Yammer CTO Adam Pisoni Visits NY, Talks Innovation in the Future of Work

Yammer keeps sharpening its knife as more rivals tread in its territory.

On Monday, Microsoft held a group discussion on the future of work at its Times Square technology center. It was a chance for the company to show off how its enterprise social network software, Yammer, gets used by its customers. Companies such as Jamba Juice, Herman Miller, and Trek Bicycle came to New York to talk up how Yammer helps their staff collaborate and share information.

Communication within the workplace is a hot topic these days as businesses not only look for ways to streamline how they connect internally, but discover new uses for such software.

Adam Pisoni, the co-founder and CTO of Yammer, spoke briefly with me about staying competitive after Microsoft’s 2012 acquisition of his company. “Yammer solves a lot of problems within companies around poor communication and slow iteration,” he said. The software lets businesses maintain private networks that let their employees and divisions communicate with each other.

As companies play around with the software, he said, they find new uses for Yammer. “Red Robin was using it to release [new] burgers faster,” Pisoni said. Staff at the stores could give feedback through Yammer to the people designing burgers, he said, which compressed 18 months of development to one month. “But they didn’t buy Yammer to do that,” he said. “They discovered that was what they could do.”

Developing software that helps companies communicate more efficiently has become increasingly competitive. There is a bevy of social software on the market for collaboration from rivals big and small, such as Lua, a Techstars NYC alum that specializes in mobile workforces, and Pivotal Tracker from Pivotal Labs.

Pisoni said Yammer, based in San Francisco, has evolved from a niche product used by early adopters to a service with broad appeal. In particular, after being acquired by Microsoft and becoming part of the Office division, Pisoni said, there was acceleration of acceptance among big companies that want to use Yammer.

The deal brought internal changes to Yammer as well, he said. “When we got acquired, Microsoft was in a moment of massive transformation and still is,” Pisoni said, citing the company’s reorganization and this year’s appointment of Satya Nadella as CEO. “Because of that, there was an open-mindedness to the fact that we’re very different,” he said. “We release [software] daily; Office is released every three years.”

Some of Yammer’s departments, such as sales, became more diffused among Microsoft divisions after the acquisition, Pisoni said, while its technology staff has grown. “We had about 100 at the time of the acquisition and now we’re about 200 in product, engineering, and analytics,” he said.

There has been a bit of cross-pollination of ideas with other parts of Microsoft, such as marketing and sales, he said. However, a few things have not changed at Yammer. “We’re still in San Francisco, we’re still working in our cross-functional teams,” he said—a structure that brings together staffers from different areas of expertise to operate as a unit.

With competition continuing to intensify, Pisoni said, Yammer has had some epiphanies about differentiating for the future. “It has a lot do with how social, in enterprise, is different from the consumer space,” he said. Social in the consumer realm tends to be about loosely keeping up with acquaintances, Pisoni said. For enterprises though, social is about making decisions faster as a collective—while also keeping track of important details as information comes flooding in.

Having more streams of communication is not enough, Pisoni said, as companies want to make sure messages get to the right people. Those functions also need to be integrated into other business software, he said. “We’re going to be innovating a lot more in mobile,” he said, “a lot more in external, which means companies communicating with each other, and a lot more in social workflow.”

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