Irwin Lazar
Irwin Lazar is the Vice President and Service Director at Nemertes Research, where he manages research operations, develops and manages...
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Irwin Lazar | January 22, 2015 |


Facebook Comes to Work

Facebook Comes to Work Facebook’s entry into the enterprise collaboration space threatens to disrupt the market, but it will need to address numerous concerns ranging from management, to security, to interoperability and extensibility to succeed.

Facebook’s entry into the enterprise collaboration space threatens to disrupt the market, but it will need to address numerous concerns ranging from management, to security, to interoperability and extensibility to succeed.

Facebook finally launched a pilot of Facebook at Work, essentially a separate instance of Facebook, with a dedicated mobile client, that companies can use to create private spaces with all the same features of Facebook's consumer platform (see FB@Work: Will Enterprise Social take Off? for more insight on the announcement).

With this move Facebook enters the crowded enterprise social software space dominated by IBM, Jive, SAP, Salesforce, Sitrion and Microsoft, along with a large number of smaller providers like Igloo, and emerging vendors ranging from HipChat to Huddle. But Facebook's approach is notable for a few reasons, and it's unlikely to see widespread adoption, at least initially for a few more.

What I found most interesting about the launch is that Facebook is pushing the mobile client more so than the desktop, and that unlike its consumer service, its messenger app is integrated into the Facebook at Work mobile client and is not a separate app. As mobile devices proliferate, and workers increasingly expect to be able to text their colleagues, we're seeing a growing interest in mobile messaging in the enterprise collaboration space both from IT leaders as well as collaboration software vendors. So while Facebook at Work provides the same social features as its consumer-oriented brother, its ability to function as a corporate messaging application may be its greatest strength (and represents a significant threat to the instant messaging capabilities offered by UC platforms.)

Given that Facebook at Work is currently only available in limited fashion, I'm unable to test it at the moment; but in a perfect world, here's what I'd like to see:

  • Directory Integration – For Facebook at Work to achieve large-scale adoption it will have to give customers the ability to use existing directories to provision accounts, and to revoke accounts when people leave the company. Ideally it would allow automated provisioning of job titles, contact information, and business unit assignments.

  • External Access – Few companies only collaborate internally. Facebook at Work will need to provide a system to enable guest access to groups, individuals, and other content, and to revoke that access as necessary.

  • Governance – To achieve widespread adoption, Facebook at Work must give companies the ability to archive messages, and to easily produce them for audits. It must allow setting of fine-grained privacy policies to control access to sensitive information.

  • Security / Encryption – Ideally Facebook at Work would encrypt all data, both at rest and in motion. It would enable customers to hold the keys and control the location of their data, keeping it inside or outside of the U.S., for example

  • Mobile Security Integration – The Facebook at Work mobile client must be supported by leading MDM vendors so it can work with either application wrappers or containers within an enterprise mobile security framework

  • Extensibility – To be part of a larger collaboration environment, the app should enable integration with document storage services like Box and Dropbox, as well as potentially with messaging and UC platforms from leading vendors. It should enable integration with ERP and CRM applications like SAP, Workday, and Salesforce. The goal is to allow those using groups for project, team, or client management to easily pull in relevant data from external applications.

  • Presence, UC – With its built-in messaging capability, Facebook at Work has the potential to challenge incumbent UC vendors by incorporating tools like Web conferencing, screen sharing, co-authoring, and even individual and group voice and video conferencing. Again, these could either be included within the offering, or enabled via integration with existing or third-party platforms.

  • Developer Access – Facebook at Work has the potential to become an enterprise platform, supporting third-party developers who want to extend its capabilities, delivering everything from vertical specific apps, to management and security tools, data and analytics, and enhanced social features. It should strive to create an open platform that others can build upon (hopefully for more than just Candy Crush Saga).

  • More Social Tools – Wikis, badging, idea management, gamification, and so on are staples of enterprise social software - but aren't part of Facebook's consumer offering. A rich set of enterprise social tools will allow it to better compete with other social vendors.

  • Enhanced Messaging – Facebook could incorporate voice messaging / walkie-talkie features offered by companies like Talko and Voxer as a way of adding enhanced business value to its platform.

  • Policy Enforcement – Enterprises are likely to want the ability to manage things like shared photos, interfaces with public social networks, and even look for salty language within discussion groups. Facebook will need to provide a rich set of tools that enable enterprises to easily set and manage space-wide or company-wide usage.
Since Facebook at Work is still in pilot mode many of these features and issues remain to be addressed, and it's not entirely clear what the final product will look like. Still, Facebook at Work, by virtue of its established position as a widely used consumer service, is likely to disrupt not only the enterprise social software space, but the mobile messaging and UC markets as well.

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