Kai Riemer writers here about Microsoft’s axing of the Yammer Customer Success team. There’s two points worth discussing here.

The Death of the Utopian Vision of Enterprise Social

Kai writes about Yammer as less a software project than a mission to revolutionise corporate organisational hierarchies. In some respects, this flashes back to the debate between Tom Davenport and Andrew McAfee in 2007. For those of you that don’t remember, there was a lot of discussion about the impact of collaborative technologies on organisational structures. One wing said that these technologies would radically reconfigure workplace environments into flatter, less hierarchical structures. The counter-revolutionary response said they, well, wouldn’t. I’ve been a fan of social software since the late 90s but I found myself caught in the middle. I love this stuff (and still do) but I see it driving change at the margins. I read some drafts of manifestos by Adam Pisoni and my response was: “Yes, this is all lovely. I agree with much of it. And it will only have a slight impact on the business world”. Power structures are as much a function of human psychology as they are of technology capabilities. Or as Jeffrey Pfeffer writes: You’re Still The Same.

And the world has changed. The utopian vision of business in 2007 was all of us on social software talking like equals and forging a new egalitarian world together. The current vision of business in 2016 is somewhat different. Lets go back to Tom Davenport and Andrew McAfee. Both are now writing about automation (and also analytics for Davenport). The business vision of the organisation is one where we’ve removed everyone. We don’t need to give employees enterprise social platforms because there will be no one to talk to on them. Whether this is a utopian or dystopian future depends on whether you own the machines or are replaced by them.

Of course, we haven’t fired everyone just yet. The hot new kids of the block of enterprise collaboration are Slack and HipChat (I’m keeping a watching eye on Facebook @ Work). Neither of these are pitched in terms of organisational revolution. Slack is very much focused on team communication. Which actually takes us back to the CSCW work of the 80s. Their tagline is “be less busy”. Improvement at the margins.

The Rising Importance of Customer Success Programs for Enterprise SAAS

Customer success management (CSM) as “a thing” was apparently invented by Salesforce – combining account management, technical support and organisational change consulting around software implementation. It’s particularly critical for:

  • Software that’s sold on a monthly licensing basis that is typical of SAAS rather than in one big hit with a little dash maintenance & support to keep things going, as was typical of on-premise software. The software vendor cannot just take the money and run.
  • Software whose value requires significant investment to realise over time. This is typical of content and collaboration systems as until conversations start or the content is loaded up, all you have is a pretty interface and some workflows.
  • Software with a large potential user base (often with pricing focused on per seat). Keeping one or two people satisfied (e.g. a data mart used by one or two analysts) is very different to ensuring the success of thousands of users that you might see in end-user enterprise applications.

CSM now has its own supporting ecosystem of consultants and software firms (with Totango and Gainsight being two of the most prominent). It remains to be seen how this will play out over the longer term (I’m still getting my head around it at the moment).

The axing of Yammer CSM staff by Microsoft pretty much says that Yammer does not have a future as a standalone product. It doesn’t seem like the beginning of wider CSM backlash tho.

And Finally

The 60s vibe of social software in now well and truly gone. This track lurched out of my id this evening…

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2 Responses to Yammered

  1. karisyd says:

    Hi Matt, good analysis. But I don’t think anyone believes that ESN will change the world or flatten hierarchies. That was always a utopian pipe dream. My point was much more mundane – to integrate an open, flexible technology such as Yammer into an organisation it needs the kind of of expertise and approach that the CSM followed. The decision shows that Microsoft does not see this as its business. That’s fair enough, but will denigrade Yammer to a set of add-on features for other products (not a lot they get for US$1.2B in the end in my view, since everything that made Yammer unique and special they have pretty much dismantled, disgarded, or watered down).

  2. innotecture says:

    Kai – Many people I spoke to over the years did believe just that. From what you’ve said, you sounded like you were a little bit in love with Yammer as an organisation and some of its ideas as a movement. The pipeline dream was real for a lot of people.

    I completely agree that Microsoft as an organisation never really understood Yammer. Large companies acquire smaller entities because they have a key piece of technology, operate in a tempting market niche or, more often than not, because they are cool & sexy*.In most cases, it is akin to giving an iPad to a gorilla. The iPad gets smashed – not because the gorilla is evil or the gorilla hates the iPad but because the gorilla just carries on being a gorilla.

    *As was said of Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire: “He gives her class and she gives him sex appeal”.

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