Bill Ives reports on what may be the new face of the Intranet -- executed and managed through Facebook -- versus the usual collection of Web servers and applications.
One company is replacing its intranet with Facebook
Facebook as a corporate intranet? Wow, who would have thought...
Bill describes how Serena Software, a vendor of enterprise change management software, is replacing its existing traditional intranet with Facebook as a front end linked to a low-cost content management system behind the firewall.
Even Nick Carr, the ultimate IT skeptic's skeptic, sees social networking software growing in prominence in corporate settings. It’s easy to make fun of sites such as Facebook or MySpace, Nick relates:
"Used mainly by kids and students, they often resemble the junkyards of popular culture – crude, silly, and disposable. But don’t be fooled by the garish surface. Social networks are popular – and powerful - because they are constructed in response to, and through, the actions and conversations of their members. In stark contrast to corporate IT systems, social networks shape themselves to their users rather than forcing the users to adapt to preset specifications."
In the case of Facebook, the 800-employee firm has a presence in 18 countries, and 35% of its employees work virtually. Bill relates that the company was "going through a major transition as they move from more traditional enterprise applications to web 2.0 mashups," and the management wanted "all employees to be better connected so they could be on the same level of understanding, excitement, and commitment to this transition." Using a web 2.0 tool such as Facebook "represented the best way to take the whole company into this new space."
Current intranets tend to be expensive, stiff and hierarchical, and don't enable information to flow across informal organizational boundaries. As Bill Ives relates: "I often ask anyone in the audience who can more easily find stuff on their company intranet than the Web to raise their hand." No one ever raises their hands, he says. "I have also seen many unsuccessful intranets that cost large sums... One of major flaws of existing intranets, even when they work to find stuff, is the lack of social context. It is difficult to find anything about people."
Using Facebook, Serena enjoys far more collaboration between internal groups, as well as with external constituencies, than they would with a far more expensive and maintenance-heavy traditional intranet. "Serena wanted to promote a greater connection between people," Bill writes. "Facebook, which is both free and a great example of web 2.0, seemed to be the right answer. They established a private Facebook group for Serena employees and they built a few simple custom Facebook apps to better enable intranet functions. Now they provide links through Facebook to documents stored securely behind the firewall. Access is just as secure as any other method. Serena employees go to specific people to get relevant information."
Nick Carr wonders, however, if corporate managers will resist opening up the informal information flow through social networking services. This doesn't seem to be an issue with Serena CEO Jeremy Burton, who wrote this piece for ZDNet on his company's open intranet philosophy.
Burton says he urges employee participation in what he calls "Facebook Fridays" -- an hour of "personal time specifically for participating in Facebook--building profiles, playing with applications, and connecting with coworkers, customers, family, and friends. In effect, we're making Facebook our company's intranet."
Burton observes the facade of executives' "open door policies," which usually did not amount to a whole lot of honest communications and information sharing. Through social networking, the lines open between employees and managers.
Enlightened managements will get this advantage right away. There's many companies, however, where management may resist such initiatives as they percolate upward.