Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt. It always happens this way. I’ll be at a conference, having just got off stage, answered numerous questions and received business cards for follow ups. Then, despite what I’ve just very publicly and passionately expounded, people draw me aside, even other Microsoft MVPs and ask, “But really – is Yammer dead? Why are there so many places to have conversations? What should I tell my users to use? Do Groups compete with Yammer? Should we use both?” And my recent favorite – “Won’t Yammer be replaced by LinkedIn?” Sigh. I hear this FUD (almost) every day and at every conference I speak at, so here’s to setting the record straight and hopefully providing some insight along the way.
(Gentle reader, this post is Part 1 of 4, for ease of your consumption and we’re going to moving from the tactical to the strategic. Part 2 will be about Governance in Groups so I will go into greater depth on some of the features discussed below.)
- Yammer is not dead. It’s growing in leaps and bounds as part of Office 365.
- Yammer is part of Office 365 Groups service.
- You have choices in Office 365. That’s a good thing for your users and team scenarios.
- You will choose for your Group whether you want conversations to happen in Outlook or in Yammer.
- You’ll have other Office 365 Groups features available in Groups in Yammer, including SharePoint Team Site for Files, a Shared Calendar (powered by Exchange), a OneNote shared notebook, Planner boards, Power BI and Connectors so you’ll finally have the integration points you’ve been waiting for.
What Is Office 365 Groups?
First and foremost, when we talk about Office 365 Groups, we are actually talking about a Service. A service that connects and integrates components across Office 365 and Azure Active Directory and even beyond in the form of Connectors to systems like Dynamics, Salesforce, Jira, GitHub, Twitter and a great many more.
A Group is simply a group of people inside your company who need to work together. They are a security group, in that this Group of people will be created in Azure Active Directory with permissions and resources assigned to them across Office 365. You can also have an External Group which can include people outside of your company. Because you know so many of the issues we have in sharing files and conversations often involves people outside your org that you are working closely with in a team – a consultant, a vendor, a partner. And this way you get security and compliance controls that you manage in one place across multiple services. How cool is that?
As part of the Office 365 Groups service, there are 4 basic things you get to share, Conversations, Files, Calendar, Notes. On top of that, you get Connectors to other services.
Behind the scenes, when you create a Group (i.e. define a group of people that need to work together), you are creating an object in Azure Active Directory. That means one place where policies and permissions can be applied. From there, resources are provisioned for the Group including a new site collection in SPO for files and a calendar in Exchange.
Conversations in a Group
When you create a new Group, you will be able to select the Conversation mode you want. Do you prefer to have your team conversations in Outlook with an enhanced email experience or do you prefer to have them in Yammer’s more social experience? You decide what’s a better conversation experience for your team. You choose which interface you prefer to work in.
If you and the team are more comfortable working in Outlook, then conversations there give you some upgrades over just peer to peer email, such as having likes (in addition to being a virtual head nod, one of my favorite behaviors is using likes to acknowledge you’ve read the message!) and everyone in the team (the members of the Group) being able to see the conversation even though it may not be directly relevant to them, they can keep up to date with what other issues are going on in the team. When you do this, nomenclature wise, your ‘Groups in Outlook‘ are powered by the Office 365 Groups service.
The corollary, Groups in Yammer, conversations can still be public or private, and will have the features we know and love from Yammer, you’ll still have a Group page with resources and links, but now along with all the goodness of shared resources courtesy of the Office 365 Groups service, files from SharePoint (yay! still accessible through the Yammer interface but the richness of SharePoint’s content management features), shared calendar powered by Exchange (so yes, finally you can see your calendar and overlay your team’s at the same time) and a OneNote Notebook that everyone in the group can get to. (pro tip, please put all the meeting notes in there. All of them.)
Many things that you are seeing in Groups in Outlook have already been informed by best practice from Yammer. For example, the idea of inherent transparency in team conversations for faster communication and alignment, the inclusion of social gestures and features (such as photos) and the ability to have a Usage Policy (use it!!). Similarly, then there are new things as part of the O365 Groups service which will have updates that Yammer can take advantage of which solve some common painpoints, for example:
- standardizing Group membership with AAD
- enforcing Group naming conventions and
- the ability to control who can create Groups
- profile photo synchronization from AAD, so if your users in Yammer have not populated their photos through cajoling of community managers, peer pressure and photo booths, their AD photo can push, but if they already have a photo in Yammer, that existing one will stay in place.
You will have the choice of what features you want to deploy.
Yammer is Growing Up to be a True Part of the Office 365 Family
Now I’m predicting that some of you reading this blog, will be dismayed on some level and feel ‘we’re losing Yammer somehow; it’s going away, getting merged into the great Groupy oneness that is Office 365’. But then there are others who are saying ‘Finally! What took so long!‘. The rebellious blue headed stepchild is maturing and now appreciating the silver spoon family from which its been consistently fed over the last 4 years even if sometimes it didn’t like the taste. We’ve also seen it help that family experiment and learn new things (the young tech ‘stay hungry, stay foolish’ philosophy, and doesn’t everyone just want to share openly?), incorporate new ideas, interfaces and customers. We’re seeing Yammer’s ability to take advantage of the massive investment it took to move to a harmonized infrastructure from the hardware, geo location, security controls and compliance policies, to the Office Online integration and now the Office 365 Groups service for Connectors and so much more, that make the future bright and exciting.
With integration, there undoubtedly comes some loss of identity, but as I look at the recent resurgence of the SharePoint brand and feature set as part of Office 365, I can’t help but smile and remember that just like individuals in families and teams, Office 365 works better together.
What You Can Do Now to Prep:
- All of these changes and value adds, rely on having the switch that says ‘Enforce O365 Identity for Yammer Users‘ pushed on in Yammer. There is some change involved as part of this process to make sure you have parity with the folks you have using Yammer currently, inside O365.
- Use Yammer Uservoice to communicate with the product team for the features and functionality you’d like to see.
- Join O365 Network if you’re not already a member to keep up to date with the latest publicly available content and peer to peer community.
- Request to join the Yammer Service Updates External Group that will show details on some Yammer A/B tests and service communications.
- Watch for further announcements and the timeline for rollout at Ignite (last week of September 2016), the content will be freely available to those who are not attending in person also and I will be blogging before, during and after the event. Editing to add, specifically this session on Work Smarter with Yammer and Office 365 Groups to add to your schedule/Playlist, and would love to see you at my sessions at Ignite, including Critical Success Factors for Ongoing Adoption of Yammer. Still, this will be an iterative journey, so like everything in continuous release in Office, not all changes will happen at the same time. You should expect phasing of the rollout of features in Groups.
- Topics we can expect updates on at Ignite that are on the public roadmap that are also part of this journey, include Yammer integration with Skype For Business (huge yay!) and Editing Posts in Yammer (yay for less typos! and done correctly in a way such that security and compliance are not comprised).
As ever, I welcome your comments and thoughts, it’s more fun when its a conversation:) As I mentioned earlier, this is Part 1 of 4, the next post up will be on Governance in Groups and then onto how identify the common collaboration scenarios in your organization so you can give guidance to end users, and get rid of the what tool when spiral. Finally we’re going to end with the importance of a Collaboration Strategy in your digital workplace, because without it, Collaboration as a Culture and Productivity as a Process can’t be institutionalized.