Facebook infiltrating the enterprise: the ups and downs

Facebook infiltrating the enterprise: the ups and downs

Summary: My colleagues at Enterprise Irregulars are not your typical Facebook demographic. Heck, I can't even make the top end 40-49 age group.


My colleagues at Enterprise Irregulars are not your typical Facebook demographic. Heck, I can't even make the top end 40-49 age group. But that doesn't stop us from arguing whether Facebook (and other forms of social media) are appropriate for enterprise usage and if so, where they fit.

Some of us in enterprise land struggle to understand the enterprise potential and relevance when there are so many other demands on the CIOs time, attention and budget. Technology buyer advocate Vinnie Mirchandani thinks the arguments in favor of Facebook are symptomatic of the kind of hype for which the tech industry is infamous and tries to inject some enterprisey reality into discussions: "If you try to convince me social networking tools are Enterprise 2.0 and will cut my checks, pay my employees, run my supply chain - yes I will say BS." He's right. Facebook isn't going to cut anyone's checks. Neither is any other form of social media as far as I know. While I respect Vinnie's position, the debate is wider and deeper.

On his own blog, Vinnie asks:

Many of my Facebook friends are already on LinkedIn. Most of my LinkedIn contacts, I am sure, just want me as a scalp to add to their list of hundreds. Do we need another channel?

If so, I will take the channel with "10-4. Rubber Duck." In fact, I may make a duckie my photo on Facebook. Nah, what I have now - a big question mark - is more appropriate. Till this luddite can figure out what to do with yet another social network.

Is this such an unreasonable position to take given all the other social networks that are out there and the kinds of attitude that are prevalent among CXOs? Social networks and especially Facebook can, and I stress can, be a great time waster. In the UK, the Daily Telegraph reports that:

More than two thirds of employers are banning or restricting the use of Facebook and similar sites over fears that staff are wasting time on them when they should be working, a survey found...

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said staff were not allowed to use social networking sites at work.

"Access to some websites is blocked as there is no business need for employees to access them. Facebook is one of those sites," he said.

Facebook can be exhausting. Hardly a day goes by without a new application popping up. Just trying to keep up with it all is a significant undertaking. Fred Wilson, who invested in Twitter is experiencing the pain:

The web is my world. Blogs are my world. Flickr is my world. Twitter is my world. Facebook aggregates all of those features, wraps a social network around it, and provides a turnkey solution. It's better in many ways. But when you make it easy, you get overload.

From a development perspective, folk like Eddie Herrmann, who is paid to dream up stuff for his employer Colgate Palmolive recently said in one of our group discussions:

I still have mixed feelings about facebook. I have already created a couple of hello world apps using their platform, and my initial reaction is yuck. You are limited because you are in the facebook shell and it's not very intuitive. This could be due to my limited use of Facebook itself, but it takes some serious shucking and jiving to get things to show up in all the different little places. You can use an iframe for your main app page, but you have to use FBML (Facebook Markup Language) for everything else.

I think it was brilliant for FB to be the first to open the social network up as a platform, but you can tell that this was an afterthought. IMHO, the game is not over and someone else can still leverage this same concept in a more stable way, especially for business (Salesforce?)

None of this seems a solid recommendation for those of us who are advising CXOs on the use of social networks. In my view, while all these points are understandable, they miss several important points.

Like it or not, social networks are with us. Returning to UK media reports, you only have to check the number of Credit Suisse and Dresdner Kleinwort (two of the banning companies cited) to see there are multiple active groups under those names. Banning might be the short term business answer but it isn't stopping people meeting on Facebook in the company's name. What does this say about perceived reputation or the long term ability to attract and retain the best talent?

I wonder what JP Rangaswami thinks? He was until recently CTO at Dresdner and is a social media advocate. Last week he said:

I remember a time, it must have been the early 1980s, when it was common to ban phones with direct dial facilities. Why? Because people might talk to their friends and family during work time...Banning Facebook is the equivalent of banning coffee shops and water coolers and loos.

Ironic in light of current reports. In a following post, JP discusses the addictive qualities attributed to Facebook. He draws parallels with Bloomberg Professional saying that:

Bloomberg messaging was addictive. But whom was it addictive for? Buy-side firms. Staffed by people who might just have had a disproportionate interest in making money. These guys were not into wasting time, they were pretty much single-dimensional about work and work and oodles of dosh. And more oodles. So why would they go crazy about the “chat” facility?

Because they got Cluetrain, that markets are conversations. They got Doc’s Nigerian pastor, that relationships come first. They got the Middle Eastern souk approach and tied these things together: relationship before conversation before transaction.

I think Facebook is a bit like that. There’s something about it that mirrors the relationship-conversation-transaction structure, and that’s what makes it addictive.

It's also part of what makes Facebook valuable. Ex-SAPper Jeff Nolan was recently invited back to his alma mater to talk about the benefits of social media/networking. In regard to social networks and Facebook, Jeff said:

I’m really liking the social networks because of their inherent ability to spread information virally. Facebook groups are a great way to build a following around something not by tricking someone on clicking a link and providing information about themselves, but because someone says "hey, I actually want to make myself part of this."

There has to be more to make Facebook compelling to business and here Robert Scoble nicely sums up some of the obvious outward facing aspects of Facebook:

  • Facebook is a multilevel marketing platform.
  • Facebook is a great way for me to promote what I’m doing.

