The beta Facebook at Work platform has now launched as "Facebook Workplace." Most of the early reviews seem to laud the platform mostly for....looking like Facebook. We'll have a lot to say in the coming weeks on where the platform does and doesn't actually make employees more effective, but for now I'll argue that your biggest challenge with this offering will not be the technology. The biggest risk is the vendor.
Shades of Google
In a conversation earlier today with fellow RSG analyst and social-tech guru Kashyap Kompella we mused about how Facebook's first (and only) foray into the enterprise space reminds us of Google's attempts to lure enterprise customers over the past decade. What lessons can customers learn?
Let's review a few Google-in-the-enterprise milestones:
- Declaring (in 2006) that its enterprise search appliance represented "the future" — the appliance is now defunct
- Chasing various various Waves
- Assuming that a public-facing social network (G+) could be tweaked successfully for business (didn't work)
- Reverting primarily to GMail as the basis for its various collaboration suite attempts
- After a decade of trying, still approaching the enterprise segment with almost disdainful neglect
Google does some things well (again: GMail). But for enterprise customers — particularly larger organizations — it begs the question: can a vendor with no enterprise experience and the distraction of a huge consumer income stream adequately support business customers?
Could Facebook Be Different?
Sure, Facebook could prove different. Here's how:
- They could build an enterprise-friendly channel network who could actually customize the platform for client needs
- They could fund the development of a wide range of connectors to other enterprise and cloud systems
- They could support local user groups and in-person confabs so customers and partners could learn from each other
- They could offer solid, comprehensive SLAs, especially for large enterprises
- They could develop an employee-focused roadmap that might significantly differ from the consumer Facebook edition
- They could refactor the platform to allow integrators and other vendors to develop useful plug-ins and adaptors
- They could align with major IaaS platforms (AWS, Azure, etc.) so that I can more readily integrate with custom workplace applications migrating to those environments
- And so on...
What are the chances Facebook will actually do most of these? I'll watch and keep an open mind.
Advice for You the Customer
As a customer, remember that strategic intangibles are just as important as functional fit. You might love Facebook the interface; make sure you're just as comfortable with Facebook the company. The stakes are high here, because we're talking about acclimating most or all your colleagues to a new enterprise hub. Awash in consumer revenue, Google can (and did) kill an enterprise offering with no apparent effect on its bottom line. How different is Facebook?