Professional Academic Communities in Yammer

I am currently completing my first week in Yammer 101 and want to share some early insights from the experience.
The Enterprise Social
Microsoft completed its acquisition of Yammer, Inc in July 2012 and the service and great people are now a part of the Microsoft Office Division. We are thrilled to have Yammer join the Microsoft family and add their innovative service to the Microsoft portfolio.  Right now, nothing is changing with the Yammer service, so you will not find a product/service reveal in this article.
Yammer Brand ID

Change afoot in Education

Over the past ten years, learning management systems (LMS) have moved from the fringe novelty of education to a core business system in the academic enterprise.  However, LMS systems do not answer all of the needs of educators and learners within the enterprise.  Social media provides real-time and near real-time interaction for both educators and learners. Collaboration services like Office 365 for education enable synchronous communication through voice, video, and messaging and simultaneous collaboration on Office documents for coursework.  Additionally, search, discovery, and storage of rich media content is prompting a rethink of how all of these services and systems can be better blended for learning.

Collaborative Research Wanted

Earlier this year, Microsoft partnered with Internet2 to bring the academic research community to the global scale of cloud computing with Windows Azure. One of the principle goals of this initiative is to foster more collaboration between remote principal investigators to enable greater innovation and discovery. The U.S. federal government has provided millions in grant monies to higher education institutions to achieve better collaborative networks. In many cases, these networks have been built from the ground up and fail to take into consideration modern practices for creating an enterprise social experience for productivity.

Why The Social Enterprise

First, let us start with the concept of consumerization.  Consumerization is great.  Employees, students, and faculty all bring their own devices, apps, content, services, and access to work with them.  In some cases it can be a financial savings to offload hardware, software, support, and services to end users.  However, in most cases, consumerization introduces a host of compliance and risk issues that haunt executives worst nightmares. So how do we balanced the speed and agility of consumerization with the risk management and compliance requirements of the institution?

Yammer Main Feed

Public, consumer social networks are not designed for business productivity, risk management, and compliance requirements. They are great for sharing videos, uploading photos, and playing games. However, these public, ad-supported social networks are not a great destination for your intellectual property or student published works. This is where and why the enterprise social becomes necessary.

Academic institutions, like corporations, need enterprise-grade security and service manageability. Keeping confidential documents secret must be inherent in the enterprise social platform.  Also, the platform should be extensible so that new capabilities can be incorporated as needed or integration with existing services can be made. Most importantly, the enterprise social is about enabling people to get work done collaboratively–being a productive social experience.

Enter the Yammerverse

Yammer is immediately familiar and immediately different for its service users.  It is immediately familiar because it harnesses many of the social media/networking features that people expect in a social computing service. So there is no learning curve to using the service.

Yammer is also different because it is a voluntary experience.  For people to embrace a new service, it cannot be a top-down implementation. Consumerization is about enabling individual choice and IT embracing and enriching those choices for consumers. Yammer takes this same approach.

Faculty, employees, and students can start a Yammer experience on their own without the need for IT involvement. Once their Yammer network reach a critical mass, it can then be incorporated into the organizational structures of the institution without ruining the organic growth that ignited the Yammer networks.

K12 Scenarios on Yammer

School-to-Home and Parent & Teacher Organizations are the first two scenarios that come to mind  thought that comes to mind for me.  Schools print a lot of paper for routine communications. These communications can become more immediate and interactive through Yammer.  The built-in platform analytics would help schools and PTO groups know and understand the effectiveness of their reach.  More importantly, timely and hopeful delivery of printed communications becomes a matter of the past.  For parents with first language other than English, there is built-in translation tools.

Professional Communities for Teaching Practice. Teachers have been creating their own networks in public places for years. With Yammer, this go beyond social messaging to collaborative project sharing to improve the practice of the professional educator.

Procurement Publishing and Management. The external network feature of Yammer allows schools to create external networks between suppliers, vendors and the district to facilitate procurement procedures. RFPs, RFQs, and Bid queries can all be managed without giving more access than needed to the district network.

School Board Social Network. I see a lot of school boards using digital devices without social networks for real productivity and collaboration. Yammer can allow board members and administrators to comply with local meeting policies and accelerate information flow.

Bond Project Management and Events. Before a bond referendum, during the election, and on through to construction, Yammer keeps the conversation alive and visible to all stakeholders.  Progress can be shared from all stakeholders and surface issues along the way.

Budget Structuring Ideas. The best ideas for rethinking a school budget in tough times will not always imminate from the central administration office. The best answers could be in the head of the groundskeeper or a paraprofessional.  Yammer allows these conversations to happen organically while provide opportunities to reward the people who share the best ideas.

Yammer Leaderboards

Higher Education Scenarios on Yammer

External Collaborative Research Networks. Hopefully, universities have already discovered that they can collaborate internally with Yammer.  The real power opens up when PIs collaborate with external parties at other corporations, agencies, and academic institutions. No additional infrastructure needed.

Cross-disciplinary Course Projects. I have had the pleasure of lecturing to cross-disciplinary groups. However, they were challenged to find  a virtual space to collaborate without building another monolithic system.  Whether in coursework planning or actually courses, Yammer enables cross discipline groups to flourish in the enterprise social.

Capital Project Planning and Events. Like bond projects in K12, capital projects in higher education share the same needs. Imagine bringing the architect(s), contractor, suppliers, faculty, and other stakeholders into the same collaborative network.

Faculty Senate Network. Make decisions without all of the meetings through polls, surveys, and questions.  Yammer allows you to make face-to-face meetings more meaningful because you can do all the background data gathering, sharing, and defining online.

Student Engagement and Retention.  Yammer integrates feeds directly into CRM systems like Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  This keeps enrollment officers an opportunity to keep up with changes in realtime to keep students making progress-towards graduation.

Final Thoughts…

While I have focused on the social aspect of Yammer, it is also inherently mobile too.  Yammer runs today on Windows, Windows Phone, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, and Android devices.  You can also access Yammer through the web on any platform. Again, consumerization is about choice. And, to grow a social enterprise, people must feel empowered to choose.

The future of my inbox will be impacted by Yammer.  It is my solemn hope that I will receive fewer FYI announcements in my inbox and that correspondence move into the Yammer service. I want my inbox to be actionable emails only. Yammer allows people to share big ideas with large groups of interested parties…versus reply-all to uninterested parties.  Reducing information overload may be well worth the service by itself.

The new era academic social computing is just emerging. Industry analyst firm, Gartner, expects that we soon see LMS, social, collaboration, communication, and content marketplaces merge into more modular learning systems.  The pieces to that puzzle are finally beginning to flesh out.

How would you use Yammer in your organization? What questions about the enterprise social do you have? Leave them in the comments below. We can continue our Yammer 101 together.

Recommended Reading
Gartner. “Building Learning Stacks for an Evolving Learning Environment,” February 2012