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Microsoft-LinkedIn deal to shake up enterprise social networking

The Microsoft-LinkedIn deal gives us a glimpse into a hyper-social business future. Will employees like what they see? Also in Searchlight: Federal court upholds FCC net-neutrality rules; big announcements from Apple's WWDC.

"Please add me to your LinkedIn network."

The familiar notification of a new professional connection took on a whole new meaning this week.

Microsoft's planned acquisition of LinkedIn for a whopping $26.2 billion in cash brings the apparatus of enterprise social networking into the cubicle -- wherever that cubicle happens to be.

"How people find jobs, build skills, sell, market and get work done, and ultimately find success requires a connected professional world," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote in a statement. "It requires a vibrant network that brings together a professional's information in LinkedIn's public network with the information in Office 365 and Dynamics."

Microsoft fended off rival potential bidder Salesforce to obtain access to LinkedIn's 433 million users' data and content. With this massive network at its disposal, Microsoft can gain valuable insight into employee behavior and connections, and integrate that into its Office software suite and other core business products, Nadella wrote. LinkedIn, meanwhile, will get more up close and personal in your work.

"This combination will make it possible for new experiences, such as a LinkedIn newsfeed that serves up articles based on the project you are working on and Office suggesting an expert to connect with via LinkedIn to help with a task you're trying to complete," Nadella wrote.

Initial reaction to the Microsoft-LinkedIn deal is that it's a good move for both sides, despite some reservations. Analysis from Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research Inc., was typical.

"I believe the acquisition does fit into the goal of both companies, which is helping people improve the way they work," Lepofsky wrote in an email. "Microsoft makes tools, but does not have a network of content. LinkedIn has the content in profiles, groups, status updates and news, job listings, education and training (Lynda), and knowledge (SlideShare). Combining the two could lead to interesting scenarios ... presumably ones that will be more powerful as native features than they could be as third-party integrations."

Dan Bieler, principal analyst at Forrester, is not totally convinced. He said he anticipates issues around the meshing of the two spaces.

"Although the deal, should it go through, helps Microsoft to strengthen its social networking services and professional content, there will be LinkedIn users [who] are not keen to become sucked into the Microsoft ecosystem as part of their social collaboration activities."

The two companies don't seem concerned with this cross-integration; instead, they're embracing it.

Their enterprise social networking vision doesn't stop at automated suggestions. Nadella said he foresees Cortana, Microsoft's artificial intelligence assistant, acting as our networking caddy. Imagine Cortana accessing the LinkedIn network at the start of a meeting and telling you about the people you are about to meet for the first time, before you even shake their hands. The idea has Lepofsky's attention.

"I'm very interested in seeing the scenarios where Cortana will be able to leverage LinkedIn data to help with personal productivity and team collaboration inside Microsoft products," he said. Conversely, it will be interesting to see how Cortana can be used in LinkedIn. Imagine [saying], 'Cortana, can you please set up a meeting for me with my LinkedIn connections at Constellation Research who have recently published articles on artificial intelligence?'"

Personal info plus business workflows equals trouble?

The convenience of those scenarios, however, may come at a price. The potential for privacy and security infractions abounds, according to a Forrester "Quick Take" analysis. Are businesses putting employee privacy at risk? Are they exposing themselves to breaches by integrating with LinkedIn? Those are the right questions to be asking, according to Forrester analysts. Lepofsky agreed.

"The biggest impact for IT will be around identity, privacy and security," he said. "LinkedIn content belongs to individuals, not the companies they work for. Integrating personal information with business workflows will require a great deal of understanding and trust about how that data is being used."

As Forrester analysts emphasize, regulators won't look kindly on firms using employee social data -- from social graphs to behaviors -- without express permission, especially given the many global laws to consider. It's important that companies be transparent with employees about how they will use their data, and that they provide ample opportunity to opt out.

Nadella briefly addressed the topic of privacy and security in his statement, writing, "Nothing will get linked or connected without customers opting in, and with the provisioning of IT principles around it. But we believe customers will want to integrate this, because they'll see the value."

CIO news roundup for week of June 13

The Microsoft-LinkedIn deal was not the only tech news this week. Here's what else grabbed headlines:

  • The open internet wins, at least for now. A three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in a 2-1 ruling, endorsed the Federal Communications Commission's net-neutrality rules on Tuesday. The ruling prohibits internet service providers from blocking, slowing or prioritizing traffic, and also reclassifies internet service providers as common carriers. 
  • Apple announced a host of updates at its Worldwide Developers Conference, a five-day event that started on Monday. For starters, Apple's desktop operating system has a new name -- macOS. Sierra, the newest available version of macOS, is designed to enable users to easily toggle between different Apple products. In other big news from the WWDC, Apple Watch gets faster, Siri will be available on Mac and Apple Pay is coming to Safari.
  • Tech giant Cisco is investing $10 million in a scholarship program aimed at closing the cybersecurity talent gap. The company said this week its two-year Global Cybersecurity Scholarship program will train applicants in skills required for the security operations center analyst job role.
  • The deadly Orlando nightclub shooting on Sunday led Facebook to turn on its "safety check" feature  for the first time in the U.S. The feature prompts Facebook site or app users who are near an area of natural disaster or crisis to notify their loved ones of their safety by tapping the "I'm safe" button. The feature was launched in 2014.

Check out our previous Searchlight roundups on the recent Cloud Expo and the Myspace, Tumblr megabreaches.

Assistant editor Mekhala Roy contributed to this week's news roundup.

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