Just a few weeks after Yammer steamed in to Sydney, the Newsgator 'Get Social' tour fulfilled its Australian dates last week, first in Melbourne (Monday 16th) and then in Sydney (Wednesday 18th). (Further dates are happening and have happened globally, check the Newsgator site for more details.)
The Sydney event, hosted at Microsoft Australia's beige headquarters in North Ryde, was an afternoon of presentations and discussion from a range of perspectives and organisations.
Disclosure: Step Two Designs has recently been involved with one of the most significant, launched Newsgator projects in Australia, with property group Stockland. However, we played no role in choosing the product, simply working with it once it had been chosen. We have no professional alignment or partnership in place with Newsgator. Stockland Intranet and Usability Consultant, presented a case study of the project in the afternoon, more of which I'll talk about later.
Newsgator and Yammer
Despite playing in the same space as Yammer, Newsgator is a very different proposition to that product. There is no freemium model with Newsgator, for example (though a free trial is easily available), and Newsgator has to run concurrently within a SharePoint environment. No SharePoint, no Newsgator. While this could change in the future, right now you need the Microsoft platform.
Thus the attendees at the Newsgator event were pretty much all SharePoint focused, and either considering, trialling or deploying Newsgator in their businesses. I think it's fair to say we'll be seeing a lot of Australia-based Newsgator stories emerging in the next few months. Certainly the list of organisations that have recently signed off on Newsgator, or are about to do so, is pretty interesting. It's also interesting to note that many Newsgator customers are those that have trialled Yammer before, but have decided against using it strategically, or are even using them both in some cases.
Newsgator CEO J.B. Holston is leading the Newsgator tour, assisted in this region by Asia-Pacific Director, Cuneyt Uysal. Holston spoke for around an hour, focusing on what the many Newsgator customers globally are doing with the software, with frequent references to McKinsey's ongoing social business research to state the case.
My two choice quotes were that:
"Organisations are moving very quickly to adopt social business tools. A few years ago, CIOs were very hesitant about social, now moving very quickly'; and
"Fast, enterprise-wide deployment is rapidly becoming the key consideration, not ROI. We think this is going to accelerate over the next two years."
You might well note that I'm applying far less critical appraisal to this event than I applied to Yammer's in March. To be honest there was no need for as much analysis. Newsgator is 90 people or so globally, headquartered in Denver, Colorado. The company has 3.5 million paid customers. Just as with Yammer, Newsgator presents very well on its own merits, but in this case there was less glam and hyperbole to cut through, just solid, well-reasoned and substantiated points, and numerous great examples.
Newsgator at Stockland
As mentioned, Step Two Designs has recently worked on a Newsgator-centric project with property group, Stockland. We were part of a multi-team project, and involved with user research (including workshops, one-on-one interviews), confirming business requirements, page and feature design, and adoption strategy. It was a hugely fun and collaborative project, and one that you'll no doubt be hearing more details on very soon.
Image and Data Manager has a good rundown of Emily Staresina's presentation, which discussed the reasons for the project, challenges faced, lessons learned and some of the use cases we knew of and those unknowns that emerged before and after launch.
What was surprising to many at the event was the very strategic approach Stockland took. Where lots of organisations have looked at the deployment of social tools as a pure experiment, this project had the benefit of cheap past experiments with social tools (blogs, wikis, Yammer etc were already in play to some degree). This project was developed with that experience, further in-depth research, subsequent clear requirements, and a very clear driving purpose – to find better ways to communicate and collaborate. These elements ensured that the project stayed focused and delivered a new SharePoint 2010 environment that blends in Newsgator very effectively.
There's a lot more to tell on this story, though it's still early days. You can be assured that more details and screenshots will be published soon, and you can register for a Newsgator webinar on 6th June to see Emily's presentation yourself.
Will Newsgator be relevant when SharePoint 2013 appears?
During the event, the question of SharePoint 2013's mooted improved social features were raised. What if, in SharePoint 2013, the social features are that much better than SharePoint 2010's. Would you still need Newsgator?
This is an interesting question that a fair few organisations are pondering at the moment. Those that have had 2013 demos are slightly more informed, but with a clear spec list and beta version yet to come it's still something of an unknown. Many also have asked why Microsoft don't simply buy Newsgator, and make it the social aspect of SharePoint?
All good questions.
To get a clear idea of the answer, first it's important to realise that Microsoft has a mixed approach to marketing SharePoint. On the one hand, 'SharePoint can do everything'. It has content management, business intelligence, social, collaborative, search and document management capabilities. And deep integration with the rest of the Microsoft stack (Office, Windows etc.). That's part of what makes it such a compelling prospect for businesses.
On the other hand, and on its own, SharePoint doesn't provide best-in-class features for any of those capabilities, and Microsoft fully knows this too. You need plug ins, web-parts and third-party tools. That's what the company tells its developer and partners and is beginning to tell its customers too – even with SharePoint 2013.
As quoted on Image and Data Manager, Jon Barrett, Solutions Specialist at Microsoft, said on the day that Newsgator will always be ahead of the core SharePoint platform when it comes to social, and if you want the best social features available, you shouldn't wait for SharePoint 2013:
"We are doing some of [the social functionality] ourselves [with SharePoint] but we are absolutely relying on Newsgator as our primary partner in this space,” said Barrett.
“We are providing the key plumbing: document management, enterprise search, tagging, and line of business (LOB) integration.
“We do have basic social features in SharePoint, they will be improved in Wave 15 (SharePoint 2013) but that will not be at the level of feature richness that Newsgator has. If you go with what is in our current products or what you’ve heard is coming in Wave 15, you’re betting on a baseline set of features.
“I would say as a customer don’t wait for Wave15, unless you’ve got a really slow social media strategy or unless you want to use some really baseline features, I would start going ahead with our platform and Newsgator on top.”
That is a definitive answer and one that should provide a lot of surety for organisations, if not also a bit of disappointment that Sharepoint 2013 won't be more capable. Yet, I guess, also thinking back to 2010, which was supposed to have great social features that turned out to be pretty basic too, we shouldn't be that surprised. This is a point worth thinking about in the design context too.
It's very good news for the Newsgator team of course. Their position at the moment is of the Number 1 social tool provider for SharePoint. No other platform provides the deep SharePoint integration opportunities that Newsgator does though, as we found on the Stockland project, there's still plenty of opportunities to improve it and make it your own.
Stay tuned for more on Newsgator and enterprise social – a further article is set to be published on the Step Two Designs site later this month.
Also don't forget, rounding out the last of the major enterprise social software roadshows this year is Cloudforce by Salesforce in June. This event will provide another perspective, with Salesforce's 'Chatter' in the mix, though arguably it's just a very small piece of the Salesforce pie.
If you want help with your social business solution, strategy, design and adoption, or to learn more about the work we've done to date at Step Two Designs, please get in touch.
Updated 27/4/12: Corrected newsgator's HQ location and paying customer figures