change, so quickly, and when the products don’t yet feel like they’re ready for prime time? What are the industry drivers, and how are people responding to these changes?

Hopefully this provides some value and insight to my readers, and your feedback is welcome. My thoughts are boiled down to the following themes:

  • Microsoft wanted an uber-release. My impression is that hell-or-high-water they were going to have a major marketing event by releasing a major new version of every platform, whether or not the company was ready for it. Feedback from some of the most respected SharePoint MVPs and MCMs has been that this version of SharePoint, while including some fantastic new features and a much more end user-centric design, has a lot of issues. Of course, you have to balance the bugs with the fact that the new release cadence (more on that in a minute) has Microsoft seemingly more responsive than ever, and I fully expect new features and necessary fixes to happen at a fairly fast clip. As a business/marketing guy, I understand the desire for this coordinated release cycle, but I think the data shows (so far) that Microsoft might have been better off waiting for all pieces of the story to mature.
  • Yammer was a protectionist move that may, in the end, revitalize Microsoft. The story has evolved a bit to fit Microsoft’s marketing campaigns, but when the company acquired Yammer last year for $1.2b, Sr. Director of SharePoint Jared Spataro made it clear at the Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto that they did it for two reasons: 1) to stop a growing competitive threat (Yammer had been planning to build out more SharePoint-like features), and 2) to give Microsoft an instant foothold in a cloud-based, viral social platform. What most Softies did not expect was the rate at which Yammer has impacted other areas within the business. There has been an internal “dogfooding” initiative looking at how internal teams are collaborating, which may (according to rumors and speculation) be impacting (positively) the roadmaps of other products and services beyond what has been formally announced. It makes sense that Microsoft use the social model to rethink the Microsoft Office suite, for example. I have no inside information here – just thinking logical next steps as Microsoft looks for ways to innovate, and to some extent ride this wave of enthusiasm around enterprise social.
  • Microsoft is serious about moving to an “online first” delivery model. This is more than just a SharePoint/Office365 decision – Microsoft is attempting to change the direction of a speeding train, moving toward a more agile development model and, more specifically, a cloud-based delivery model. I recently purchased a new personal laptop for home, and needed to purchase the full Office suite. I went online and ordered the entire productivity suite via Office365 Home Premium model, which I am able to install on up to 5 devices, with real-time updates as they come through (absolutely LOVE this model for home). This is the model that, I believe, most highlights the impacts from the Yammer acquisition – moving all software delivery to the cloud. Buy Office at a Best Buy, and what you’ll get is an empty box and a code to download. The Yammer model also gives Microsoft the ability to perform AB testing, allowing them to test out changes very rapidly, getting instant adoption metrics on those new changes. It’s the future of software, folks.
  • All KPIs point to Office365 and Yammer. If I sound like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth, maybe I am, but I am not a fan of the hard push by all Microsoft organizations toward Office365 and Yammer without understanding what my business actually needs. I do understand that Microsoft is trying to maintain its customer base, with threats coming from upstarts as well as the big names: Apple, Google, countless players in the social space, and IBM — but I have to think about my customers and their needs, and how those needs may not match up to Microsoft’s desire to flip a switch and have everyone instantly move to the cloud.  Honestly, I believe a dual marketing strategy would have better served Microsoft, announcing a side-by-side on prem and online strategy, rather than a seemingly abrupt forced march toward the cloud [please note: nobody is being forced, per se. I’m using emotional language here to make a point]. My opinion on the matter is public record – people should look closely at their business requirements and make sound decisions based on what their company and their end users need, not chase after every shiny, new technology. Your security, compliance, data sovereignty issues may preclude you from moving to the cloud today, regardless of how good a deal sounds.
