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What Could A LinkedIn Integration With Microsoft's Cloud Portfolio Actually Look Like?

Integrating the professional network should enhance the Office 365 user experience and add sales and marketing functionality to Dynamics CRM. But deeper integrations with Azure could power a new set of third-party applications.

What will a LinkedIn integration with Office 365 and other Microsoft cloud products actually look like, and what specific partner opportunities can those combined technologies drive?

Those were the first questions Todd Schwartz started thinking about Monday morning when he learned of Microsoft’s $26.3 billion acquisition of the professional networking leader.

As co-founder and co-CEO of SkyKick, developer of a popular tool for onboarding business customers to Microsoft’s cloud-based office productivity suite, Schwartz has a vested professional interest in the nuts and bolts of how LinkedIn will integrate with Microsoft products and impact the software giant's ecosystem.

[Related: Partners: Microsoft's LinkedIn Acquisition Will Have Big Implications For Office 365, Dynamics CRM Social Media Integration]

"The first thing I tweeted out was, I think this is going to be awesome for our partners to help them sell more Office 365," Schwartz told CRN.

The combination of the leading business productivity suite with the leading business-to-business social network should generate a new stream of inbound sales interest to Office 365 resellers, he said.

But Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is almost certainly focused on the potential of extending LinkedIn across Microsoft's entire cloud portfolio, turning the professional networking platform into a "rich, powerful, enterprise network to build new products and services that can be consumed on Azure as well as web products," Schwartz said.

By integrating LinkedIn with Azure, Microsoft could give developers building solutions on its Infrastructure-as-a-Service cloud -- companies such as SkyKick -- a powerful set of capabilities that differentiate them in the market, he said.

In addition to the migration tool with which it established its business, SkyKick offers a set of cloud management and data backup services. Like many Microsoft technology partners, the company was busy Monday pondering how it could add-value for customers, and enrich the data those products provide its partners, by leveraging LinkedIn’s network, Schwartz said.

LinkedIn as an Azure service, accessible through APIs, "would really help us innovate in a big way," Schwartz said, noting the potential to build third-party apps targeting human resources, sales and other corporate departments.

But the initial boost that LinkedIn will deliver to Office 365 customers will be the ease of use and efficiency derived from natively embedding the network's extensive repository of professional data and social context into products like the Outlook email client, Dynamics CRM, or even the recently released Planner platform.


Those integrations will simplify the user experience for the many professionals simultaneously using email and LinkedIn -- turning two screens into one and reducing steps needed to access desired professional information.

And Microsoft partners, like their customers, will be able to leverage LinkedIn to bolster their own customer engagement and sales efforts, he said.

"You’re basically making your productivity more social, which makes the whole selling proposition of Office 365 that much easier," Schwartz said. "With more information about the people you do business with, having that social context, on an email, we could have a much more productive conversation based on the things we know about each other."

Reed Wiedower, chief technology officer at New Signature, a Microsoft partner based in Washington, D.C., that sometimes uses SkyKick’s migration tools, told CRN that Microsoft is again expanding its addressable market into areas of business beyond IT.

LinkedIn's capabilities "are going to light up in the future," Wiedower said, and that will help partners selling Office 365, Dynamics CRM or advanced analytics solutions "start transforming customers."

Many of the coming capabilities will be expressed through a platform Microsoft has been quietly building up over the past year that helps users get a handle on large amounts of information by applying predictive intelligence technology, Wiedower said.

Office Graph, a content management platform that has already spawned a product called Delve, can predict the types of documents users want to see by analyzing "signals" from across Office 365 applications, such as Exchange, Outlook, SharePoint, Lync and Yammer.

"Office Graph has a useful set of signals, but LinkedIn has many more," Wiedower told CRN.

"The type of data LinkedIn adds would expand that to when folks enter and leave companies or groups, close large deals, adjust their resumes to indicate new capabilities, or get trained on Lynda.com [an online education platform acquired last year by LinkedIn] on a new business or technology. Even overall customer satisfaction with brands," he said.

LinkedIn's data will "supercharge" Office Graph, making the platform and products derived from it capable of providing useful information, especially for sales, marketing and customer service representatives, Wiedower said.

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