Best practices and networking at YamJam '12

2 November, 2012 - 11:08
The scene was San Francisco. The event: the biggest gathering of enterprise social networkers to hit the scene. Yes, we're talking about YamJam '12 and simply was there to get the latest Yammer news and developments.

By Daniel Penton

Yammer'ers from across the world made their way to San Francisco this week for Yammer's inaugural customer conference. Held over two days in Yammer's hometown, the conference brought attendees together to showcase the different ways companies are using the Enterprise Social Network (ESN), product developments on the horizon and available add-on's to Yammer. Yammer proved to be the perfect party hosts, as users old and new networked away in the City by the Bay.

Kicking off the conference was a keynote from CEO David Sacks. In his state of the nation address, he took the audience through Yammer's journey since its launch in 2008 while also revealing (a little) about where it's heading - mainly from a technical point of view. Key developments on the that front were the simplification and expansion of ways in which its ESN software can be integrated with third-party business applications and become more broadly embedded into other applications include feeds, profiles and "follow" and "like" buttons.

As one would expect, following Yammer's acquisition by Microsoft over the summer, one of the big announcements was a deeper, native integration with its parent company's Dynamics CRM product. It's now possible for users to embed Yammer feeds and follow and like buttons into Dynamics CRM records. Yammer can also automatically generate profiles -- called Pages -- for specific CRM records, so that employees can engage in collaborative discussions about them.

What do these technical developments actually mean in practice?

To give an example, when a Microsoft Dynamics CRM user updates an opportunity, a Page and activity story will now be created in Yammer, alerting colleagues to the status of the deal. These interactions are not only available in Yammer but also embedded in the customer record in Microsoft Dynamics CRM itself, so that anyone viewing the opportunity details will have access to the social content surrounding it.

"This new integration with Microsoft Dynamics CRM is just the first example of how you will see enhanced social experiences across Microsoft products and services," said David Sacks, in a statement following his keynote at the conference. "Our platform seamlessly connects the relevant people, conversations, and data across an entire organization, making Yammer the enterprise social standard and a way for companies to build a truly connected enterprise."

Post founder keynote, the conference quickly moved on to a customer panel looking at how different customers are using Yammer in their organisations. Ira Gottlieb, VP of Global Communications at Tyco talked about how Yammer helps the company connect globally dispersed teams while enabling employees to ask questions and connect with subject-matter experts.

What was clear with the customer stories throughout the two days was the wide variety of ways that companies are using Yammer. Shopping mall company Westfield was one particular highlight with them using it to get fast feedback on what is happening on the ground.

US-based insurance and financial services group Nationwide CIO Greg Moran, talked attendees through how the company relies on enterprise social to power its large, distributed workforce. As an early adopter of Yammer, Nationwide is reinventing business with enterprise social. Taking a 360 social approach, they have integrated Yammer with other business applications like SharePoint while also using Yammer to onboard new employees and transform their customer services into a more responsive and agile function.

As well as the keynote sessions, both days were interspersed with breakout sessions across 4 different streams: Yammer Intel - a deep dive into the product features; Leadership and Corporate Culture; Yam-Wins - Case studies of companies doing it right; and DevJam - looking under the bonnet from a technical perspective.

There were 3 sessions for each of the streams on both days with varied content from each. One thing that seemed to be lacking from the presentations and use case studies was the lack of hard numbers around the use of ESN. There were many great and inspiring uses of Yammer, but still none of the companies that spoke gave any solid statistical proof to go with these.

Day one closed with accomplished author and speaker Daniel Pink, writer of Free Agent Nation, Drive and others, who gave a talk looking at what drives people.

Then it was time for the Yammer gala. Held at CityView overlooking the skyscrapers of San Francisco, the party went late into the night with food carts from the different San Francisco neighbourhoods making sure people lined their stomachs. A local band provided entertainment while attendees socialized and sipped cocktails.

Day two was another packed day (with a few sore heads). Yammer CTO Adam Pisoni and Red Robin's CIO Chris Laping took people through the key characteristics of companies that are successfully transforming how they operate in order to increase innovation and outperform the competition.

Blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer blew participants away with his inspirational talk about overcoming obstacles and imploring people to create strategies and tactics to become a better problem solver and innovator.

More breakout sessions followed before the conference closed. Overwhelming feedback from attendees was that this was a great opportunity to learn from others when it comes to Yammer. Everyone attending seemed to be at a different stage with Yammer, but there was no doubt or disputing its value. The hurdles that many talked about is tying it into business strategy and getting that all important adoption within businesses. Come YamJam '13, there will be even more stories about the great things companies are doing with Yammer - and perhaps some solid ROI stats too!

Look out for my review of the Yammer Certification program that I took part in at the conference and a closer look at some of the most innovative Yammer add-on solutions showcased at the event.