Yammer Loses Out in Office 365 Collaboration Stakes

Tony Redmond

by Tony Redmond on 7/12/2016

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Applies to:
enterprise collaboration, Microsoft Graph, Office 365, office 365 groups, Yammer

A recent discussion in the Office 365 Yammer network generated some reaction from people who felt like I was attempting to hustle Yammer into the IT equivalent of an early grave. Although I have a preference for Office 365 Groups that I will explain, it’s not true that I want to see Yammer gone. Here’s the true situation as I see it.

Despite not having the expected impact in terms of generating huge enterprise collaboration opportunities that were predicted, I think that the $1.2 billion acquisition of Yammer has proven to be a good deal for Microsoft.

First, Microsoft acquired up to 4 million customers. Some of these might not have used Microsoft technology at the time, but I’m willing to bet that quite a few still use Office 365 today. That being said, the vast bulk of the 70-odd million active Office 365 users claimed by Microsoft probably remain blissfully unaware that Yammer exists.

Second, Microsoft acquired the Enterprise Graph technology, which has evolved to become the Microsoft Graph. The Graph underpins many parts of Office 365, including Delve, Delve Analytics, and the recommendations for new content that now appear in many applications, including the OneDrive for Business “Discover” feature that shows users what documents of interest other people who are connected to them are currently working on.

Third, many reports emanating from within Microsoft since the acquisition indicate that the Yammer development team helped Microsoft to revitalize the way that it develops cloud software. The rapid rate of change that we see today inside Office 365 is partially due to that influence. It’s worth saying that the transfer of knowledge has been both ways as people such as Kristian Andaker, the GM for Yammer for the last two years, moved from the Redmond mothership to Yammer’s base in San Francisco.

So far, so good. What’s less impressive is the rate of progress that Yammer has made inside the Microsoft ecosystem over the last four years. Some of the attempts to make Yammer more pervasive are simply perverse, such as the decision to make Yammer the sole method to discuss items surfaced in Delve. Holding a gun to customer heads and saying, “Use Yammer or else,” is not a way to popularize a technology.

Another recent self-inflicted mistake was the decision to emasculate the email notifications sent by Yammer when new content is posted to a group. In the past, the notifications contained the full text of a contribution and were a great way for those of us who use Outlook as the fulcrum of our working life to keep track of what was being discussed. Now, the notifications contain truncated snippets extracted from group discussions that are often useless in terms of understanding a contribution. Figure 1 shows an example. The text terminates in “how they want…” leaving the reader in a vacuum of anticipation as to how the writer finished the thought.

Most of the time, you have to go to Yammer to find out what’s going on. The goal might have been to encourage users to more fully participate in group discussions. As far as I can tell, all the change has accomplished is to make people mad at Yammer.

Yammer notifications do not seem as robust as Office 365 Groups conversations
Figure 1: A Yammer notification about a group conversation

But more importantly, Yammer has not progressed in terms of becoming a true tool for the enterprise in the way that you’d expect since 2012. Microsoft has tons of experience in pleasing corporate security and compliance officers, yet none of the array of compliance features have been transported over to Yammer. No eDiscovery capabilities, no in-place holds, no data loss prevention policies, no retention policies. Allied to poor search and a non-existent integration with Outlook (still the most important client for Office 365 business users) and you end up wondering just what has been going on in the last four years.

I have advocated that Yammer should move to a common platform (Exchange or SharePoint) to pick up the missing features while retaining its user interface. Although such a consolidation would take a lot of effort, it might be a more productive way forward than attempting to retrofit all the advanced Office 365 compliance, search, and security features on top of Yammer. No one cared to comment on such a plan, even if it extracted a wry smile from Kristian.

To make those in the Yammer camp even more uncomfortable about the current situation, the rise of Office 365 Groups since November 2014 has been impressive. There are still many flaws to address inside Office 365 Groups, but an active development team is pushing forward on all fronts to make Office 365 Groups an attractive choice for team-based collaboration.

Levering the respective strengths of Exchange Online and SharePoint Online, Office 365 Groups deliver threaded conversations, shared calendar, group document libraries shared notebooks, and a strong link to Microsoft Planner. All of the data held in Groups is exposed for compliance purposes. Solid integrations exist with Dynamics CRM Online and Power BI (Pro) and a set of over 50 connectors exist to bring data from other cloud sources into Groups. Good mobile apps (albeit misnamed as Outlook Groups) exist on iOS, Android, and Windows 10 Mobile and are updated weekly.

Best of all, Groups offer some opportunity to move people forward from the information-sharing mechanisms of the 1990s to a more modern platform. Some public folders can be migrated to Office 365 Groups as can some email distribution groups. The question about dynamic groups is still imperfect because of Microsoft’s insistence that dynamic Office 365 Groups are tied to the Azure Active Directory premium license. You can also consider moving documents off old Windows file servers into group document libraries (or more realistically, OneDrive for Business sites).

Office 365 Groups are not perfect, but they are the best answer for team-based collaboration that exists within the Microsoft portfolio today. On the other hand, Yammer is a solid choice for large-scale knowledge sharing such as when you need to support thousands of users connecting to a single group to share ideas. As an example of what’s possible, Pieter Veenstra recently outlined how he uses the Yammer-based Office 365 Network to discuss questions and come to conclusions. Many of the 80,000-plus people who use that network would agree that it is a valuable resource, even if they don’t all recognize that Yammer is the enabling technology.

The need for large-scale collaboration does exist in many companies and Yammer is a good choice to serve that purpose. However, in terms of small-to-medium (up to 100 or so) team sharing, Yammer has been left far behind in the dust kicked up by Office 365 Groups. Technology has to keep moving else it will be left behind by new developments. That certainly seems to have happened with Yammer.

Follow Tony on Twitter @12Knocksinna

Want to know more about how to manage Office 365? Find what you need to know in “Office 365 for IT Pros”, the most comprehensive eBook covering all aspects of Office 365. Available in PDF and EPUB formats (suitable for iBooks) or for Amazon Kindle.

Topic: Collaboration

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