No doubt that the Enterprise Social Software segment -- now part of the broader Enterprise Collaboration software market -- largely came into existence because of the huge popularity of consumer social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Not surprisingly we often hear that Facebook itself will make a play for the enterprise market. Facebook itself has not officially commented but the media is abuzz about "Facebook @ Work."
This Ship Has Sailed
If Facebook makes an entry into the enterprise social network segment, it may well find that the ESN ship has sailed long back. Circa 2014, enterprise customers are not generally interested in horizontal ESNs but want practical use cases that leverage social networking features. While Facebook may get some traction among smaller businesses, larger customers want to socialize business processes and legacy systems – what we termed “social as a layer" approach.
In our 2014 market analysis of this space, we called out that many pure-play social networking vendors are specializing and narrowing their focus. For instance, Socialtext is focused on HR functions. Salesforce Chatter is largely for sales and marketing departments. Under Atos, blueKiwi wants to replace email. Sitrion wants socialize SAP. Cisco threw in the towel. Many of these vendors have built integrations and connectors to other enterprise systems. (And If I may digress: like a couple in an arranged marriage, Yammer and SharePoint are still learning about each other's strengths and weaknesses.)
The crux is that customers and now vendors have moved on from simple social networking services. It’s now about use cases, integration, and ultimately employee productivity and engagement. Facebook should not expect any easy sailing here.
Facebook might lend itself to interesting enterprise use cases like expertise location. But the highly hyped “Social Graph” search function continues to underwhelm even a couple of years after it’s launch.
Facebook could also be hoping to leverage it’s high user experience quotient. That may not be enough of a differentiator, though, since many ESN vendors can offer similar experiences.
In addition to product relevance, Facebook also has to contend with other factors. Very few software companies can target both consumer and enterprise customers. Arguably, Adobe and Microsoft have been able to taste success in both segments, but Google and Apple remain consumer software companies while IBM and Oracle are enterprise plays, and the twain does not meet. Sure, Google Apps is a billion dollar business (largely on the strength of its email offering), but the sentiment that Google “just does not get enterprise needs” remains widely prevalent.
So as a technology customer, don't let this latest news distract you from your long-term strategy. Facebook will find the odds stacked against it in any enterprise foray.