For several years there has been chatter about Facebook’s enterprise ambitions and the rumored introduction of an enterprise-facing product that will offer Facebook’s social functionality, but within the context of an internal use case.
For those who have watched the arc of Facebook since its inception, this is a case of back to the future. When Facebook launched (famously as "The Facebook") it was initially an internal tool for use within Harvard University. Over time that extended to other colleges and eventually globally, but the initial DNA of the company, that of providing a networking platform for a distinct group of users, is still there.
It is unsurprising given the amount of revenue that enterprises spend on technology solutions, that Facebook should wish to dabble in this space -- similar to Google’s previous offering of the Google Search Appliance, a physical box that would offer “Google-like” search within the context of an organization's internal data, an enterprise offering would be an excellent way to generate some more revenue.
And so we have it. Being announced right now in London, Workplace, by Facebook is a model whereby the platform that, let’s face it, a huge proportion of the world already uses, can be repurposed for internal communications.
Workplace is separate from employees’ personal Facebook accounts, and includes ways for people to communicate and share ideas at work. Companies can subscribe to Workplace on a per-seat active-use basis. Employees can use the News Feed to stay updated on company announcements, join groups to collaborate, share photos and videos, create events, send messages and instant chats, and get notifications about topics important to them.
As such, Workplace joins an existing series of enterprise social networking tools and launches into a space which some might suggest is relatively mature. There are the standalone tools that try and wrap up all the different social networking features (Jive, for example). There are the tools built on top of existing platform products (Salesforce’s Chatter or SAP’s Jam, for example) and there are the lighter weight tools that are specifically about standalone enterprise chat (HipChat, Slack, Yammer, etc.). All of these examples play in the Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) space and compete for similar mindshare.
I spoke to Vanessa Thompson, an IDC analyst and one of the world’s most respected voices in the ESN space about Workplace to get her take on what this means for the market:
“The Enterprise social networks market grew 16.6% in 2015 to $1.7 billion. IDC expects the market to grow to $2.8 billion by 2020,” stated Thompson. “Enterprise social networks have proven successful where there is strong adoption, but there will be an increasing focus on connecting customers and partners in a peer network rather than connecting users inside a business. IDC survey data says that the most challenging task for users in a business is managing an ongoing customer relationship.”
Thompson further points out that Facebook, while well-known as a consumer brand, hasn’t got a pedigree in the enterprise space:
“IBM, Salesforce, Jive, Microsoft all have strong products in this area and are mature in terms of features and functions,” she points out, adding that, “the Microsoft announcement last week to move away from Yammer speaks to the inherent challenge of enterprise social networks. Adoption is hard!”
And finally, a strong work of caution from Thompson for Facebook as it attempts to gain market traction:
“Facebook will find it a challenge to get traction if they don't offer prebuilt connectors to mission critical business systems.”
Of course what Workplace has that others doesn’t is a monstrous user base that is already well-acquainted with how it works. Facebook is almost second nature to billions of people worldwide, creating a significant user base that knows the product and knows how to use it -- offering those people essentially the same functionality but within the context of a private organizational group is powerful.
One organization that is looking to leverage this new platform is SADA Systems. SADA is a consulting firm that focuses exclusively on helping large organizations transform their businesses on the back of cloud-based solutions. SADA was a launch partner, back in the day, for Google Apps, the product now known as G Suite. It is a Google Cloud Premier Partner as well as a Microsoft National Solutions Provider and already has customers of note -- Virgin America, D-Link, City of Chicago and Media News Group.
SADA is the first global partner for Workplace and is planning on investing a reported $3 million on its Workplace business unit. It already has commitments from potential customers including one 10,000+ employer looking to move all of its employees over to Facebook Workplace.
For good measure, SADA is in the process of implementing Workplace across its own organization as the standard social collaboration platform. It would seem that, despite at least two of its partners (Google and Microsoft) offering broadly competitive products, SADA sees Workplace as a very important part of its future, both internal and from a consulting perspective.
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