SharePoint-Yammer integration promising, but a long-term plan

Microsoft bought Yammer in mid-2012 to boost enterprise social features in SharePoint and other Office and Dynamics products

CIOs and IT managers tracking the progress of the SharePoint-Yammer integration got more details about the road map this week, but the updates were a sobering reminder of the long road ahead as Microsoft works to mesh the two products.

It's been about eight months since Microsoft closed the US$1.2 billion Yammer acquisition, a deal that electrified the enterprise social collaboration market and signaled Microsoft's sense of urgency that it improve SharePoint in this area.

While Microsoft has made some moves with Yammer -- lowering its price and bundling it with some editions of Office 365 -- the first concrete integration points will be delivered this summer, and they will be modest ones.

Deeper integration will follow in the fall, with more next year, but it's clear the grand vision of fusing Yammer with SharePoint and making it the underlying enterprise social layer across Office, Lync, Exchange and Dynamics is a long-term, complicated endeavor.

IT chiefs need to understand this and plan accordingly, based on their organizations' enterprise social collaboration needs, according to Gartner analyst Larry Cannell.

"The combination of SharePoint and Yammer could be market-changing, but this update is a reality check on how long this could take," he said.

In other words, companies shouldn't get blinded by the shiny promise of the Yammer-SharePoint integration and scrap their current enterprise social networking (ESN) plans or implementations if those are fulfilling their expectations.

There are good, viable ESN products in the market for a variety of needs, Cannell said. Some provide ESN capabilities in an "agnostic" fashion to heterogeneous business applications, while others are specifically designed to be SharePoint add-ons. Some are delivered as a public cloud service, while others are meant for on-premise installations. Along the way, SharePoint customers should monitor the progress of the Yammer integration, Cannell said.

It's important for enterprises to realize that Microsoft is trying to strike a delicate balance between the on-premise version of SharePoint and the Yammer public cloud model, he said. Microsoft sees the Yammer model as the future, but realizes that many of its customers aren't comfortable running SharePoint and other Office server applications in the cloud. Thus, while Microsoft encourages customers to move to the cloud, it also needs to give them the option to run the products on premise.

"We'll be in a hybrid situation in Office for years to come," he said.

It's important for Microsoft to keep the communication channels open, said IDC analyst Vanessa Thompson. The road-map details provided this week were timely because the last update had been in November, when Microsoft said its integration efforts would be focused on unified identity, integrated document management and feed aggregation. "People now have a clarification on what the next steps are," she said.

Microsoft said Office 365 customers will get the option this summer to replace SharePoint Online's activity-stream component with Yammer's.

By Microsoft's own account, this initial step is modest. "It's a basic integration. When you click on the Yammer link, it'll open up a new browser window and ask you to sign into Yammer," said Jared Spataro, a senior director in the Microsoft Office Division.

In the same timeframe, Microsoft will deliver a Yammer application that will let users embed a Yammer group feed into a SharePoint site. This Yammer application, which will be available in the SharePoint app store, will work both with SharePoint Online and with SharePoint 2013 servers installed on a customer's premises. Microsoft will also make it possible for customers to replace the newsfeed in SharePoint 2013 servers installed on premise.

SharePoint has historically focused on team collaboration sites and their content, while Yammer's emphasis has been on conversations and interactions among colleagues, so this application will bring those two elements together, Spataro said.

Customers with on-premise SharePoint servers who install this Yammer application will end up with a hybrid deployment. "We'll provide guidance that'll allow them to replace the SharePoint newsfeed with Yammer's, and it will roughly follow the same shape of what we'll see in Office 365: At first, it'll be a very simple integration."

Later in the year, the integration will deepen with a single sign-on and the inclusion of Yammer in the Office 365 interface.

"This will put Yammer in the global navigation bar up top in Office 365, so when you click on that Yammer link you'll be presented with a Yammer experience that starts to mirror the look and feel of the overall Office 365 experience," Spataro said.

Yammer will also gain integration with Office Web Apps, the browser-based version of the Office productivity suite, before the end of the year.

Then, next year, Office 365 customers can expect integration between Yammer and other Office 365 components beyond SharePoint, such as Lync and Exchange. Yammer is also being integrated with Microsoft Dynamics enterprise software.

"We have this vision for the future where social will just be a part of the way people work," Spataro said.

This more frequent, iterative approach to upgrading software is a shift for Microsoft. "In the past, we would have said: 'Give us two years and we'll come out with a fantastic integration," he said. "This is a new approach, where we're doing a basic integration first because we think it'll be valuable, and then roughly every quarter we'll do more and more."

Gartner's Cannell believes the boundaries between all Office desktop and server products will eventually disappear, including those with Yammer, and they will all be Web services under the Office brand. "Office is the key product," he said.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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