5 Highlights from SharePoint Conference 2014

SharePoint Conference 2014 wrapped up last week. Microsoft used the big stage to announce some exciting new capabilities and paint a clear picture as to how they see the future of SharePoint.

It starts with their view of the future of work. Not farm labor but information work of course. That future is networked. It consists of individuals and groups collaborating using documents, discussions, chat and video in a fluid setting. People may be working from their office, home, on the road or all of the above and using a variety of devices. They need access and an ability to interact. They need to be productive.

I have to subscribe to this vision as this is exactly how we work at Edgewater today. The future is here.

Microsoft’s vision for the technology that should empower this future of work is a natural extension of their mission of supporting information workers, and with Office 365 it all comes together rather nicely. Your office apps and files, email, chat, video, meetings, groups, calendars, people, social interactions all available and integrated. Available from anywhere and on any device.

It’s not all there yet and as I mentioned in an earlier post, there are quite a few gaps to fill but they are rapidly working on closing it and the speed of cloud deployments will allow them to make it a reality pretty quickly. Unless they find a way to derail things again.

A few things that were introduced this week build on and extend these concepts.

officegraphThe Office Graph: Not a new concept in social networks and a core capability of Yammer, extended to the full Office 365 suite, this is at once exciting and scary. All my activities, connections, interactions are tracked and put into a graph format that allows applications to use this data for a more relevant and personalized experience. It has some great potential applications, some we’ll talk about next with the Oslo interface. On the other hand, not that there is any real privacy in the workplace but any semblance of it will be officially gone. “Did you read my memo from last week”? well, no more white lies as your manager can easily get a report of who exactly read the memo.

OsloOslo: a new tool / interface concept from the FAST search team combines search and the social graph to give you a FlipBoard like experience, bubbling up things you should know. If your close colleagues are all reading the same document, maybe you should too? If a specific blog post is generating a lot of comments, what discussions are very active? Natural language search across multiple data sources. Can definitely be very useful.

GroupsGroups: yes, interesting to think of groups as a new concept. In this incarnation (lovers of public folders rejoice) groups are a cross application construct for discussions. Integrated across Yammer, SharePoint, Outlook and office, the idea is that in many instances, group discussions are a better way to interact than email. The only concern I would have is the proliferation of groups. It may be good for people who are only part of a handful of groups and teams but many of us are part of dozens if not more groups and teams and the interface I’ve seen only included about 6. I hope it scales.

inlinesocialInline social experiences: in short, this recreates a way to have a Yammer conversation on files and other Office, SharePoint and even Dynamics entities. I love this feature. It is such a natural way to interact instead of emailing and allows all people with access to see the discussion.

Cloud Only? Finally, I think the big question on everyone’s mind was what will happen to the on-premise version of SharePoint. With so much focus on the integrative aspect of Office 365 and rolling new features on a weekly basis, will the local server be phased out? The official answer is that the on prem version will continue to be important and get a new version in 2015 and beyond. With such a huge existing installed base they have to. But the future is clear and it is definitely in the cloud.

Yammer or SharePoint 2013 for the Social Enterprise?

In buying Yammer last year, Microsoft pretty much acknowledged that it dropped the ball on social and needed to bring in external reinforcements. Acquiring Yammer also fits well with the new cloud services approach of office 365. The vision according to Microsoft is cloud first. They love the ability to roll out changes and fixes on a faster pace, but mostly, they love the business model.

At the same time SharePoint 2013 includes a much improved set of tools for social collaboration including a brand new activity stream app. So what should you use? Yammer or SharePoint 2013 built in social tools?

Here is the timeline and guidance as provided by Microsoft:

If you are a SharePoint cloud user – go with Yammer. There is a basic integration available now with the promise of single signon in the fall. They also promise updates every 90 days.

If you are an on-premise user (and most companies are since SharePoint 2010 online was not very good..) and moving to SharePoint 2013, the decision is a bit more complicated.

Yammer offers an existing app for SharePoint 2010 that can be integrated in if you are a paying Yammer customer, but nothing yet announced for SharePoint 2013.

So the only option really is to deploy the SharePoint social services unless you are already using Yammer Enterprise and can wait if/until they support 2013.

The longer term roadmap beyond 2014 is cloudy as well. Yammer is a cloud offering and will clearly be tightly integrated into office 365 but as much as Microsoft would like to, not everyone will get on their cloud platform that quickly. In all likelihood, Microsoft will continue to support and even release new version of SharePoint on premise but certain aspects will likely not be improved much and Social seems one of them. Yammer will become a selling point and an incentive to go cloud.

