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Will Groups replace Yammer for Office 365 collaboration?

Microsoft is pushing Office 365 Groups instead of Yammer. What does this mean for the enterprise? It means choosing between the two collaboration platforms.

Microsoft's acquisition of Yammer propelled Office 365 collaboration capabilities from simply a cloud twist on Microsoft Office servers of old into a real contender for the productivity suite crown.

I'm fairly certain that there are many Exchange admins who would disagree; for every Yammer success story there's a long list of features needed. There's also a big elephant in the room: Yammer-Office 365 suite integration. This frustrates end users because they have to make a conscious effort to monitor Yammer to keep up with what's happening in the enterprise.

If you put the pieces together you'll find that 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 Delve, then you've seen one obvious area where the Enterprise Graph -- Office Graph as it's known today -- is in use.

The Office Graph allows information about who and what you interact with to form connections to other people and data. The Office Graph understands who you communicate with on Yammer, which documents are shared with you and which you often work on, as well as who you interact with regularly via 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 the end user.

Rather than simply a number of Office servers running out of Microsoft's data centers, Office 365 becomes a true productivity suite. The more you use it, the more you get out of it. If you think about it that way, Microsoft's Yammer acquisition becomes more important to Office 365 collaboration.

The distinctions between Yammer and Office 365 Groups

From a business perspective, Office 365 Groups provides a way for people to access and interact across multiple Office 365 services. It creates a group for your team and uses it to post messages, creating threads similar to Yammer -- along with the prerequisite buttons to "like" messages. If you currently use Distribution Groups (DG) or Yammer Groups, you can use this messaging feature in Office 365 Groups.

Office 365 Groups is more than just a DG replacement though.

The shared calendar gives group members the option to add events to their own calendar as well as keep a shared log of everyone's events. The whole team can access a shared OneDrive -- really a SharePoint team site under the hood -- to share files and documents, along with a precreated shared Notebook.

How Office Graph works

The idea is that as the technology evolves, the Office Graph will provide the right information to you at the right time and remove some of the friction points around the technology.

New features for Office 365, like the Office 365 Planner, come with built-in Groups compatibility. It's a core feature in Office 365. Today you can not only use Groups in Outlook, OneNote, OneDrive and on the Web, but you can download Outlook Groups apps on mobile devices.

Choosing Groups or Yammer can be confusing to someone starting out. Should you invest the time and effort in getting people up and running with Office 365 Groups, or start with the more complete but slightly legacy feeling Yammer?

The answer is that you can use both for a well-rounded Office 365 collaboration environment.

Yammer today fosters open communication across the organization. It's the place where your C-level executives are able to interact with and get great ideas from employees -- and if you're using Yammer and this isn't happening, you are doing it wrong. Groups doesn't quite encourage that level of interaction. Office 365 Groups is more focused on teams, but embraces the same openness.

If you're familiar with forums and newsgroups, then it's fair to say that Yammer's roots are firmly in the forum. Office 365 Groups feels more like a newsgroup. Take that whichever way you want: Both Yammer and Office 365 Groups have their purpose.

A unified future

From a technical perspective, Office 365 Groups solves 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 and maybe a shared calendar too. A team will request a SharePoint site and people will create 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 close to the data center for its lifecycle. You can even use Azure AD Connect to sync Office 365 Groups back to on-premises and use the Groups as normal security groups in Active Directory.

Office 365 Groups is the future of collaboration in Office 365. Yammer isn't going anywhere soon, however. Groups has a heavy interaction with Exchange and Yammer will likely rely on Exchange at some point, so it's worth spending your time becoming an expert in Groups now as it begins to hit prime-time.

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