NewsGator, SharePoint and Yammer walk into a bar…

The recent posts from Jeremy, Chris and Nik about social decisions for enterprises are great. As a company that has focused on enterprise social in the world of SharePoint for many years, I wanted to add another perspective. Plus, I bartended for a short stint many years ago — and how many times do you get to lead off a blog post with a bar joke setup? Stick with me to the end for the punch line.

NewsGator customers who are deploying Social Sites on 2013 right now see the consistency of user experience and the coverage of social use cases as critical. As Jeremy pointed out, social features are scattered across SharePoint 2013. So if you’re doing an integration that only happens in one place, you really have to worry about consistency for the users. When creating the SharePoint 2013 integrations for NewsGator Social Sites, we spent a lot of time working on the “following” behavior, the handling of stream data, and making team sites and out-of-box community sites behave consistently.

NewsGator customers like the consistency and depth of integration in addition to all the value we bring around control, end-user experience, analytics, compliance features, integrations with Outlook and Exchange, advanced badging, expertise discovery, ideation, integrating external streams (including Yammer, Salesforce, Dynamics, Twitter), video streaming, etc. The point here is that companies who are deploying SharePoint 2013 need to understand the social use cases they are trying to solve, and they need to think through how that needs to work for end users.

Since I’m “living dangerously” by writing a business blog post with a bar joke title, I might as well guess ahead about how SharePoint and Yammer might fit together at some point. When I want to get a feel about how two things will fit together, I look at data model and security. SharePoint’s data model for things that show in the activity stream is really interesting. Some of the items (microblogs) are list items stored in many, many different lists across SharePoint. They are pretty simple, and the metadata around these are items (like who was targeted) are basically generated by SharePoint search indexing them. The other things that show in the stream like messages about profile updates or discussion thread creation are also pretty simple and are stored in RAM cache. I haven’t seen what things look like under the hood for Yammer’s data model, but my guess is that it’s a bit more complex and all the items are stored essentially the same way.

So what does this mean for integration? Well, for most integrations, you have to live with the granularity of the data model of the system that is the “master” for the information or you have to have different behaviors for different kinds of data. Also, you have to decide what use cases you’re going to support across this data. If you find use cases that span data from multiple systems, then getting to a common security model really starts to matter. As Nik points out, getting to a common authentication solution across both platforms must be a really high priority. And, I agree, that’s much more realistic in the cloud where there are only the two systems (versus on-premise, where there are lots of different security scenarios). So my prediction is that the tightest integration will happen in the cloud first. (Yeah, I guess I didn’t really go way out on a limb there…)

So the brief recap – customers need to know the use cases they are trying to solve with social, how quickly they are trying to solve them, and how well the cloud fits in their plans.

What is NewsGator doing about all this? Well, we’re heavily influenced by our customers. Basically all of our customers are looking at what they want to do in cloud from a planning perspective. Their use cases for social continue to get richer and more deeply tied to the rest of their business processes and business ecosystems. So, the majority of our investment in product development is around meeting those goals. In our recent 3.5 release, we added things like an Outlook Plugin and a universal notification toolbar that can be deployed on any web site to give consistent access to social features across the enterprise. We gave administrators the ability to pre-configure the starting social experience for users based on who they are (so a new sales person can automatically track sales leadership or a new marketing person automatically follows a marketing community, etc.). On top of this, we are focusing on going much deeper with our solutions around specific business processes. And we’re building cloud-based solutions to solve specific needs – the coolest one that we’re prototyping internally right now is the ability to connect to Social Sites inside the company via mobile device without needing to do anything with VPN, proxy or any special network or MDM solution. We also are shipping new versions of our iPhone and Android clients with tremendous usability and performance enhancements — and we have a Win Phone 8 client coming soon. We’ve been working with lots of companies doing social for a long time, so we get a great set of constant inputs about what they need to drive value.

But we also look to the future. When we ask our customers about their top future priorities for cloud-based stories, the most common answer is to deliver hybrid solutions between their on-premise deployments and Office365. They want to have a seamless social story and easy file sharing between the systems without having to do any complex security work. (Yeah, not simple, but NewsGator exists because we find ways to solve the complex problems connecting the systems in which our customers have invested). So we continue to build out cloud-based infrastructure as well as infrastructure that runs natively on SharePoint. In the end, this produces platforms that can run completely independently of SharePoint, but all the use cases we plan for include SharePoint in them.

It’s an exciting time to be working on social business solutions. I feel like we’ve really just gotten started. Every day, we get to talk about how social can really deliver value for companies and users. Every day, we work on cool new features to deliver that value. And in just a couple of weeks, we’ll get to talk about all this with our customers and partners at the NewsGator Collective (plus my team is hosting a user experience lounge and a hack-a-thon)!

If you’ve stuck with this blog post all the way to this point, I’m impressed. Thanks for your attention. Choosing your enterprise social solution requires you to think through what you’re hoping to achieve and think about who you want to help you get there. It’s something I’m passionate about, so I get a little wordy.

In any case, here’s that joke I promised you.

NewsGator, SharePoint and Yammer walk into a bar. SharePoint and Yammer start discussing the merits of vodka, rum, tequila and gin. NewsGator walks behind the bar, pours some from all four of the bottles plus some sweet and sour into a shaker, gives it a good shake, and squirts in some Coca-Cola for color and fizz. With a twist of lemon, the different ingredients come together to make something better than the individual parts. OK, so it’s not much of a bar joke… But it’s a reasonable metaphor for how NewsGator makes social real by bringing things together. And now you know how to make a Long Island Ice Tea.

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