It’s no big secret that Microsoft was looking to spend big bucks on the Enterprise Social Network Yammer when rumors emerged early last week of a deal in the works. Yesterday, they went ahead and pulled out the big check to bring Yammer into the Office suite for a little more than a billion dollars. Just about everyone agrees that Microsoft isn’t going to make money outright from the buyout – its freemium model has led to wide adoption and a steady stream of customers… but not in the billion territory.
Setting aside the question of whether it was worth it, I’m going to try to answer the question of “who should care?”
My hypothesis is simple: social business haters need to perk up.
Why did it happen in the first place?
First, let’s look at why Microsoft bought Yammer to get at the root of the value proposition (again, not trying to justify the numbers here, just the concept):
- SharePoint is good on paper and sucky in implementation. What Microsoft is betting on (and I think they’re right about this) is that SharePoint needs to be seen less as a massive content management platform and more of an integrated piece of how an organization shares, builds, and stores content. It has huge wins in this category over Google, IBM, and just about everyone because of the ubiquity of Word/Excel/PowerPoint. But what SharePoint doesn’t deliver is much of an ability to make it easier to work together – you still sort of need to know where to go.
- Yammer brings gamification potential. I don’t know that I’ve really caught on to the whole gamification binge yet, but Yammer sure offers internal enterprise insight into who knows what and is sharing what they know. Imagine if you could highlight a paragraph of a doc you’re working on and right click for an option like “intellicrowd” and get recent (and leading) Yammer-like discussions with recommended experts and so forth. Forget about expert identification, you’re now getting content from the experts that happen as they work and can rely less on wikis and blogs which still require a lot of maintenance.
- Yammer is growing fast, innovating, and has a lot of talent. Microsoft bought a lot of talent with that billion dollars and they’re hoping that Yammer’s growth and innovation is infectious in what is an otherwise fairly boring Office ecosystem.
- It’s called Metro. If you saw Microsoft’s attempt at a tablet, you were either skeptical or impressed. Quite honestly, I fall into the latter category – I just didn’t think they could pull it off well. That said, the Metro interface relies on smart updates from a variety of sources. Microsoft is betting that an intelligent and filtered Yammer-like feed pulling from Office and more offers just that.
- Office 360 needs a jolt. If you’ve read any of the comparisons, most people would rather stick with their Google Docs. But 360 will get better and hopefully cheaper with less reliance on an on-premise install. More real-time edit, expertise finder, and smart feeds will make it worth an upgrade at some point.
All of this is to say, when you take a workhorse like Office and add in the right types of transparency, insight, and yes, “social” you can come up with something pretty big.
What does that have to do with believing in social business?
When the buzz died down from “social CRM” and people realized that it was just a smart way to engage internal and external stakeholders in a unified platform to make the most of the data and knowledge assets an organization had, things like SalesForce.com’s Chatter haven’t really raised any eyebrows. It’s not a reason for buying it, but it helps and increases productivity and increases an organizations ability to build relationships inside and out.
I’m guessing that “social office” or something like it will be the nest big bump of the now very diluted Enterprise 2.0 that just encompasses too much – HRM, CRM, ERP, etc. Working with others in a more “real time” kind of way can reduce feedback loops and time to production/decision.
Just as Peter Kim of the Dachis Collaboratory wrote recently, Social Business isn’t about a specific set of applications but rather the way that a business harnesses its internal talent and external touchpoints through analytics, engagement, marketing, and networking. Similarly, Yammer in Office isn’t about “socializing” Office, but rather is a step forward in enabling people to engage more effectively through productivity tools they’re already using.