  • Microsoft underestimated the demand for on prem and hybrid. Gartner estimates that 1/3 of SharePoint enterprise customers will never move into the cloud. Sitting here at the Gartner conference in San Diego, I heard a rumor from two different people who claimed that an analyst stated – I think it was a misquote or misunderstanding, but both people insisted its what they heard – that Microsoft will be sunsetting (stopping development and support) SharePoint on prem. Not only does this go against everything Microsoft has publicly stated, its just not realistic. It’s false, people. If your focus is entirely social – based more on communication and short-term sharing activities than on document management – you may not understand this issue, and why people are concerned about the strong push toward the cloud. But if you have made huge investments in on prem customizations and LOB app integrations, you need what Tom Austin at Gartner refers to as “asset inertia” before you move to the cloud. You need to achieve a certain ROI on what you’ve already spent before you can start thinking about the next version. And, honestly, your decisions to move should be based on business value, not pressure from any technology vendor.
  • Microsoft is being pulled in two directions. We all need to recognize that Microsoft needs to change, to build out their solutions based on where software is moving – which is to the cloud. Competitors, primarily Google, are forcing them to move, while many enterprise customers are pulling them back, trying to slow them down due to their massive investments in the old model. That’s Microsoft’s issue here — don’t move quickly enough, lose future customers. Move too quickly, lose existing customers.
  • “Yammer = Social” is not a strategy. It is widely agreed that Microsoft has done a less-than-stellar job of communicating their social strategy. Telling us over and over aga
    in that Social = Yammer is not sufficient. Go onto the Yammer.com/SPYam site and you may see an almost religious battle on how one crowd is old and behind the times and unplugged from technology, while another crowd doesn’t understand customer needs, business ROI, or enterprise software in general. Yammer is a great tool, and I actively use the platform every day on internal and external groups. But my primary complaint is from the standpoint of my primary SharePoint customers, and the fact that Yammer today is completely disconnected from SharePoint. Inserting a Yammer feed into my on prem SharePoint site is not a solution. The feed from Yammer “breaks” many of the SP2013 features by moving the dialog of my team outside of what is being tracked (the core SharePoint activities which show up in a SharePoint social feed, like adding a document, liking something, following someone, etc). Having a Yammer web part available, allowing me to drop my Yammer stream into a team site is not sufficient. I get it that Microsoft has some hard work to do – integrate streams, unify profiles, unify navigation – but until that functionality is there, stop telling me that somehow Yammer is a valid solution to my SharePoint social needs. It just isn’t. It’s a separate solution – it has a valid story on its own. It doesn’t need a convoluted marketing message mucking up the story for both SharePoint and Yammer. Until there is integration with my SharePoint activities and taxonomy, Yammer will have a separate value prop than SharePoint social.
  • Individuals need to watch their tone and message, listen more and spew fewer marketing talking points. There is an incredible amount of ageism happening within the channel — as if only those under 25 understand what is happening. Clearly most under 25 don’t understand the difference between redirecting the ship versus setting the ship ablaze (and here I am adding to the antagonism). If you really believe that the gray-haired individuals in tech don’t “get it” when it comes to the cloud, you need to get out more. The reality is that what we’re experiencing here is nothing new – these technologies are incremental to technology we’ve been working on for the past decade or more. The disconnects, in my opinion, are around passion for new technology versus delivering actual, measurable business value. The conversations about how and when to move to the cloud are hard discussions. There are very real arguments – business as well as technology arguments – for not moving to the cloud right away…but I do believe everyone will be there, eventually.

