Four hours ago the Wall Street Journal reported that Yammer agreed to sell itself to Microsoft for $1.2B. It is a big deal (dollars) and it is a big deal (shift in technology and impact on the SharePoint community and all business information workers). In this article I’ll give you my take on: a) why it is good business for Microsoft to do it, b) why I believe it signals a significant change in the future of applications, the workplace, and end-user productivity, and, c) how we and other ISV’s will adapt and where it will take us.
First off, Yammer is a social networking company – many call it Facebook for the enterprise. At the core of it is the Activity Stream. People post updates, people follow people, and it all flows into their Activity Stream. The stream becomes a single place to go for the user to see their social/collaborative activity. Ostensibly, it is to be used for business purposes, yet, in reality it is at this time really a communications tool vs. a work tool.
On the surface, Microsoft bought Yammer for two good business reasons…
First, SharePoint was being disrupted at the low end of collaboration. In 2003, SharePoint was the easy to understand, easy way to share content. Over the releases it got a little better with collaboration. But, since 2008, the outside vendors like Yammer started to disrupt SharePoint with an even easier way to share information. Yammer, Jive, Box.net, Alfresco, etc. etc. They started to eat market-share and mind-share at the base of SharePoint – those organizations that only use it for the low end work. SharePoint/Office 2013 would have made the “social” feature set of SharePoint better, but, the independent social ISV’s were way ahead and unfettered by enterprise baggage. Microsoft couldn’t afford to lag on this one.
Second, Yammer has a user based business model. The SharePoint market is saturated. Where will the next billion come from? Office 365 is the big bet. But, you need to own the disruptive engine to drive users to it. Hence, Yammer. $5/user/month – $60/year. Just add this feature to the Office 365 package and you justify the price and get your next $1 or $2B in revenue. And, since it is separate and hosted, you can get the $1-$2B without cannibalizing your on-premise enterprise business. (Note: You’ll see how this will work when I talk about what CorasWorks will do in this context.)
Okay, so what does this signal in terms of the future of technology and the user…
If you read the 100’s of articles to appear tomorrow you will read lots and lots about social this and social that. As a technologist for enterprise business, this just isn’t that compelling. Most social-social software is just about the conversation and following people and their conversations. In its current incarnation, it doesn’t add much business value. Yet, it is super hot – you can sell a company with $30m in revenue for more than $1b. But, it doesn’t really add much to the bottom line of enterprises, yet…
The significance is the impact on the business end-user experience over the next five years. What you are witnessing is the tipping point to a new user-centric standard. For 30 years, when we speak of a user interface we are talking about the interface to a single application – be it Word, Excel, Salesforce, Siebel, SAP, mainframe, any business app. Now, take a visual look at Yammer. What if that social activity stream was instead a business activity stream? What if all of the work you do that you need to stay on top of flowed to you in one place and you could easily collaborate with others? What if you could start to manage your work across applications from one place? You, the user, would start to have control and life would be a lot easier than schlepping from app to app. The user would have a new great experience. Throw in real time communications technologies and you have the next generation user experience.
But, there is even more business value to be had. I wrote about this user centric scenario in an article Engage the User with the Cim Activity Stream last year. CorasWorks has an activity stream but it is a business activity stream vs. a social activity stream. You follow work vs. following people. With ours all activity is around the work as part of our Work Management platform – programs, tasks, requests, knowledge content, policies, projects, opportunities, task orders, items in processes, etc. So, we are a bit different. The reason is that our core business is enabling organizations to build all of those business apps on SharePoint that add tangible business value without coding. We simply saw the user experience of an activity stream, like the UI of Yammer, as a great way to bring all of those apps together and put work at the fingertips of the user.
So, the Microsoft purchase of Yammer signals a shift to user-centric activity stream experience today, which, over the next few years will extend to encompass more and more of users’ core business activity. Thus, the real business user interface will move from many app UI’s to their activity stream.
Why only Microsoft should have moved on it?
Over the last year, a problem in this beautiful future started to occur – many ISV’s (independent software vendors) started adding activity streams. If the purpose is a single user experience, then, how will it be good if every vendor had their own activity stream. We had ours on SharePoint. Newsgator has a social – social activity stream on SharePoint. So, we federated ours into theirs. I wrote about the need to do this more than a year ago. We also began the process to federate into Yammer, Salesforce’s Chatter, Jive, Appian, and SharePoint in Office 2013, etc. Believe me this is costly to support, but, a commitment to cross-federation was the only way to make it work for the users unless…
Viola, now Microsoft buys Yammer. To us, this means that we can now federate to Microsoft Yammer and push business activity into that stream. Will others ISV”s follow? I believe so. What you’ll start to see is the flow starting to go into this new UI.
Why Microsoft? Because it is up to them to set the industry standard. They are uniquely positioned to do so in mass as they have done many times before. I think on this one, they can and will do it. We the mass will accept them because there should only be one. While we hate that it makes life easier in situations where you need a single standard.
Where CorasWorks stands in all this?
The base of SharePoint users is really just starting to move in mass up the stack from low end collaboration into work management apps – our sweet spot. We have always pushed the business value of an integrated workplace of inter-connected applications on SharePoint. We’ve set the standard for configured apps vs. custom coded that accelerates the ability for customers to create the apps they need and drive tangible business value. We’ve set the standard for cross app integration on SharePoint. We added the business activity stream to drive that integration and end-user convenience further.
Over the last couple of years we worked to trumpet the move to this new user-centric approach to work. We have a small trumpet compared to Microsoft. I see Microsoft’s move accelerating the realization of organizations on how all of this comes together to serve the user which will drive more apps onto the platform to feed the experience. We will do our part to federate and help drive the movement. My belief is that we are moving into a new era of a virtuous cycle that will simply make it easier and more productive for people to work better together. It is a good day.