The acquisition of Yammer by Microsoft has by most accounts, propelled Office 365 forward and changed its perception from being the Microsoft Office servers of old with a cloud twist into being seen by most enterprises as a real contender for the productivity suite crown.
I’m fairly sure that there’s many Exchange admins reading this who would disagree and for every Yammer success story there’s a long list of features needed and of course a big white elephant in the room – integration of Yammer into the full Office 365 suite. This can frustrate end-users because they have to make a conscious effort to monitor Yammer to keep up with what’s happening.
If you put together the pieces though you’ll find the bigger story isn’t just about a simple forum software with like buttons – it’s about the underlying technology Yammer had developed – the Enterprise Graph.
If you’ve used or read about Delve then you’ve seen one obvious area where the Enterprise Graph – or Office Graph, as it’s known today, is in use.
Simply put the Office Graph allows information about who and what you interact with to be used to form connections to other people and data. Just like your Facebook profile shows the people you interact with at the top of your feed, the Office Graph understands who you communicate with on Yammer, which documents are shared with you and you often work on and who you interact with regularly on email. Delve is one example of an application that uses the data in the Office Graph to present a view of documents in Office 365 that are likely to be of interest to you.
The idea is that as the technology evolves, the Office graph will help to provide the right information to you at the right time and remove some of the friction points around technology.
Rather than simply a number of Office servers running out of Microsoft’s datacenters, Office 365 becomes a true productivity suite and the more you use it – the more you get out. If you think about it that way – the Yammer acquisition suddenly becomes far more important.
What is Office 365 Groups?
From a business perspective Office 365 Groups provide a way for groups of people to access and interact across multiple Office 365 services. You can create a group for your team and use it to post messages, creating threads similar to Yammer – along with the pre-requisite buttons to like messages. If you’re currently using Distribution Groups or Yammer Groups then you could potentially use the messaging feature in Groups.
It’s more than just a DG replacement though.
You’ve got a shared Calendar – which will give group members the option to add the events to their own calendar as well as keep a shared log of events. You’ve also got a shared OneDrive (well, really a SharePoint team site under the hood) that the whole team can access and share files and documents along with a pre-created shared Notebook.
If this sounds good, then the good news is it doesn’t end here. New features for Office 365, like the Office 365 Planner come with built in groups compatibility. It’s a core feature in Office 365 going forward. Today you can not only use Groups in Outlook, OneNote and OneDrive and on the web – you can download Outlook Groups apps on mobile devices like iOS.
Groups vs Yammer
Today it’s quite confusing to someone starting out. Which should you use? Should you invest the time and effort in getting people up and running with Groups – or start with the more complete but slightly legacy feeling Yammer. The answer is that you can use both.
Yammer today is that walled garden that fosters open communication across the organization. It’s the place where your C-level executives are able to interact and get great ideas from employees (and if you’re using Yammer and this isn’t happening, you are doing it wrong) – whereas Groups doesn’t quite encourage that level of interaction. Groups is more focused on teams, but embraces the same openness to come inside and take a look.
If you’re familiar with forums and newsgroups then it’s fair to say that Yammer’s roots are firmly in the forum and Groups certainly feels more like a newsgroup. Take that whichever way you want. Both have their purpose.
A unified future
From a technical perspective Groups solve a problem. Across the whole suite we have ad-hoc groups used for many things.
You’ll see people create a group in Yammer, a DG in Outlook – maybe a shared calendar too. A team will request a SharePoint site and people will create their own personal groups in clients like Skype for Business.
Office 365 Groups unify these constructs across the suite, providing a way to keep the members list closely to the data for its lifecycle. You can even use Azure AD Connect to sync Office 365 groups back to on-premises and use the groups like normal security groups in Active Directory. Potentially you could the written-back group to manage access to an on-premises SharePoint implementation or a file share.
Office 365 Groups is the future of collaboration in Office 365. However Yammer isn’t going anywhere soon. With Groups’ heavy interaction with Exchange and it likely that Yammer will probably rely on Exchange at some point, it’s worth spending your time becoming an expert in Groups now as it begins to hit prime-time.