Business collaboration a hidden motivation in Microsoft, LinkedIn deal

Enterprise collaboration has never been a strong suit for LinkedIn, but that could change if Microsoft has its way. A combined LinkedIn and Microsoft could help professionals both find jobs and improve workplace productivity.

Nearly a month after Microsoft's blockbuster bid to buy LinkedIn, another reason why the companies joined forces has become more apparent: effective enterprise collaboration depends on community and tools. LinkedIn has a large, motivated community of 433 million registered users, but its business tools are lacking.

LinkedIn's weak enterprise utilities were one of many contributing factors that led the two companies to merge. Turning that weakness into strength is something only a few companies could do. Facebook, Google, Salesforce and others were also in the hunt, according to a proxy statement recently filed with the U.S. SEC, but Microsoft won the bidding war with its $26.2 billion offer.

[Related: LinkedIn makes enterprise inroads with new communication tools]

Until that point, the professional social network had missed its opportunity to become a tool for workplace productivity, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. In early 2015, LinkedIn revealed plans to simplify communication and sharing between coworkers on the site, but the effort never grew beyond a mobile app directory, called "LinkedIn Lookup."

LinkedIn weak on collaboration, strong on community

Few workers use LinkedIn to collaborate, but the idea has long seemed like a natural evolution for the social network that's best known as a place to find new jobs.

Many professionals send messages and post updates on LinkedIn, but no tools exist for workers to collaborate and complete more complicated tasks, according to Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "This is where Microsoft comes into play," he says. "LinkedIn has the community and Microsoft has the tools." Without those tools, LinkedIn's primary purpose will be to make connections, help people post their resumes and get their qualifications in front of interested companies and recruiters, according to Moorhead.

[Related: Microsoft's big bet on LinkedIn not just about data]

LinkedIn has never been viewed as a workplace collaboration tool and few businesses come to the platform to collaborate, according to TJ Keitt, a senior analyst with Forrester Research. "It's been a fine tool for certain functions within businesses to locate and communicate with prospective employees and customers," he says. "But as a tool to facilitate enterprise collaboration … not so much."

Keitt says he isn't convinced social collaboration was ever part of LinkedIn's strategy. History also hasn't been kind to other platforms that have followed that path, according to Keitt. "If the last 10 years of enterprise 2.0 has taught us anything, it's that applications vendors have had limited success trying to make social tools the core of their upsell strategy."

LinkedIn's vision (or lack thereof) for enterprise collaboration was never fully realized, but the information it has on professionals' work histories, education, interests, connections and expertise will be "vital to Microsoft's plans in the collaboration and productivity arena," Keitt says.

"What brought the companies together is clear to me," Moorhead says. "Microsoft had the tools but lacked the community and deep profiles. LinkedIn had the community and deep profiles but lacked the tools."

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