I am confident Microsoft has thought long and hard about just about everything here. While I believe they have made some mistakes in their strategy, as a former employee with some understanding about the planning process inside Microsoft, I can see why they’ve made some of these decisions – and overall, I believe they are moving in the right direction. Microsoft always pursues features and products that will bring in the most net-new customers and while it may feel like they sometimes cater too much to customers on old technology, that is also the reason why most enterprises stick with Microsoft, because their products and platforms are feature-rich, and enterprise-class.

Overall, the numbers will improve. Microsoft has shown time and time again that they can come from behind and get through major changes. Gartner estimates that Microsoft received just over 50%  of the cloud user win rates in 2012 over Google’s 33%, but they expect the overall pie to get much larger, and with it, Microsoft’s portion will increase. They believe the size of the marketplace for cloud office/productivity solutions in 2017 will be four-times the size of the 2012 market, and predict Microsoft’s share will increase to 60 to 65% of that increased market. Gartner predicts that Google, on the other hand, will decrease their win rate to 20 to 33%, still showing growth, just not the size of what Microsoft will capture. 

Christian Buckley

Christian is the Brand Alliance Director for AvePoint Inc., and a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP based in Silicon Slopes (Lehi), Utah. He hosts the AvePoint Office 365 Hours (#O365hours) and #P2Pnow series, the monthly #CollabTalk TweetJam, the weekly #CollabTalk Podcast, and the Microsoft 365 Ask-Me-Anything (#M365AMA) live stream. He is based in Lehi, Utah (Silicon Slopes).

22 Responses

  1. Mark_kruger says:

    Nice write-up! Agree on so many points. I definitely think Microsoft wanted to make a splash and now Yammer is in full marketing mode.
    We can all agree that OOB SharePoint discussions are limited and while MS made progress with profiles, newsfeed, mobility, and social aspects, they were still behind the bigger players in the social/mobility space.
    I do think that most large enterprises will stick to on-prem. The cloud will gain popularity with small business and that’s still a big market to capture.
    The funny part about the yammer hype is that most of the functionality can be implemented by building on top of the OOB SharePoint discussion lists. I’ve implemented it for many clients so that they have structured, governed discussions. I have a write-up on sharepointbloggers regarding all of the noise created from unstructured activity in the workplace.
    Again, great write-up Christian!

  2. I guess that depends on how you define ‘collaboration.’ There are vast numbers of customers who might disagree with you, myself included. Collaboration for one team might mean document sharing. SP does that. Another might classify collaboration as the ability to use wikis, create automated workflow, maintain threaded discussions. SP does all 3 of those, too. Where SP2010 fell flat with some social capabilities, partners stepped in (NewsGator, Neudesic, Attini, others) and filled the gap, and now SP2013 has some fairly compelling social features. So we’ll have to agree to disagree there unless you can be more specific.
    Whether or not SharePoint has “missed the mark” of customer expectations is also a foggy idea, since its massive growth — if you’re just looking at the numbers — would indicate that your perspective may not be supported by vast numbers of companies….but I think there can be some healthy dialog here. Standing up servers and having all status lights green does not equal a successful SP deployment. But let’s not confuse failure of the technology when most deployment failures should rest fully on the shoulders of the people who failed to properly plan and then govern their platforms. And that’s a common story across enterprise apps, not just SP.
    Your third point on mobile, I can’t say I disagree with you. Microsoft has a lot of catching up to do.

  3. Rich says:

    Never said SharePoint doesn’t have any value. Yes, there are some core ECM use cases SharePoint solves with the help of 3rd party tools or developers. It has its use cases but falls short on value when it comes to collaboration. I’ve been in this collaboration space for 15 years. When SharePoint came along (right around 2007 when it got “good enough), organizations bought into a vision that has missed the mark as we’ve now seen years later.
    Mobile has unlocked the cloud. That’s where sharepoint and microsoft stack in general is way behind.

  4. My complaint is that they’ve confused the market over when to use on prem social features versus Yammer’s cloud solution. Pushing Yammer heavily while being weak on messaging around whether or not on prem social features will remain or be deprecated has caused people to pause. I think it’s hurt the overall SharePoint story. A dual story would have been better — and then strengthened once Yammer provides some level of integration. Microsoft just spiked the ball on the 1st yard line, in my estimation.

  5. Chris Wright says:

    Great post, great point about Yammer being no where near ready (in SharePoint) to be marketed as it is being. As you say it breaks too much SP2013 stuff.

  6. Sbc111 says:

    that’s why I like to fly.

  7. And I don’t blame them for pushing so hard on cloud, as that IS the future of software. But at the same time I agree with Gartner’s assessment that as much as 1/3 of SharePoint customers will NEVER move to the cloud based on security (real or perceived), compliance, and data sovereignty issues. Oh, and performance — which is something people neglect to talk about, instead showing only demos in ideal situations. But that’s a discussion for another day.
    While I believe Microsoft needs to modify its marketing to that of a dual market — on prem and online side by side, you just have to understand their need to re-direct their customers and provide some level of thought-leadership. Unfortunately, too many MS folks carry the cloud banner without the slightest inkling that they understand customer needs and issues. There are not enough voices of reason right now, and that has to change.

