Edit 2012-06-25: it has now been confirmed, Microsoft has acquired Yammer. The rest of the post is still valid, so please do read on.
There’s a rumor going around as of June 14th that Microsoft is about to buy Yammer for over $ 1 billion. While Yammer is not strictly speaking about CRM or even social CRM, they are very much about the social business transformation that is shaking up all the tools that businesses use, including CRM. That’s why I thought I’d share some thoughts and examples of why I think this deal would be really important for Microsoft.
First, a couple of tasks that are not too much fun with the Microsoft business apps as of now.
Sharing content is not fun
Our corporate intranet was upgraded from SharePoint 2007 (BPOS) to 2010 a few months ago. I was interested in trying if I could leverage the built in social capabilities for replacing our Yammer network (free version, in limited use, shadow IT at its best) for sharing interesting online articles with our team. In Yammer you get a cool graphical preview of the shared URL’s target page, you can add tags right under your post (or through hashtags), mention people in posts, follow them etc. All the good stuff that’s made Twitter what it is + then some.
Looking for a way to properly do this in our SharePoint intranet got me really confused:
Should I write my comment + URL on the little note board in my personal page? Hmm, no this doesn’t achieve what I want. Do I put it on the callout box on top of my profile picture? Naah, that just works for short “working on CRM implementation at Singapore” type of updates, not URLs. Looks like there’s no good user experience for link sharing round here, and even if there was, how would people actually discover my content? Or if they would, what place could they use for replying and starting a discussion around the topic?
The sheer amount of effort I was required to put in investigating how the SharePoint social features work is already a showstopper, as most other users won’t be interested in making that kind of an investment. On Yammer and other modern social tools they don’t need to RTFM. If you know how to use Facebook, then you know enough about Yammer to get started. Which is why I’ve sticked with Yammer for content sharing and left SharePoint mainly for document management purposes.
Sure, a lot of social functionality could be developed by using SharePoint 2010 as the platform for it. Unfortunately the word “could” very often gets replaced with “won’t” in real life. I call it the 90-9-1 rule of business apps. 90% of customers stick with the out-of-the-box functionality, either by choice or by ignorance. 9% invest resources into configuring and customizing the functionality to meet their own requirements. Only 1% go and develop something really cool that squeezes out all that “could” juice from the application by building advanced integrations & custom UI’s.
“But wait, isn’t SharePoint 2013 going to kill all the other enterprise social software with its new social features?” I’d love to see that happen, but there’s been some doubts expressed about this and I think the rumors sound all too plausible (see: Microsoft: SharePoint 2013 Will Suck at Social – Get Something Else!).
Searching for content is not fun
Dynamics CRM is a great platform in so many ways, but one thing that’s severely lacking in it is the search capabilities. No, not the Advanced Find query editor, which is awesome (well, as awesome as FetchXML limitations allows it to be, but anyway). I mean the kind of searches we do on 99% of our daily applications: free text search.
If I want to look up opportunity records that contain the text “foo” and “bar”, I can’t just type it into a search box like in Google as only a single search term is supported on Quick Find (yeah, I know Outlook client is a different app). Alternatively, if I want to look for “foobar” from all my records in CRM, I’ll need to acquired a global search add-on from a 3rd party, since Dynamics CRM doesn’t provide a cross-entity search capability. (Oh, and did I mention you can’t search the Activity Feed post content at all?) Sure, you could again build a solution for this with BCS and SharePoint, but that get’s us back to the 90-9-1 rule…
Yammer sure promises a lot with its Universal Search functionality, with advertised capabilities to search across LoB apps like SAP or SharePoint. Whether they can deliver, I’m not sure yet, since at least the free version’s search is often unable to find content that is there. Still, they support the “human” way of searching for unstructured content, which means they can always improve the functionality, simply because they have it to begin with.
Why Yammer wouldn’t solve everything
If Microsoft buys Yammer tomorrow, will these things get fixed overnight? No, probably they won’t. Their logo will surely find its way into all presentations in a heartbeat, but the practical implications may be less immediate. Consider Skype, how much has that acquisition changed the lives of Microsoft customers? Not very much yet, probably Windows Phone 8 will be the first real evidence of Skype being an MS product. Another example could be Microsoft’s deal with CWR Mobile, which will initially only change the purchase process and branding of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Mobile for CRM Online users. Since Yammer has just recently announced their own integration to Dynamics CRM, that would most likely be the extent of MS’s offering for quite some time.