Another interesting point is how will this work for Hybrid Deployments and how migration to the cloud will handle the social data or be able to migrate it into Yammer. We’ll have to wait and see..

For more details see the official blog post from Microsoft and an interesting post on ZDNET on how Microsoft approached social for their internal Intranet, apparently using both models and giving users the choice when creating a collaboration site based on their primary need – document based (SharePoint) or activity stream (Yammer). Now, if only one site could do both..

Building a Collaborative Enterprise: Twitter (Part 1)

This is the first in a series of blog posts focusing on ways to integrate specific collaborative technology platforms into your enterprise.

We’ll do this by examining cutting-edge companies who have embraced collaborative technology, and provide some suggestions as to how these technologies might be applicable in different industries.

If you’re new to collaboration in the enterprise, we suggest you read this post by Edgewater’s Ori Fishler, reviewing McKinsey’s research on “enterprise 2.0” collaborative technologies.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a public, free microblogging service. It allows users to publish short — 140 characters or less — updates to anyone who chooses to listen (the Twitter term is “follow”). Here’s a video to explain more succinctly (and humorously!) than I can:

Chances are, your company already has a public corporate blog presence (a recent study says over 55% of companies do). Your corporate blog is probably much like ours, providing insights, expertise, and guidance to your customers and potential customers. Blogs are generally written in an expository, formal style, providing rich and deep content, and an ability to converse through comments.

Contrast this with Twitter, where the 140 character limit profoundly restrains the amount of detailed dialog your can provide to (and have with) your followers. Companies like Southwest Airlines, Dell Computer, and Comcast have embraced this communication mechanism. The Wall Street Journal recently declared that Twitter is going mainstream. Why?

Why Twitter?: External Collaboration

While much of the focus around Twitter has been on enhancing interpersonal relationships, Twitter serves a unique niche for enterprises that early adopters can take advantage of. It is very difficult (or expensive) to get as close to your customers as Twitter allows through other means.

Areas such as customer relationship management, engagement, and marketing strategy are well-served by the opportunity provided through Twitter.

Brand Monitoring

Much like traditional media outlet monitoring, companies are advised to set up a strategy for watching Twitter for tweets about them.

Since Twitter is often a channel for stream-of-consciousness writing, mentions of companies are often interrelated with visceral experiences, both positive and negative. Delving into the subconscious is a savvy marketer’s dream come true!

A nascent industry has appeared with all sorts of tools to monitor companies’ mentions on Twitter, allowing them to be aware of what people are thinking. Smart companies such as Southwest and Zappos have taken this monitoring a step further, to an intervention approach.

“Today, whatever you say inside of a company will end up on a blog.” — Rusty Rueff

Much like blog/website watching services (such as Google Alerts), tweets regarding layoffs, client information, and other sensitive data must be carefully monitored so that information leaks can be identified before they lead to serious consequences (data or confidentiality breaches at worst, PR nightmares at best) for the company.

Customer Service

Twitter allows for a uniquely personal approach to customer service, providing customers with a way to bypass your standard support structure and (at least have the appearance of) talking to a real, live person. Unlike standard support or CRM systems, however, by default all Twitter conversations are public.

This openness allows a company that is willing to invest in well-trained and highly disciplined customer-focused service to shine in a way that was impossible before Twitter. Your concern for, and engagement on, customer issues will be visible for the whole world to see.

Many companies using Twitter for customer service make wise use of the Twitter direct messaging feature to bifurcate between directing responses containing personal information privately to the requester, while directing less sensitive responses as general replies for the public to see.

Marketing

While the ability to drive a rich marketing campaign through Twitter is limited to 140 characters, it’s possible that, by building a robust following through the techniques previously mentioned, you can deliver a strong message to your company’s followers, who are also likely to be your most ardent supporters.

Zappos created great, low-cost buzz when they randomly selected 10 of their 1,000+ followers to receive free pairs of shoes – brilliant marketing strategy targeted at their most loyal fans. Dell Computer Corporation regularly distributes exclusive coupon offers to their followers.

Sales

While there aren’t a lot of good examples of deals being brokered via Twitter, a couple bigger companies are experimenting and have shown marked success.

An Irish insurance company, FBD Insurance, has begun using Twitter to provide auto insurance quotes and other product information to potential customers.

Dell Computer Corporation launched its @DellOutlet Twitter account in June 2007. By the time 1 year had passed, Dell could trace over $500,000 in sales to links clicked through its twitstream.

To be Continued…

In our next post on Twitter, we’ll cover enterprise options, other creative uses, and potential downsides.

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