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Microsoft, Enterprise Social and the Cloud

This is the first post in a series about Microsoft, SharePoint and Enterprise Social Networks – both now and in the future. We will be looking at the current landscape, Microsoft’s plans for the future, and how Beezy is transforming the Social experience for SharePoint customers.

Historically SharePoint has been criticised for its substandard social functionality. Going back to the 2007 and 2010 releases, Microsoft was clearly caught somewhat on the back foot. The likes of LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook were slowly making users in the consumer space sit up and take notice. Yet Microsoft didn’t really seem to get it. Certainly its SharePoint release cycle – a ‘big bang’ version every three or four years – didn’t help. But as has often been the case with Microsoft it just didn’t anticipate the sort of social functions many of us now take for granted. Long story short, as the web innovated at breakneck speed, SharePoint could only respond in the most basic of fashions with limited Service Pack updates. Users of SharePoint 2007 and 2010 had message boards, and basic status updates, but little else.

The release of SharePoint 2013, was supposed to be different. Social was, we were told, now firmly on Microsoft’s agenda. To be fair SharePoint 2013 did offer a number of enhanced features in this area. The whole ‘Newsfeed’ functionality was overhauled, from the MySite version in SharePoint 2010, with the ability to follow people and even documents. The dedicated community site template was (and still is) useful, updating the rapidly aging concept of the message board.

Yet there was much more going on with ‘Social’ at Microsoft that we knew at the time. A year earlier, in 2012, Microsoft had purchased the Enterprise Social Network Yammer for $1.2 billion. Many saw that the product has synergies with SharePoint, not least Microsoft. But other than placing the company in the Office team they weren’t saying much about how they intended to use their new toy. The release of SharePoint 2013 with its own social feature set posed more questions than it answered.

Yammer and Office 365

We now know of course that Microsoft did indeed want to use Yammer to plug the gaps in SharePoint’s social functionality, but it had a few transformation plans of its own to put into action first. Most notably it was working through the painful separation of SharePoint into distinct On-Premises and Online versions. SharePoint 2010 did have a Cloud presence, in the form of Business Productivity Services, but the tool was limited and very much a poor relation to the full locally installed version. With 2013 Microsoft really wanted to make the break to the Cloud properly.

Whilst most customers now understand that there are separate On-Premises and Cloud versions of SharePoint, Microsoft hasn’t quite ironed out all of the kinks in their roadmap. Or at least they aren’t telling their customers everything they have planned. Even now it is hard to get Microsoft to commit to exactly the future of the On-Premises version. Microsoft stated at SPC’14 that there would be ‘no more investment in social features for On-Premises SharePoint’, but there is still confusion about what exactly this means. Likely it will leave On-Premises customers relying on cloud services Yammer, which isn’t what many want.

Microsoft, under Steve Ballmer and even more so under new CEO Satya Nadella, clearly wants to build out and focus on its Cloud offerings and has done some excellent work in this area with Azure and Office 365. Indeed Office, one of Microsoft’s most successful and profitable products, has radically shifted to a Cloud ‘powered’ subscription model with its latest 2013 release. The easiest way to get the desktop software is now via an Office 365 subscription, and you can even access versions on an iPad and iPhone.

Into this rosy Cloud future comes SharePoint Online, the portal and collaboration aspect of Office 365. Microsoft has been busy building out new features and functions, most recently launching a public roadmap so people can preview the release schedule for themselves. Yammer plays a huge role in this new functionality, and is rapidly starting to replace native SharePoint social features altogether i.e. the Newsfeed is no more and can be replaced by the Yammer feed.

Where does this leave On-Premises customers?

Whilst Yammer integration is available for all versions of SharePoint, not every company using the On-Premises version is yet ready to move to the cloud. This can be for many reasons. They may have a significant investment they want to maintain. They may be very happy with other aspects or features of SharePoint. Or they may be reliant on integrations with business critical systems.

What ever the reasons, and no matter any long term plans to move to the cloud, right now many customers are looking at a reduced set of options when it comes to Enterprise Social Networking.

Beezy is addressing these concerns in a number of innovative ways. Our unique product for SharePoint 2013 On-Premises customers gives them a powerful alternative option for Enterprise Social Networking. We also have an Office 365 roadmap, which allows our customers to migrate to the cloud at their own pace, when they are ready. We will be sharing more about this in the coming weeks and months.

Join us very soon for part two of this blog series were we will look more closely at exactly what Beezy offers, and seeing just how many SharePoint On-Premises customers are continuing to use SharePoint to drive forward their businesses.

Maximo Castagno

Maximo Castagno

Chief Product Officer. I’m a sociologist designing for humans since 1998.