It has been a while since Microsoft rolled out Office 365 Groups out to general availability and it caused a lot of confusion from many segments.  First, was it a Yamemr killer?  Second was it a file collaboration, or an email communication?  Third, was it something to control or something to let loose?

Are O365 Groups a Yammer Killer?

Darn good question and one that there isn’t an “official” answer to that I have heard.  If we look at the history of Microsoft and acquisitions of critical functionlity like FAST Search then Yammer is destined to be a part of O365/SharePoint.  Is that Groups?  Maybe.  There is a lot of similarity.  They allow for conversations, they allow for file storage, calendaring, and note taking.  BOth allow for external users to participate and can be public or private.

O365 Groups though seem to be geared towards small group collaboration and communication where Yammer’s play is Enterprise Social.  Yes the features are similar, but the goals are different.  Perhaps Microsoft will take O365 Groups and make them able to embed into any team site, or extend them so that they can be used to socialize other systems.  That isn’t today.  There also is the lack of the general company group where everyone can converse…and the ability to track topics that is critical to an Enterprise Social Network.  

Verdict: Not today, maybe not ever

Are O365 Groups about File Collaboration or Email Communication?

Yes.  Seriously, it is about both.  For too long Email and Files have lived in different worlds with two completely separate products to serve them.  Neither was optimal for the way that people actually work.  We communicate constantly…we have to to get our work done.  But we communicate about files because that is the product of our work.  If we stay in Exchange then we are sending emails back and forth, whereas if we stay in SharePoint we end up either assigning tasks, that generate emails, or we are emailing links.  Neither of those are the right solution.  Groups allow us to marry the two together.  Dedicated communication channel that is topical to the group along with dedicated file collaboration topical to the group.  Is it perfect…bot yet, but its getting there.

Verdict: First real step to convergence of communication and collaboration

Do I strictly control O365 Groups, or let them grow organically?

When I talk to customers about Governance I warn of the dangers of organic, uncontrolled growth.  This is a real problem in SharePoint.  But SharePoint is a structured environment that we need to control.  Groups are going to fall into the ad hoc or even personal collaboration level of governance.  Absent free and easy use by all users, they will not flourish and be a benefit to the company.  The very promise of an O365 Group is that anyone can create it with a couple of mouse clicks and start working immediately.  The end user is empowered to solve their own problems.  As near as I can tell, the only way to prevent users from creating groups is to not allow their email into the cloud.  I have customers ask if we can prevent any user from creating a group in Yammer, or an O365 Group and the answer is “No, and you don’t want to”.  You don’t prevent a user from creating a folder in their email…or from creating a personal distribution group and you don’t want to restrict the use of O365 Group.  However, you do need to think on a plan for getting rid of groups that are stale and not needed anymore.

Verdict: Peace, Love, and O365 Groups