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October 24, 2016updated 07 Nov 2016 2:34pm

Welcome to Facebook at work – but only if you have email, the right software and like sharing data

Facebook has finally entered the enterprise, but its Workplace offering faces obstacles from business context to data security. Facebook, however, is not alone in facing these problems.

By Ellie Burns

Facebook launched its first enterprise offering with much numerical aplomb, citing an already impressive 1,000 global organisations and 100,000 groups using the service formerly known as Facebook at Work.

The arrival of Facebook’s fee-based communications tool for the enterprise was divisive; on one side of the fence were those who heralded the long-awaited entrance of Facebook to the enterprise. The arrival of Workplace was welcomed as a platform delivering to shifting employee attitudes to work and the way in which technology is enabling enhanced productivity and collaboration.

One of the welcoming party to Workplace was Aaron Levie, co-founder and CEO of cloud company Box, who said:

workplace-by-facebook

Workplace, by Facebook (formerly known as Facebook at Work) aims to help organisations collaborate better using familiar Facebook features like News Feed, Groups, Chat, and Live Video.

“While enterprise software has often been an impediment to helping people do their best work in the past, cloud and mobile have reversed this trend. The cloud and mobile era – driven by Apple and Android devices, computing from Amazon Web Services, and modern enterprise software like Box, Quip, Asana, and others – has ushered in a modern IT stack where enterprise technology is as simple, delightful, and powerful as our consumer technology.”

Levie went onto say that he was ‘thrilled’ at the enterprise arrival of Facebook as it gives “organizations and enterprise developers alike to leverage the same capabilities that we’ve come to rely on for communicating and connecting in our personal lives at work.”

Workplace was also celebrated as the platform to tap into a new generation of workers, with millennials now being given a platform they are already comfortable in using, and one which creates new relationships in the workplace.

“Social networks are appealing to millennials’ appetite for a new type of relationship by evolving into lifestyle companions and enabling them to create their own social media profile,” said Hugo D’Ulisse, head of analytical platform at SAS UK & Ireland.

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“Workplace offers ease of communication, connectivity between members and the potential to help individuals understand more about their work environment and network by analysing vast amounts of personal data.”

However, on the other side of the fence were those criticising Facebook’s tardiness in entering the workplace collaboration scene, with companies like Slack already having a significant foothold in the market. For some, Workplace was seen as a Facebook fight back against a decline in millennial engagement – a ‘fight for relevance in an era where social media companies simply need to work harder to build advocacy,” as Mr. D’Ulisse from SAS put it.

davidlavenda

David Lavenda is an information overload researcher and VP of product strategy at harmon.ie.

For other critics, the sticking points concerning Workplace was more about what it was offering and promising to do. David Lavenda at harmon.ie spoke to CBR about his belief that Workplace is no contender in the office collaboration space. Mr Lavenda pulled out four specific reasons as to why Workplace will not succeed, with the first being that the platform has no business context.

“People already have a bevy of apps, documents, and email they use to get work done. Now, Workplace plans to add yet another place to go for work? It just makes no sense. Workplace is not connected to what people are already using. Workers will still have to go to their Salesforce or SAP or Oracle apps to view records.

“Then they will have to switch contexts by toggling over to Workplace to write comments and participate in the conversation.  That toggling is what causes people to lose focus, so they end up not using the tools. The lack of business context is the biggest reason Workplace is a non-starter.”

Proprietary software and data security are also obstacles for Workplace – continue reading to find out why

Then there is the issue with Facebook’s promise that Workplace will all but eliminate email – a promise made by a plethora of other software companies and a promise made by Facebook despite the fact that the company still relies on email for external comms.

“Email is the one place people already spend their worktime; it’s the one place they go to receive and share information with colleagues, partners, customers, and suppliers,” Mr Lavenda told CBR.

“What is the upside for abandoning email for Facebook?  A better UI? A better sharing experience? Replacing email with Facebook will take more than just having a familiar UI.”

The problem with Facebook killing email also gives rise to another key issue – one that I have already alluded to in regards to Facebook using email for external communications. Workplace is a proprietary technology, meaning that you can only communicate with people using the same software. This, Mr Lavenda argues, will cause people to turn to the one tool which Facebook promised to kill with Workplace.

“You can’t communicate with people outside the organization using Workplace. So what will they use? Email. In fact, you can communicate with everybody using email, in no small part because email is a standard. So to which tool will people gravitate?”

The last point as to why Workplace will not succeed is data security, with Mr Lavenda asking, “what do people think of giving yet more information to companies like Facebook… regardless of all its assurances that it won’t be used?”  In answer to that question, SAS research found that 68% of millennials – the demographic targeted by Workplace – are now uncomfortable sharing data with social media companies due to privacy concerns.

Slack, Jive

Slack and Jive are already established contenders in the enterprise social networking market.

Workplace, however, is not alone in many of the concerns raised by Mr Lavenda. Slack, for example, is a proprietary platform just like Workplace. You then have other vendors who have a different set of shortcomings; Microsoft lacks business apps needed to get work done, while IBM falls short on support apps from vendors. All these companies are promising to do away with email and kick-start a new era of digital collaboration and productivity in the workplace – however, the key may lie in the one tool everyone is trying to get rid of, from a company which no one may know of…yet.

“I think a startup will emerge that will be able to overcome all these obstacles and leverage email to become the unifying factor that will bring in apps from many vendors, will bring the conversation to the email client where people already spend their work time AND will be able to organize information so people can focus on the work topics/subjects rather than on navigating the specific tools and interfaces,” Mr Lavenda told CBR.

The puzzle that is enterprise collaboration is one that will not be solved soon – our multi-vendor world is giving businesses different sets of tools with varying success. There is yet to be seen one stand out winner – which is why I am now off to check my emails.

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