The same goes internally. In my view and used appropriately, Facebook becomes the internal social networking portal that allows me to discover and connect with the people I need to get whatever job I have at hand. Command and control diehards might argue that Facebook is un-necessary because HR and project systems should hold all the information I'll ever need to make those connections. Perhaps. But unlikely. If I want to make a connection I'd much rather have information about a person's preferences in books, music and film than the stodgy details of their education and experience. I'd also want to make sure people know enough about me from which to feel comfortable enough to make initial contact. Why? Because as people in work, we connect at a personal level no differently to the way we do so in our private lives. The intellectual comes second. The team building transaction comes third.

What does this mean for enterprise software? One thing is for sure, resistance will continue for a while yet. Backbone transaction systems won't go away but the emphasis will change and in this it is worth considering where some of the pressing problems lay. Identity management is without question an ongoing problem as many of my colleagues acknowledge. But smart guys like Eddie Herrmann and Dan McWeeney, Eddie's Colgate-Palmolive development partner are beavering away to find a solution. In conversation, Eddie says:

While FB provides authentication to your FB app, it can't really be used outside of the FB shell. This is why I don't really consider FB an identity solution in the purest sense. OpenID is superior in this aspect because it's not reliant on any platform. Dan McWeeney and I are actually working on our off hours on an application that uses OpenID and/or Facebook for authentication. FB for when you are using FB, OpenID for everything else. The tricky part so far has been trying to allow people that have already signed up using OpenID to sync their account with their FB ID. OpenID authentication on top of and inside the FB platform...not fun.

The other pressing problem requires assigning people to manage the transition that Facebook implies. Here I see HR taking a pivotal role. They're the gatekeepers of employee data which makes them the natural advocates for social networking. They can learn about brand from enterprise marketers. There's just one piece of the puzzle missing and it's a role that doesn't currently exist - enterprise social scientist. More on that later.

Topic: Social Enterprise

Dennis Howlett

About Dennis Howlett

Dennis Howlett is a 40 year veteran in enterprise IT, working with companies large and small across many industries. He endeavors to inform buyers in a no-nonsense manner and spares no vendor that comes under his microscope.

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  • everything in its place

    Dennis, I am a blogger - heck a 2 blogger -) so certainly part of the new world of social networking. But to put social media tools at center of universe and call them "Enterprise 2.0" is to insult all the other innovation happening vitualization, telemtery, mobility, predective analytics etc. I should similarly call BS if an RFID vendor hyped up and said they run a company's supply chain. All these new technologies are exciting and have their role. 10% roles.

    The other thing which is exhausting is every 3 months we seem to hype up LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pownce etc as the next great thing...
    • True but...

      Hey Vinnie - I'm with you but I'm not convinced that 10% is enough on this occasion. I'll readily agree that right now 'we' see through the glass darkly but I think there is a LOT more in store and that in this case, FB (or something like) can serve as a platform for delivering value driven change. I'm just not sure when, how and to what extent.

      3 months? I guess - we're in the fashion game. ;)
  • Good early look at FB et al

    Dennis - I enjoyed this early look at FaceBook and by association its cousins MySpace, LinkedIn, etc. I emphasize "early" look since I think these are still in their infancy, yet I expect them to grow-up into tools that are actively used and embraced by the Enterprise, just as the telephone and email did. I'm not old enough to have been around when the debate raged whether or not to "allow" employees to have phones on their desk for fear they'd make personal calls on company time, but I did witness email entering the workplace in a similar manner... and I expect social media sites / tools like FaceBook will do the same over time. I am in the upper-end of the 40-49 age demographic, and - yes - I've had a FaceBook for about a year. It's mostly a diversion at this point (I view my time on FB as "investigation" and "exploration" of potential value and applicability to my work at SAP -- while my 20-year-old son views it mildly odd and disconcerting that his old dad has a FB page). I am convinced that FB and/or MySpace, LinkedIn, and/or some other social platform/site/tool will play an increasingly relevant and valuable role in the Enterprise in the very near future.


    Mark Yolton
  • FB Insights

    Excellent first look at the evolution of social networks. Thanks...
  • Web 2.0:

    "Solutions in [desperate] search of 'problems.' "
    brian ansorge
  • Disagree...

    It doesn't take much to imagine replacing photo exchanges with files, friends with colleagues, and meebo/skype plugins with meaningful business processes. To me it seems quite clear how a Facebook like service could become the new desktop. With this would be companies offering full customization services for verticals. And best of all this all runs over the web meaning cheap PCs and licenses for all! It may not be Facebook per se but the integration of contacts, click-to-call, file exchanges, RSS update feeds, etc will definitely redefine the Enterprise.
  • RE: Facebook infiltrating the enterprise: the ups and downs

    Dennis....I love the fact that you introduce something
    fresh into this debate....it reminds me of something I
    learnt at a conference by the founder of Buzz Logic on
    the Flow of influence...of the 71 million blogs out
    there...70 million rehash what's already been said, and
    1 million may actually contribute something original. In
    this case, the concept of an Enterprise Social Scientist
    set the lightbulb off in my head...its the fresh insight I
    have been searching for....

    Just at work today (a large corporation in Australia), we
    were debating the dilemmas of unevenly distributed
    knowledge and understanding of the permanent
    changes that the likes of Facebook is having on the
    way in which humans behave...and the walls that are
    going up in a futile effort to stem the tsunami.

    Specialist roles like Enterprise Social Scientists that
    understand these trends, and can work WITH the
    enterprise to leverage the benefits and mitigate the
    risks in a balanced and sensible way. It may just be
    what we need to help convince those gatekeepers at
    the top of the hierarchies that these changes are
    environmental, global, come from the outside in and
    the bottom up...they cannot STOP it nor control
    it....but, the enterprise can be sensible and work WITH
    people on how to make the most of it.

    So...thanks for this tip.