  8. I like the freight train analogy for Microsoft: they may take a while to get moving, but once in motion – watch out. There’s no stopping them. Of course….a freight train can’t turn on a dime, either.

  9. Of course, this is an age-old problem: thinking new technology like a magic wand will immediately solve all ills. At the root of almost every technology issue is a lack of understanding of the business problem to be solved. A rash generalization, for sure, but sadly more true than not.

  10. Joel Oleson says:

    With a minimum of 3 revolutions all colliding at the same time, SharePoint is positioned as the big gorilla. They can’t do enough on these revolutions of mobile, social and cloud. The rumors and scary propositions definitely freak people out.
    Totally agree with much of what you’ve said in this post Christian. Well said. I think we need even more guidance across these very critical areas of SharePoint.
    You speak of two competing directions of cloud verses on prem. I’m ready for Microsoft to speak more clearly about these two different products. Too many customers are only hearing cloud, cloud, cloud.

  11. Sbc111 says:

    Currently, there are two significant technology developments that Microsoft is facing – cloud computing* & enterprise social networks*. These are reflected in its SharePoint & Yammer/O365 offerings. Both brings in hyper-competition and a very significant change in strategy that has left its employees, customers and even channel partners guessing how it will all fare out. Very simply, it’ll take time – both CC* and ESN* are in the threshold of S-Curves ‘discontinuity’. It is not merely moving from one technology to another but the entire ecology that has to go with it – i.e., infrastructure, business processes, applications, training and even the mindset of customers and MVPs. To extend your ‘ship’ analogy – a giant aircraft-carrier (or a Carnival cruise ship) does not turn on a dime in the high-seas, it takes a long arcing path to change its direction.
    Brace yourself if’ll be a bumpy but exciting ride.

  12. Ianmcneice says:

    Best article of the year so far Christian, very well put Sir.
    I believe the major issue still remains, business strategy is being defined/led far too much by new technology invention/passion/hysteria when indeed new technology invention needs to be applied to fix the outstanding business issues of the day, which are pretty much the same ones that have been there for decades.
    Love the ageism point – I remember when the young simply had spots and played loud music 🙂

  13. Thanks for the feedback, Simon. Microsoft does not have the best track record in acquisitions, nor of moving quickly and effectively into new markets. They have more of the freight train approach: slow to start, but once up to full speed, get out of the way. Of course, the freight train doesn’t turn on a dime, either…
    As for Microsoft messaging, their marketing is designed to maximize their direct sales ability and, to some degree, their partner sales, but this season of messaging has been, in my opinion, a bit of a mess for all of the reasons I outline above. My assessment is that Microsoft would be best served by a parallel marketing campaign — separate marketing activities for the cloud from existing constituencies. Encourage, enable, make recommendations, but cool the strong arm tactics. Companies will matriculate on their own over time.

  14. Simon says:

    Great post Christian. You have managed to capture and articulate many of the thoughts that have been swirling around in my head.
    I have no doubt that if done properly the Yammer acquisition will have significant impacts on a lot of Microsoft’s business software solutions.
    On one hand I find it very frustration to have the confusing messages that MS has put out in recent times regarding SharePoint and its direction. On the other I find it exciting that this big, “traditional” software company appears to be managing to turn itself around and head in new/different directions to its traditional market.
    Your points on the KPI driven “strategy” is spot on. As we know everything is driven by the scorecard and this often leads to messaging and behaviours that are not necessarily in the best interests of customers, partners, or even MS itself. Not sure if they will ever change that but it will make for interesting “viewing”.