When a solution comes from the outside, integrating it into the portfolio with the rest of the products can be troublesome. Dynamics CRM is pretty much an in-house product that Microsoft has developed internally, unlike for example their ERP products they’ve acquired from elsewhere. My knowledge of NAV, AX, SL, GP or C5 is very limited and I don’t claim to understand the day-to-day challenges that accounting people face when dealing with legislative quirks that us CRM guys don’t need to worry about, but: five products vs. one?
Sometimes you may not have the choice of buy vs. build if the market is expecting you to make big acquisitions to prove that you haven’t fallen behind your competition on investment levels. Oracle and Salesforce.com sure have been big spenders when it comes to anything related to social. $5 billion and $3 billion respectively, as illustrated on this infographic, all spent on buying themselves a suite of applications that can deliver a social CRM / social business platform when combined.
Should Microsoft go on a similar shopping spree? I don’t think trying to buy your way into social business is necessarily the right or only answer. What’s most importnat in my opinion is that after adopting the cloud Microsoft will set its next focus to be adopting social, for real. Betting on the cloud is starting to pay off for Microsoft the way I see it. Now it’s time for their next move. All in, once again?
Good post. This is what I think Microsoft should do.
1) build a social collaboration framework as a core ‘service’, similar to the approach they took with windows workflow foundation. This core service should be used across all products – Dynamics CRM, SharePoint, Office, Project, Dynamics ERP, etc.
2) Build a new simple Office 365 Small Business edition on a unified stack based on: Yammer, Skype, new Hotmail, Skydrive.
Very good perspective. If it is just functionality Microsoft needs seems like they could build better sharing and search. If this is a $1B deal Microsoft surely wants more than features. Competition with Salesforce Chatter, acquisition of Yammer’s client base and positioning as a player in the social world could all be driving factors.
As Mary Jo Foley points out in her post, OfficeTalk was rumored to be the Microsoft version of Chatter over 1 year ago, but it has since then disappeared. Sure, we got a very useful enhancement for Dynamics CRM in the form of the Activity Feeds, but looking at it from a higher perspective, that was never going to be THE answer to all the social & collaboration needs of Microsoft customers. Both CRM and SharePoint now have partial functionality available in their own silos, but there’s no “master feed” to bridge the gap, especially when considering collaboration with external parties.
I’m sure Microsoft could have very easily developed a new product like OfficeTalk that would match the functionality available in Yammer, but for one reason or another, they didn’t. Be it internal politics or whatever, it looks to me like time is now running out on them to bring out a solution and Yammer seems like a very logical acquisition target. Yammer had recently themselves acquired OneDrum software that ” allows businesses to share, sync, and collaborate on Microsoft Office documents in real-time.” Again, similar to Yammer’s Universal Search, the concept looks beautiful on video and is much closer to the consumer-like experience that people are now starting to expect from their apps at the office, after getting used to Dropbox and Google Docs at home. Like Yaron mentioned, there could indeed be room for a more simple stack of productivity apps which Microsoft could build on top of solutions like these. No need to preserve full backward compatibility, as customers can easily see this is a new breed of apps born into the collaborative cloud, instead of moving there gradually through a hybrid model like Microsoft’s enterprise offering is doing it.
OfficeTalk is very much like alive in Microsoft and very much like Yammer, and infact parts of it and/or similar concepts are being built into Sharepoint 15
Thanks for the info, Paul. I have also actually seen http://officetalk as a referring URL on my blog’s incoming traffic as well, so I do believe this service is used internally at MS. I’m also positive that SharePoint 2013 will contain this type of functionality, hopefully with an improved UX over what SP2010 offers.
The dilemma that Microsoft has with the social feeds is that they’re fragmented across different products. CRM has it’s own Activity Feeds, SharePoint has them, and even Lync is offering a status update functionality for the users. If I’m working on the MS business applications stack, where should I type in my posts? It’s a similar scenario as with the consumer tools: should I post my comment on Facebook for my friends to see, tweet it to the entire world, post it on Google+ with better formatting & discussion functionality, put it on LinkedIn to promote my professional profile…
Just like many of us active users of different social networks have adopted tools like TweetDeck or HootSuite to consolidate content from several different applications/networks into a single master feed (or at least a feed dashboard of some sort), Yammer could become “The Feed” for businesses, pulling in posts & updates from SharePoint, CRM, Lync, SAP, (Salesforce.com, god forbid…) and any other app that offers the wall posts type of functionality. Let’s face it: how many new apps are developed that don’t offer it? The detailed business logic and rights management of what is posted and who can see it could remain in the source app, for example the Dynamics CRM Activity Feeds, but instead of rendering them in the personal wall we see inside the CRM UI, people would consume it through Yammer.