Facebook at Work: The pro and con considerations for CIOs

I don’t care if a company relies heavily on social media for marketing to customers or has invested in tools for monitoring sentiment and providing a new channel for customer service. No matter how you slice it, even for a true “social business” convincing the CIO to deploy Facebook at Work is probably going to be a tough sell.

Over the last few weeks several rumours have begun circulating about a plan by Facebook to offer a set of tools for business users that would allow employees to communicate internally on projects. Nothing has been confirmed, but it’s not hard to imagine what this might look like. Companies could probably have little chat sessions open that resemble Facebook’s Messenger app, for example, and could perhaps “like” status updates on projects.

It’s probably premature to write off a product that may not even exist, but just as consumers started bringing their smartphones into the office, IT leaders should probably expect a similar form of infiltration from the world’s most popular social network. Here are some considerations:

Pro: Finally, an office communications tool that looks like what people use at home. Companies have been deploying enterprise chat tools and glorified versions of an intranet for years to promote collaboration. As always, getting people to really embrace those tools and change the way they work can be a challenge. In this case, though, Facebook is something that Canadians in particular use a lot every day in their personal live. Unless the company radically changes the user experience for corporate clients (which is unlikely), the learning curve for Facebook at Work probably won’t be that steep.

Con: How secure is this thing, anyway, and who owns the data? It could be argued that Facebook only exists to gather data that can be passed on to its advertising clients. How will the company convince CIOs that they will maintain strict control over what gets passed through its system, and how will it be collected and managed for compliance and audit purposes? If there’s not a good answer, don’t expect Facebook at Work to scale much past the smallest of small businesses.

Pro: There’s always room in the budget for free. Facebook is clearly learning a few things from Google, which has managed to find a number of corporate customers for Gmail and its various apps. Facebook at Work may not be rich enough from a feature perspective to consider it as a replacement for running an Exchange server, but it could be a cost-effective point solution for certain programs that firms might think about using for internal communication.

Con: It’s already a crowded market. Facebook is coming into this space at a time when large rivals like Salesforce can offer Facebook-like experiences with Chatter, or Microsoft with Skype for Business (formerly Lync) and Yammer. Then there are the newer entrants like Slack, at which investors are throwing a lot of money. These are vendors that know the enterprise inside-out. The same cannot be said of Facebook.

Pro: Might this be a way to blend work and play? Some companies — those trying to recruit and appeal to Millennials especially — have sometimes allowed employees to use their personal Facebook accounts at work. If Facebook actually launches Facebook at Work, it will be interesting to see to what extent it will require a new, separate account, or whether it will offer some degree of integration between personal and professional use. That would add a potentially game-changing layer to current bring-your-own device programs, where personal apps are sometimes blocked or put in some kind of virtual container.

Con: What’s the business model? Ads? Facebook wouldn’t be doing this if there wasn’t a revenue opportunity. It’s hard to imagine many enterprises being willing to put up with ads alongside chat sessions or corporate status updates. If it’s going to be a licensing fee, it had better be a lot cheaper than everybody else.

Pro:  It might force more traditional vendors to up their game. Facebook is really easy to use and has proven more addictive than email, the original killer app. Even if it doesn’t get a lot of uptake among CIOs right away, it might provoke conversations about why other tools don’t have a similar look and feel, ease of deployment and other benefits.

Here’s an idea: In a lot of companies, it can be difficult to find other employees who could help out on a particular project, or who have the expertise to resolve certain issues. If Facebook could create a business version of its “people you may know” engine to bring those sorts of coworkers together, that could be valuable. Maybe enough to make a few CIOs become friends with Facebook.

What am I missing from this list? Am I being fair to Facebook (and to CIOs?) Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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