30 Jan 2014
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Analysing Yammer's year of Microsoft Office and SharePoint...

It’s been 18 months since Microsoft completed its acquisition of Yammer and a little over a year (about 14 months) since the company shared details of their plans at the 2012 SharePoint Conference.

Nevertheless, based on the conversations I have with Gartner clients, many people are just now starting to realise how big of a change this acquisition represents.

The focus and pace of Microsoft’s efforts to integrate Yammer with Office hint at the extent of changes yet to come.

Here is a list of five things we now know about Yammer, Office and SharePoint based on what we’ve learned over the past year:

Yammer will remain cloud-only:

Yes, Microsoft initially stated quite clearly that Yammer would remain cloud-only. However, many people seemingly overlooked this statement (or, maybe, they just didn’t believe it).

Nevertheless, this is proving to be the case and, quite frankly, this is a significant departure for Microsoft and the Office product line. That is, to provide an entire cloud-only enterprise solution that has no on-premises equivalent.

Yammer will remain a distinct product:

Yes, Microsoft initially stated this as well after the acquisition. However, at the time many people expected Microsoft to scale back Yammer’s capabilities to better fit in and not overlap with other parts of Office. This certainly happened when plans to integrate OneDrum document collaboration technology (acquired by Yammer pre-acquisition) were dropped.

Instead, plans were changed to integrate Yammer with documents stored in SharePoint (aka SkyDrive Pro, now OneDrive for Business). However, other overlapping capabilities remain.

For example, Yammer’s Online Now (a feature developed shortly before the acquisition) clearly overlaps with Lync’s instant messaging and presence. However, rather than eliminating Online Now, Microsoft recently released a mobile client app (called Yammer Now) dedicated to the feature. Although Microsoft is busy integrating Yammer into Office (particularly Office 365), Yammer will retain its own identity for some time.

The pace of change around Office 365 is markedly different from the 2010 Office wave:

At one time, Office 365 was simply considered to be a Microsoft-hosted version of the on-premises Office server software suite. Major changes to Office 365 were tied to the release of on-premises software. Today, unique features are starting to show up in Office 365. The recently added “Post” capability that integrates Yammer with Office 365 is a good example.

A major on-premises Office server software release is coming in the next 2-3 years:

In the opening keynote at the 2012 SharePoint Conference Microsoft said they were doing away with their three-year release cycle. However, it appears to be back. In the announcement for Office 2013 Service Pack 1, Microsoft said that changes for on-premises Office server software will continue at the ”traditional release cadence of 2-3 years.”

Office 365 and on-premises Office server software are already forking into separate products:

A clear gap is starting to form between the two. Over time, features in Office 365 may end up in on-premises Office server software. I expect many people who run Exchange or SharePoint servers are hoping this will be the case. However, it’s hard to see this gap ever completely closing, particularly if the Office 365 team is adopting Yammer’s cloud development approaches.

Developing cloud products is vastly different from developing software products intended to be installed on an enterprise’s own servers, meaning it could take significant effort to keep the two products aligned. One has to wonder if feature alignment is even worth the effort. At this time, for example, it’s not clear when or if SharePoint 2013′s follow capability will change to support the use of Yammer (although not identical in function, this would be similar to the Yammer “Post” integration recently added to Office 365) or if Microsoft plans to replicate a Yammer-like experience on SharePoint.

In short, most of the assumptions enterprises have relied on since SharePoint 2007 no longer apply or only apply to part of the suite. Office now spans products delivered for use on-premises and from the cloud. Unfortunately, these distinctions are not widely understood and Microsoft often commingles cloud and software features when describing the suite’s capabilities and future plans.

Therefore, many questions remain. In particular, what do these changes mean for your enterprise’s use of SharePoint, Yammer or Office? How do Microsoft’s actions change the social software and collaboration market, indirectly impacting enterprises using competing products?

By Larry Cannell - Gartner Analyst

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