Are people still wondering which tool to use?

Photo by Lachlan Donald on Unsplash

Photo by Lachlan Donald on Unsplash

While attending the Commsverse event a few weeks back, I found myself in a conversation in the speaker’s room once again discussing the “which tool when” conundrum, and whether customers are still asking this question.

The short answer is no, in my opinion, but the long answer is a bit more nuanced.

For many long years, SharePoint had been the “Swiss army knife” that could be shaped into whatever you needed it to be. And then Microsoft started evolving its roadmap and built out some rudimentary capability to compete with a number of social upstarts, including Yammer. And then they acquired Yammer and halted the development of competing capabilities within SharePoint.

When Microsoft Teams was announced, much of the community was confused, as we already had much of its capability between SharePoint, Yammer, and 3rd party solutions. That’s when the “which tool when” question really started ramping up. Thankfully, Microsoft recognized the need for improved messaging and a proactive strategy.

In an interview with Microsoft CVP Jeff Teper, he addressed this new strategy, with two main points that stood out to me:

  • SharePoint should not be viewed as a “Swiss army knife” but as an intranet and document collaboration platform.
  • If a customer asks “Which tool when?” the response should be “What is your goal? What are your desired outcomes? Use the solutions that best help you achieve that goal.”

In other words, use the right tool for the job.

Can SharePoint be used to create a simple CRM for your organization? Yes, but should you use SharePoint or a CRM tool that was designed for that purpose? Can you use Excel for project management oversight within your organization? Yes, but would you be better off using a project management solution designed for that purpose? Can we use Teams for company-wide social connections? Yes, but that kind of social networking is much better suited for Yammer.

Ultimately, each tool or workload is “just another modality,” meaning each tool is yet another way of collaborating with your team, your company, or another individual. And when we remind ourselves that Microsoft is focusing on “platforms and productivity” it makes sense that they’re going to provide a number of different tools to meet many different styles, needs, and modalities.

When Microsoft talks about providing options, what they mean is that conversation today happens across many different platforms. And they’re completely right: On an almost daily basis I participate in discussions on Teams, Facebook, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Telegram, Yammer, through email, and on my phone via SMS, Slack, and Facebook Messenger. Different conversations via different constituencies. Different modalities. While it may seem confusing, different conversations across different tools are how we increasingly communicate with our vast personal and professional networks.

However, when you’re discussing business topics or collaborating around sensitive customer information, do you want that collaboration spread across so many social properties? Having options is fine, but within the enterprise, those options should fall under the banner of corporate governance. Every CIO is

  1. battling the need for engaging and productive tools for end users, on a dizzying number of devices, matching the UX of the latest cutting-edge consumer technologies, while
  2. maintaining some semblance of control so that security, compliance, legal, and regulatory standards are being met, and the business is not being put at risk.

Options are great, but managed options are needed for the enterprise.

One other point I would argue is that spreading out conversation across too many locations dilutes the value of that conversation. If my project team is discussing aspects of our current project across Teams, Yammer, and email, for example, conversations are going to be missed. At some point in the future, I may be able to link all of the various threads together via Office Graph, but will the AI capabilities in Microsoft 365 provide them back to me in a sensible order? No, of course not. Not for the foreseeable future, at least.

Conversation spread across different modalities degrades, no doubt about it.

One way to solve this is for organizations to make some decisions upfront about the primary tools through which conversations and collaboration will happen. For me, more and more of that will happen through Teams so that our conversations are maintained in context to our content, our shared calendar, and other project artifacts – guaranteeing that our conversations happen in one place, our content/documentation within SharePoint and OneDrive are being properly managed on the back-end, and search/Office Graph captures everything.

I like options. Honestly, I don’t want Microsoft telling me which tools to use: provide the platform, get out of the way. But please do provide the tools that allow me to manage my chosen collaboration modality, including turning off those options that I feel would degrade my enterprise conversations.

Christian Buckley

Christian is the Brand Alliance Director for AvePoint Inc., and a Microsoft Regional Director and M365 Apps & Services MVP based in Silicon Slopes (Lehi), Utah. He hosts the AvePoint Office 365 Hours (#O365hours) and #P2Pnow series, the monthly #CollabTalk TweetJam, the weekly #CollabTalk Podcast, and the Microsoft 365 Ask-Me-Anything (#M365AMA) series.