Microsoft Takes Page From Yammer Playbook, Shares Office 365 Roadmap With Customers

Microsoft, as part of its transition to continually adding new features to its cloud services instead of all at once, is now giving Office 365 customers an advance look at what's coming in future updates.

On Thursday, Microsoft launched its Office 365 public roadmap for business customers, which includes details on "new features, enhancements, and major updates," Jake Zborowski, a group product manager for Office 365, said in a blog post.

Zborowski said Microsoft has "learned a lot" about communicating with customers from Yammer, the cloud social networking startup it acquired in 2012 for $1.2 billion. Yammer makes frequent incremental updates to its service, and Microsoft has begun using this strategy for Office 365 and other cloud services.

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The goal is to inform Office 365 customers of changes ahead of time so they know what to expect and aren’t blindsided, as sometimes happens when cloud software vendors make adjustments to their services.

"We will provide visibility to planned updates that are in development and in the process of being rolled out to the service, as well as to items that have been launched and are now generally available for all eligible customers," Zborowski said in the blog post.

Reed Wilson, founder and president of Palmetto Technology Group, a Greenville, S.C.-based Microsoft partner, told CRN the advance notice of Office 365 changes helps his company in customer conversations.

"Customers are starting to see Office 365 as an organic, evolving product versus just 'another' release of Office, like we used to see every three years," Wilson said.

Microsoft is also launching First Release, a program that gives customers access to kick the tires on "significant enhancements" to Office 365, SharePoint Online and Exchange Online, Zborowski said. Customers have to opt-in to take advantage of this opportunity, he said.

Some industry analysts thought Microsoft paid too much for Yammer, but as the new services show, the startup is clearly having a big impact on Microsoft's traditional approach to software development and cloud service deployment.