Alternatives to SharePoint & Yammer – Here’s Why People Are Still Looking

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Even with the acquisition of Yammer by Microsoft for a whopping $1.2B, and the more recent ability to “bolt on” Yammer’s micro-blogging functionality to SharePoint, people still come to us desperate for an alternative to SharePoint.

Worse still, for all the people looking for an alternative, there must be an equal number of people turned off from social business all together, because of their experience with SharePoint or Yammer, imagining it is somehow representative of what is possible (and accessible) from social collaboration and intranet software.

It’s worth spending a few minutes explaining different approaches to social collaboration to understand that you do have a choice.

If you’re looking for a SharePoint alternative or an alternative to Yammer, consider Communifire and its flexible model.

An Alternative to Yammer and its One-size-fits-all Approach.

Yammer vigorously embraces a “one-size-fits-all” approach to enterprise social networking and intranet software (along with a fairly narrow definition of social business and internal networking, with their focus on micro-blogging).

If you browse their front-facing, marketing website you’ll see how proud they are of their user analysis to find the lowest common denominator among users as a driver for their development choices. And they are right to be proud, they do some amazing things with data gleaned from monitoring how their customers use their software. 

Intranet software and enterprise social networking is, by its very nature, extremely personal, however. The type of business you’re in and how you go about business internally with your employees, and externally with your partners and customers, is dramatically different from how other companies operate … and this has a profound impact on how social business needs to work to fit your needs and provide value to your business.

This is a little different from personal social media sites where the majority of people can be shoehorned into a single social interaction model (although not everyone can, evidenced by the backlash against Facebook as a useful tool for business collaboration).

Most of the popular social intranet software product marketing sites scream at you about how their product will “change the way you work.”

Sure it will, because it has to.

In order for you to use a standardized approach to social business, you’d have to change the way you work to fit into their model. What would be more impressive would be if they said, “you could continue to work your way … only with a powerful tool to help people work together more smoothly, more efficiently, and more cost effectively.”

But who wants to say that?

Well, we at Axero do.

Humans are social creatures, getting people to act socially isn’t a change that has to be forced, particularly since the vast majority of us are using the same tools in our personal lives. It isn’t “social” that is the problem, it’s the standardization and the lack of flexibility to accommodate how you do business.

Software as a Service (SaaS) doesn’t have to mean one-size-fits-all.

With Communifire we offer profound flexibility, whether you’re self-hosting or we are hosting for you. We believe that social business is less about the tools — it’s mostly about how you implement those tools in a way that makes sense for your business.

Your business is unique … so your social intranet platform should facilitate an equally tailored approach.

But that’s just our philosophy.

Bonus: Learn how to launch an intranet for your organization with this free  guide.

An Alternative to Sharepoint and its Rigid Flexibility.

In contrast to Yammer, SharePoint is tauted as being relatively customizable.

For example, they have their web parts that you can define and move around on different pages to create unique page layouts. But in reality, most people find SharePoint to be both rigid and cumbersome as a tool to bring to light their unique vision for their intranet.

“People don’t do customization of SharePoint Online because the product limits what they can do,” explained Forrester analyst John Rymer, who, along with colleague Rob Koplowitz, released a study late last month of their own enterprise customer reluctance to move SharePoint to the cloud. “Integration, for example, is pretty limited, and Microsoft will not accept ‘just any random code’ and the rules indistinct.”

Also in this study they found …

Business management respondents showed concerns, with 64 percent indicating that adoption of SharePoint wasn’t as high in their organizations as expected. Also, 62 percent of business management respondents stated that “users don’t like the SharePoint experience.” Those top two business management concerns were the same as found in the 2012 survey, but the 2013 results were “10 points higher,” according to Forrester’s analysis.

And this is what we hear day in and day out. People are still looking for a SharePoint Alternative.

With SharePoint, there’s a broad gap between what is possible, with easily accessible customizations, and what is possible by experts — people who have the specialized understanding of SharePoint customizations.

This is a great arrangement for people who have chosen to make a profitable career customizing SharePoint for their clients. Their financial success is tied to the platform and are therefore very anxious to sell you on everything that is possible with SharePoint — with their help of course.

What results from so many people desperate to sell you on the, ahem, flexibility of SharePoint, is a myth of flexibility that sets expectations outside of the reach (financial or technical) of most people, leading quickly to disappointment. This is what also causes CIO’s and decision makers to be the first to say that “social business didn’t work for us,” and for them to put “social” on the back burner for 6 months down the road or even kill it alltogether.

