Users offer mixed reactions to SharePoint, Yammer integration plans

Jonathan Gourlay

Microsoft announced a host of SharePoint 2013 enhancements last week at its SharePoint conference in Las Vegas, and highlighted the collaboration portal's enterprise social, mobile and cloud capabilities to more than 10,000 attendees over the three-and-a-half-day event.

Explaining the company wanted to provide an intuitive user interface "just like a consumer experience in Kindle or Netflix," Microsoft Corporate Vice President Jeff Teper told the crowd during the opening keynote that users would be able drag and drop content and get better search results. Additionally, organizations can now use Microsoft's cloud-based storage service, SkyDrive, to store and sync content with mobile devices. But it was SharePoint 2013's upcoming integration of Yammer that seemed to strike a chord with many users at the conference.

Yammer, which Teper said has the most users in the enterprise social network (ESN) space, can now integrate with SharePoint's enterprise collaboration capabilities. This is possible using Yammer Web Parts, which enables users to add a Yammer feed to a SharePoint page, view and move between Yammer feeds, and post messages and links. There's also Yammer Open Graph, comprising tools that enable developers to create relationships between objects such as photos and events.

The next step, Teper said, will be a fully unified Yammer integration with SharePoint so social "is woven into the apps you use every day."

More than 200,000 organizations currently use Yammer social networks in 150 countries, said former Yammer CEO David Sacks during his portion of the keynote at the SharePoint 2012 conference. Sacks, who became a Microsoft corporate vice president after Microsoft bought Yammer for a reported $1.2 billion in June, called social networking, "the most efficient many-to-many form of communication ever invented."

Many SharePoint users at the conference seemed to agree, while others took a more cautious stance.

"We've been looking at the social functions of SharePoint for some time," said Jason Specland, SharePoint systems developer at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. "However, we haven't quite found a way to integrate that into our organization just yet, and so we've been looking at other kinds of solutions, and Yammer [is on] our radar."

The medical school is already a SharePoint user and is expecting to migrate both to SharePoint 2013 and Office 365, and therefore Yammer would likely be the ESN of choice, Specland added.

At Magna International in Toronto, Canada, though, the Yammer integration might be beside the point as the social product is already being used by employees.

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"I think it's a great tool," said Roz Rahman, SharePoint administrator for Magna, an international automotive systems supplier. But Rahman had questions about the upcoming integration. "I'm seeing Yammer and the new 2013 News Feed, which seems to me kind of redundant, or maybe [they are] complimentary to each other, so I really don't know how we would go about it."

Rahman is keeping a close watch on Microsoft's Yammer integration plans. He expects Microsoft to take a methodical approach, watching carefully to see how customers use Yammer and My Newsfeed in a SharePoint 2013 environment before revealing too many new enhancements. My Newsfeed displays a page of recent activities related to a user's colleagues and interests. It is a customizable page and relates to the account owner's special interests and profile.

"I guess we will also be watching in the next few years how Microsoft is promoting [the products]."

For SharePoint user Sharon Weaver, knowledge management technology leader for Black & Veatch Corp. in Overland Park, Kansas, the upcoming integration was good news. Weaver was at the SharePoint conference to look into the possibility of deploying SharePoint 2013 at her company, and to see how it fits with the engineering, consulting and construction company's corporate goals.

"Now that we're allowed to bring blogging into our environment, [executives] are embracing it wholeheartedly, and so Yammer actually provides the ability for us to expand social collaboration across our enterprise."

Another SharePoint user is Great American Insurance Group in Cincinnati, Ohio. The company sent a few of its information professionals to the conference to investigate how it might make use of SharePoint 2013's new features.

"I think it's brilliant," said Lindy Gibbons, a SharePoint designer at Great American. "The timing's unfortunate for us, because I know they were looking at the Jive collaboration tool because the social features in [SharePoint] 2010 didn't meet the needs, so that's why we're hoping to get to 2013 quickly."

When asked how the Yammer integration was likely to help their organizations' internal efforts, each of the users interviewed at the SharePoint conference said it should enable workers to find the right specific information quickly, and help generate more ways of solving issues.

"Social connects people, and when people connect they are exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking, and when they're exposed to new ideas, people change," said Adam Pisoni, chief technology officer of Yammer and general manager of engineering for Microsoft's Office division, during the opening keynote. "It empowers the people closest to a problem to find the best solutions."

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