  15. Rich, we can argue about whether SharePoint provides value — i think it can provide tremendous value whether or not it reaches that nirvana state of your primary hub. Along the way, many teams and individuals will unlock productivity whether or not you reach your ultimate vision for the platform.
    But I’d love to hear more from you on the cloud technologies you think are brand new, rather than incremental. I was working on SaaS offerings in the late 90’s, and helped build a cloud-based collaboration platform with some social capabilities that we launched in 2001. None of that was built on Microsoft technology. So while i recognize that there have been major advances in what is possible, I would argue that what has unlocked the cloud more than the platforms or software have been dramatic cost reductions in storage and hardware and the increased speed and available of broadband internet. Let me know where I am off.

  16. Stefan, you’ve made my primary point: you first need to understand what your customers, your end users, you community needs, and THEN go out and find the right technology to meet those needs. Your requirements may preclude you from using a cloud-based platform (for now, at least). But you’re also specifically talking about unstructured collaboration (Yammer) versus structured (SharePoint). There are valid use cases for each, but people need to understand that they are very different tools.
    My philosophy is to always look at technology as tools in my tool belt: use the right tool for the right job. Yammer is a great screwdriver, but it makes a lousy hammer.

  17. Enough about me. What did you think of the article? 😉

  18. I think the key statement here is that if Microsoft doesn’t move quickly enough, they’ll lose future customers… and yet if they move too quickly, they’ll lose existing customers. Thankfully, their language seems to be softening around hybrid, and leaders are talking more openly about real customer scenarios. What I tell people is that Microsoft responds to customers — if enough people speak up, they do respond. I think that this issue reflects just that.

  19. Getrichieb says:

    I do appreciate much of what you said above. And I appreciate you offering some real criticism on big promises failing to deliver value. I think the real take-away from your post needs to be highlighted:
    “your decisions to move (to the cloud) should be based on business value, not pressure from any technology vendor.”
    The problem I’ve seen over the years with SharePoint in particular is that it’s a do-it-yourself approach to everything with a “big promise” that all too often fails to deliver real value. The reality is that in so many organizations SharePoint has failed to become the hub – THE central place where work actually gets done – both inside and outside the firewall. It is a failed vision for so many orgs which I was wrote the article I did. Yes, we all know that SharePoint is not dead and neither is the need for physically hosting certain information on-premise. But why would you continue to invest in something that hasn’t delivered the value promised?
    I’m also not sure I agree that “cloud technologies are incremental to technology we’ve been working on for the past decade or more.” Perhaps incremental describes the Microsoft cloud … which seems to suggest taking same dusty on-premise software and simply hosting it somewhere else. That won’t exactly translate into business value. The reality is that the rest of the cloud offers some game changing innovations that really change how work gets done across any device, any ecosystem, anywhere… delivering on their promises with real measurable business value.
    If I’m CIO/CTO today, I’d really question if putting too many technology eggs in a single Microsoft basket (cloud or on-prem) makes sense as a go-forward strategy and will deliver anything different from business as usual. Consumer trends are real just as real as the high expectations of user experience and demand for real measurable business value.

  20. StfBauer says:

    Thank you very much sharing your thoughts.
    The problem with yammer and the communication of “being social use yammer” as I feel it at the moment is that it’s the same as a “swallow doesn’t make a summer” a timeline doesn’t make your business more social.
    I think that SharePoint veterans (8 years on SharePoint) like I’am are trying hard to create a good environment on SharePoint where people can interact with each other, and give the user where they can find useful information in a semi- or structured way. With Yammer and I’m also on SPYam it’s sometimes really hard to follow threads, find information that are relevant for me and sort out the good from the bad. It’s also time consuming. I think from a perspective of user experience a lot of things needs to be done to make SharePoint Newsfeed or Yammer attractive to not so social media afine people in a company.
    Today it feels like using twitter without using tweet deck or other tools that helps you get a better overview of relevant information.

  21. Rodrigo Pinto, SharePoint MVP says:

    As usual, great article, Buckley!
    Microsoft is really underestimated the demand for on prem, some of my clients\partners are already complaining about it.
    Although i use Yammer also frequently, is a love\hate relationship regarding SharePoint integration .
    I had that feeling before: Tahoe.

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