MBA courses, which are increasingly addressing real-time news, may soon focus their lenses on Microsoft's $1.2 billion acquisition of Yammer, often referred to as the "Facebook for businesses." But the Yammer purchase in late June may be a mixed bag for business school students and professors who are actual users of, and not just researchers studying, the enterprise social network.
Months before the Microsoft acquisition, some graduate students and professors had already found that Yammer trumped Facebook as far as their academic needs were concerned, due to the network's closed nature and its search function, which they said was superior to Facebook. Some professors have encouraged students to use Yammer in the classroom to solve problem sets, or outside of class to supplement class conversations.
But Microsoft has a tendency to adopt a proprietary stance toward its products, says Umar Ruhi, an assistant professor of information systems at the University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management.
That means Yammer, which Ruhi calls a "Facebook for the enterprise," may become more difficult to use, including in business school contexts, he says. "For those who supported Yammer as an indie product (including myself), there are valid concerns about whether we'll still be able to integrate Yammer with non-Microsoft properties," he says. Yammer can currently be integrated into Twitter and Google Reader, which are non-Microsoft products, for example, in addition to the Microsoft owned-SharePoint and Dynamics.
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Yammer is a "very efficient platform" for MBA students to use for collaboration, says Ruhi, who has used Yammer in three of his courses in the past. He is also addressing the Microsoft acquisition in the summer MBA course he is currently teaching, Enterprise Social Media Strategy.
Ruhi anticipates that the merger will play out like many mergers do. The company will work on integration rather than expansion, he figures, so he expects fewer new features in the near future from Yammer.
"This doesn't bother me too much, because Yammer has worked well for me, and over the past two years, I've seen them work on resolving several issues," he says. "The system is quite stable now in its current state."
Ruhi isn't the only person affiliated with an overseas business school to embrace Yammer. The research and business Twitter handle for Oxford Brookes University in Headington Hill, Oxford, recently Tweeted that the school is interested in the "potential of Yammer to establish networks of excellence in higher education."
Yammer's promotional materials also often cite the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University, which runs one Yammer network for students and another for faculty and staff, as a case study for how to use Yammer. Graziadio faculty use private groups to "easily facilitate class discussions," according to the Yammer website.
Vikas Khanna, a 2011 alumnus of Pepperdine's Presidents and Key Executives MBA program, says he used Yammer on a daily basis as a Pepperdine student. Yammer's future in higher education will depend on what Microsoft decides to do with it, Khanna predicts.
"Generally speaking, there is nothing more convenient than a one-stop shop for a customer," he adds. "Microsoft has just added another product to its shelves that a customer will now no longer need to look elsewhere for."
But some MBA students, such as Jamie DeMaria, a second-year student at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, say that Yammer isn't part of their academic or professional lives—and that's not necessarily something that is about to change.
Both UNC's online MBA program and his employer have their own internal communications platforms, says DeMaria, the vice president of education marketing and strategy at Medscape, which is part of the company WebMD, in Baltimore.
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"What it came down to is, really, we have so many systems that we use that at the end of the day, we didn't really jump into [Yammer] whole hog, because it was another user name and password to remember [and] another system you had to have up and running on your computer, and we had some tools internally that we turned to instead," he says. "If Microsoft would beef [Yammer] up and insert it into the Office suite, people may be more apt to use it."
Asked if the $1.2 billion price tag that Microsoft paid for Yammer should lead MBA students and businessmen to take the network more seriously, DeMaria says it all boils down to how efficient Yammer is. "My team says it's not convenient," he says. "[Even] if they were to pay $10 billion for it, it's not convenient."
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