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Two Competing Narratives At YamJam 2012

I listened with great interest to the keynote yesterday by David Sacks, the CEO of Yammer, during the company’s first user conference. In a nutshell, Sacks laid out one vision of a rapidly changing world of business, with increased competitive pressures and a relentlessly increasing pace of innovation. Business have to do more with less, and more more quickly than every before.

However, there is a second narrative, where Sacks characterized the work media (or, enterprise social networks) marketplace, which seems to be much more sedate. Sacks said — more or less — that Yammer and its competitors share basic features — activity streams, profiles, and connections — and that the fundamental ideas of work media use have become mainstream, and even those companies that haven’t yet adopted work media technology are increasingly likely to be planning to do so. His projections seemed way too slow for me, and too slow for the pace in the world, today.

Just before the press conference following his talk (and the announcement of the Enterprise Graph), I had a chance to talk with Sacks, and I asked him about the apparent disparity in these two narratives, where the two parts of the same world — the world of his customers and the world of his competitors — seeming running at very different tempos.  He pushed back a bit, saying that adoption is variable, and different companies are moving at their own speeds. During the press conference itself, he mentioned the discussion he and I had and pointed out that some people (maybe me?) tend to think that change should be happening faster than companies can attain.

I also talked with Adam Pisoni, the Yammer CTO later in the day, and I asked him about the two narratives and the two tempos, and he offered a few observations:

  • Yammer internally agrees with me: the pace in the industry is just as fast as in the outside world, and Yammer’s management expects adoption to be faster than they say in public settings, like Sacks’ keynote. Pisoni said that they were simply restating what analysts from Forrester and Gartner publish, because Yammer doesn’t want to be considered too starry-eyed about the upside for the company and the industry.
  • Pisoni also made the case that Yammer is in a particularly strong position to keep up with the necessary pace of innovation since they are now backed by Microsoft, and because Yammer has an aggressive software development culture that other companies will find difficult to match.

I can’t judge the contention about the Yammer software development regime — although I would like to know more — but I agree that being bankrolled by Microsoft is potentially a very serious advantage over a small start-up. However, Yammer’s competitors are already or will soon be other large enterprise software vendors, like IBM, VMware, Cisco, SAP, and Oracle, all of which can throw serious money at expanding this marketplace.

In the final analysis, I think that Yammer’s communication plan is based on the fact that business people — even early adopters like those likely to attend Yammer’s first user conference — find it hard to accept that we have moved into a new economy, one incorporating some different principles than the previous era.

We’ve moved into the Postnormal, and we aren’t in Kansas anymore. The relentless pace of the economy is not temporary. It’s not just a side effect of the Great Recession. We are never going back to the pace or pattern of business circa 2007, ever.

It’s clear to me that Pisoni gets that, and he believes that Yammer’s greatest asset is the ability to develop software very very quickly: to be able to respond to new needs in an agile fashion. That is his vision of resilience for Yammer, and I have to say it makes a lot of sense.

But they need to have the courage to share their vision with their clients and the greater community. If they think things are unfolding faster than the analysts, they should say so, and let the analysts pick up the pieces.

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Notes

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