In another study, covered in an article by Jeffrey Schwartz:

The second big issue, according to Mann, is IT’s frustration with SharePoint. “We regularly hear end users and administrators complain about features or user-experience improvements that they would like to see in SharePoint,” … “Although they want new functionality, they are less keen to have more upgrades, which are seen as expensive, disruptive and time-consuming. It is difficult to see how users can expect to get changes without implementing new versions.”

Communifire is the Alternative to Sharepoint You’ve Been Looking For. Here’s Why:

SharePoint Alternative

With Communifire we’ve taken a different approach to flexibility and customizability. First of all, since Communifire is a single tenant system, you can make customizations, as apposed to a lot of the off-the-shelf social software out there that pigeonhole you into what they say you need. But instead of two different types of customization (a. simple, and b. those requiring specialized expertise), we offer a broad range of customization options based on different levels of technical proficiency.

In all cases, we’ve made sure the knowledge and skill set required to customize is not particular to Communifire, like it is for SharePoint. For starters, there’s a lot that you can do in the platform without any technical skills, including the basics: like changing the logo, choosing what tools are available to which groups, controlling who has rights to do what and where, creating page layouts, and changing the words used in the interface (for example some prefer “colleague” or “connection” over “friend”). And that’s just to name a small sample of the sort of customizations possible using the admin interface. 

Communifire becomes a natural alternative to SharePoint. With a basic understanding of CSS, you can dramatically change the look of their intranet. With a basic understanding of HTML, you can profoundly change the layout of your intranet to result in something completely unrecognizable from the base platform. The CSS and HTML options allow you to create a seamless look and feel between your intranet and their other websites. If you don’t have these skills available in-house, they are readily and affordably available in the competitive marketplace, with work that takes hours, not months or years.

Even very sophisticated changes, like integration with a CRM to include updates about proposals in people’s Communifire activity stream or notifications, are well and easily within reach. This does require a basic understanding of using the REST API, but does not require any archaic, inaccessible, and poorly documented knowledge.

We’ve put extra effort into making sure that the code is accessible to developers, whether they are beginners or seasoned subject matter experts, so they can jump right in and do the customization without much of a learning curve. These are changes that you can contract with us directly to do for you, or any countless independent developers. You’re not held hostage to a limited pool of experts.

Since we believe tailoring your social intranet to how you work is important, we’ve made sure that customizing Communifire can be done by the broadest possible pool of talent. 

An Alternative to the Microsoft Way.

Microsoft is a huge corporation under enormous pressure from stockholders and competitors. Desperate for increasing profits, they’ve developed a reputation for leveraging their dominant position in one product class to bully their way into another, limiting choice and flexibility along the way.

For example, they recently announced that they would discontinue (kill) the API for their recently acquired Skype service, limiting again how their products can work with other products that might compete with them in other areas.

Tying up Internet Explorer with Windows is perhaps the most notorious example and a demonstration that the combinations rarely add value to the customers. We see it in SharePoint too, as they try to bind customers of SharePoint to other Microsoft products, notably Office 365, Yammer, Dynamics, etc.  

Communifire offers a compelling alternative to SharePoint and Yammer. It’s an alternative to the Microsoft way. At least our customers believe we do. When you sign up with Communifire you become part of the Communifire community. You work directly with the developers of the platform, not third party contractors with their own needs and agendas. We think that this makes a big difference. 

We’re a small, privately-owned, debt-free company … so we’re not under pressure to take more and more from our customers, while giving less and less. We don’t lock our customers into our platform or any of its features. It’s easy enough to replace out any of our apps within Communifire with your own choices. And because we spent extra time and effort to build the foundation of Communifire right, it is possible for us to build new functionality for it very quickly.

This means that we don’t have to guess what our customers want (and then “sell you” on, and limit you to what we think you need), we work with customers to build functionality as you need it … and when it becomes important to you.

With our customers driving the roadmap for Communifire, it is as much their platform as it is ours. We believe that our success is tied directly to your long-term success, not our ability to take as much from you as we can in the short-term. And we put everything we have toward making our customers successful with Communifire.

Sharepoint (with or without Yammer) is hardly representative of the potential and return on investment potential of social intranet software.

Don’t you want to create a collaboration experience that works for how you really work?


How to Know if Your Company Needs an Intranet


Written by

Tim Eisenhauer is a co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.


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