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 a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.