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How SharePoint Fits into Your Social Collaboration

SharePoint, Microsoft's portal software, winds up factoring into practically every social collaboration strategy, regardless of whether it is at the center of that strategy. At a minimum, every serious social collaboration tool for enterprise use must include some form of SharePoint integration, and the quality of that integration often ranks high among the selection criteria of corporate customers.

About 75 to 80 percent of the Fortune 500 are SharePoint customers. When the product was new, Microsoft made a practice of distributing a free version of the software with Windows Server, which became an easy option for departmental server administrators looking to provide basic intranet publishing. Today, there is still a free version called SharePoint Foundations 2013. When more demanding applications emerged, many organizations that got started for free paid for an upgrade. Microsoft has also successfully promoted SharePoint as a platform for file sharing and application development. The SharePoint 2010 edition added some basic social collaboration features, including status posts and MySite profiles.

Microsoft has made itself a more competitive player in social collaboration with the release of SharePoint 2013 and the purchase of Yammer.

Assessing commitment to Microsoft's collaboration platform

Where SharePoint falls in your social collaboration strategy will depend on your commitment to the platform. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is SharePoint a core, strategic technology platform for your organization, filled to the brim with assets that will be critical to the success of the collaboration initiative?

  • Has SharePoint been used casually, perhaps to host some departmental newsletters on an intranet but nothing terribly strategic?

  • How satisfied are your employees with the SharePoint user experience? Have they been using it effectively, or are they frustrated?

  • Would adding social collaboration around the existing SharePoint experiences make them more effective?

As of Fall 2013, Microsoft is promising a "converged experience," merging user interface elements of Yammer and SharePoint, arriving first in the Office365 cloud version of the product. Parallel features are expected in the on-premises version of SharePoint, but not at the same pace.

Questions for your Microsoft sales representative may include

  • Will Microsoft continue to invest in the SharePoint social newsfeed? Will it be competitive with the features offered by Yammer?

  • Will Microsoft ever provide an on-premises version of Yammer? (Probably not, but it doesn't hurt to ask.)

  • What exactly is Microsoft doing to more deeply integrate Yammer with SharePoint? For example, how will the integration extend beyond the home screen news feed to encompass SharePoint document management, project management, and user profile data and functions?

Microsoft's acquisition of Yammer also raises a great many questions about the future of NewsGator Social Sites, an enterprise social networking product that works as an application running on top of SharePoint. Although NewsGator continues to race ahead with social networking features that go beyond those provided by even the latest edition of SharePoint, it is seeking other ways of distinguishing itself, including the addition of some of its own cloud-based extensions. At the same time, one of the things many SharePoint shops find attractive about NewsGator's software is that it does not force them to move to the cloud.

Using SharePoint as your social platform

A couple years ago, calling SharePoint your enterprise social network would get you laughed out of a convention of community managers. Without heavy customization or the use of an add-on product, SharePoint simply wasn't competitive.

With SharePoint 2013, though, the product has done a lot of catching up in how it manages profiles, activity streams, and people searches, as well as offering an apps model for extending the platform.

Microsoft has also been talking about ways for SharePoint and Yammer to be used together (even though Yammer is a cloud product and most SharePoint instances run inside a corporate firewall).

So where does that leave those IT managers who don't want their collaboration apps to touch the cloud with a 10-foot pole? This is where understanding the product roadmap and judging how far to trust it becomes important. Microsoft may continue to invest in social features for SharePoint itself, or that energy may go into Yammer. At this point, it's anyone's guess.

Extending SharePoint

You can stick with SharePoint as the core but extend it with another product, such as NewsGator Social Sites. NewsGator is built as a SharePoint application, giving it the tightest possible integration with the platform.

Many enterprises chose to align with NewsGator when it was one of a very few options for making a SharePoint-based enterprise social network measure up. Even with the introduction of SharePoint 2013, many businesses remain confident of NewsGator's capability to innovate with social features faster than Microsoft will.

Linking SharePoint to your social platform

The more common strategy among social collaboration vendors is to seek ways of linking to or embedding content from SharePoint into their platforms and vice versa. For starters, a SharePoint web page can be referenced with a link in the social stream just like any other web page. Another approach, which Yammer was leveraging since before the acquisition, is to provide a SharePoint Web Part UI component that pulls in a social feed, such as a Yammer discussion thread relevant to the topic of a particular SharePoint page.

Deeper levels of integration are also possible. For example, the Jive for SharePoint add-on module reconfigures Jive to use SharePoint as the content repository for file storage. In addition, activity feeds can be integrated between Jive and SharePoint (subject to some restrictions in the SharePoint security model), according to Jive.

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