Facebook's unparalleled reach into the daily routines of consumers around the world, and the ongoing consumerization of IT trend, put the world's largest social network in a unique position to make a significant mark in the enterprise. Catering to large businesses isn't easy, however, and Facebook will have to overcome some key challenges before enterprises see it as a worthy contender for their business.
Facebook at Work represents the company's first attempt to bridge the gap between personal and business on its platform, and it's currently in a limited pilot program with only a handful of companies. The product is separate from Facebook's consumer platform, and it is controlled by the businesses that deploy it.
Security, privacy could derail Facebook at Work
Josh Lindenmuth, CIO of payroll and HR software company Payce, says Facebook at Work is interesting but it doesn't currently meet his company's needs.
Lindenmuth expects Facebook to expand and create more enterprise applications beyond Facebook at Work but also suggests the companies likely to be interested in those new products won't have serious privacy or security needs.
"Facebook makes it too easy to share information," Lindenmuth says. "The reason it works for social applications is the same reason why many CIOs will be reluctant to use it."
Angela Yochem, CIO of logistics and transportation company BDP International, echoes Lindenmuth's concerns. "Facebook would need to overcome significant privacy concerns to win over most enterprise leaders, perhaps the non-tech leaders more so than the tech leaders. While much of this is perception-based, it's real enough to slow adoption if left unaddressed."
Yochem also says that every company and organization is on the hunt for tools, ideas and methods to accelerate their business and increase collaboration. "Bringing the Facebook construct to the enterprise would conceivably allow for unprecedented collaborative capability across multiple entity types, allowing business and society to evolve rapidly in response to changing customer expectations and business needs."
Facebook is initially focusing on large, multinational businesses in an attempt to build momentum and interest around its enterprise product, but Lindenmuth says it would see more success by targeting small- to medium-size businesses with fewer than 5,000 employees.
If it wants to cater to larger companies, Facebook needs to add additional security measures, enable local storage and backup options, and provide a more customary process to send company messages to specific groups within the company, Lindenmuth says.
IT resistance to Facebook at Work
Facebook will come up against heavy resistance around security, data sovereignty, control and trust, according to Stuart Barr, CTO of the software firm HighQ.
"Consumer features don't translate directly to the enterprise, and using social tools inside businesses is very different," Barr wrote in response to CIO.com's questions. "They require governance, configurability, careful adoption strategies and deep integration with legacy systems of record."
That's why Barr is not convinced Facebook will be able to improve its perception among IT leaders and effectively support both consumers and enterprises. "I have many reservations about an organization with Facebook's track record on privacy issues being trusted with so much sensitive business data."
Lindenmuth won't even consider using Facebook for collaboration unless the product can be hosted on Payce's own servers. Storing data in the cloud on Facebook's servers is not an option for Payce or many of his IT colleagues.
The reality is that few companies can effectively serve consumers and enterprises because their needs and objectives often run counter to the each other.
Facebook at Work most likely to succeed within SMBs
Barr suggests Facebook at Work is best suited for smaller organizations with relatively minor requirements that need an easier way to communicate internally and share basic information. Facebook can be an effective alternative to a traditional, static intranet, and it can help consolidate business communications into a central hub, according to Barr.
Consumer companies such as Facebook and others have in the past been able to build more efficient ways of sharing information, and then scale, and enterprises have a clear need for those tools inside the workforce, Barr says.
"Those organizations that have adopted social tools successfully have seen the benefits in greatly improved knowledge transfer across the organization, more efficient communication, better client service and improved productivity," Barr wrote.
Facebook's entrance into the business market further validates the importance of collaboration tools, but other, well-established platforms that provide similar tools have already adapted to the enterprise.
A free (for now) product from Facebook that requires no training will get many CIOs to at least consider the company's offerings, Lindenmuth says. "Facebook is banking on the fact that everyone knows how to use Facebook."
Facebook also has an advantage over competitors because it could gain a foothold in enterprise through slow adoption; other business collaboration platforms are typically all-or-nothing endeavors.