Singapore civil servants to be on Facebook Workplace by March 2017

Social media platform scores a major deal that will put the country's 143,000 government employees on its collaboration platform by March next year.

While others continue to debate whether Slack or Microsoft Teams is the better collaboration platform, Facebook has quietly inked a deal to put Singapore's public servants on Workplace.

The country's 143,000 government employees were expected to have access to the collaboration service by March 2017, with a few thousands already using the platform, according to the country's head of civil service, Peter Ong.

He revealed that more than 5,300 public officers across 15 agencies were given access when the Singapore government rolled out Workplace in October, as part of its phase one deployment. This would be progressively extended to include all public servants by end of March next year, marking the local sector as "the first public service in the world" to hop on the Facebook enterprise platform, Ong said.

He expressed hope that this deployment would be more successful than the 2013 rollout of Cube, which was the government's first social intranet. The objective then was to encourage civil servants to interact and share ideas through "community spaces", but it failed to take off as expected, he said.

He pointed to feedback that noted limitations in its usage and the lack of a mobile app, which would have provided easier access. He said Workplace could address such issues and added that Facebook was already a familiar social networking platform.

Ong further noted that the tool could be accessed without the need to be connected to the intranet. "After considering the various security, cost, and usability factors, the team proposed to get the entire public service on board," he said.

Among the officers who already were given access to Workplace, 82 percent were active weekly users, he added, which was higher than the average weekly usage of Cube in its first month of launch.

The number of internal e-mail messages also were reduced, with agencies posting major announcements on the Facebook platform. "Senior leaders are engaging with their staff more frequently and meaningfully than before, and there is an explosion of activity across groups from small teams to large, cross-cutting communities of practice," Ong said.

According to Facebook, Workplace accounts and data were separate from personal Facebook accounts, and supported industry security standards such as those outlined by Cloud Security Alliance. Enterprise customers also would have control of their data on the platform and be able to modify, delete, and export the data via APIs.

It was not known, though, how access to Workplace was supported within the boundaries of Singapore's move to restrict internet access in the public sector. By May 2017, most civil servants would not have internet connection on their workstations, which would provide access only to the intranet and work e-mail. Full online access would only be provided via designated terminals within the public sector's network of 100,000 computers. Government employees, however, would still be allowed to browse the web via their own personal mobile devices, which would have no access to work e-mail systems.

The move was part of efforts to stump potential leaks from shared documents and e-mail. The government had said it was assessing the potential impact on employees and, if necessary, might tweak the policy for users whose job functions and service delivery might be significantly hampered as a result of the decoupling of online access.

Singapore's decision to put its public sector on Workplace comes just days after Microsoft announced the beta launch of its own collaboration service, Microsoft Teams. Described as "chat-based workspace in Office 365", the tool would be offered as part of the office productivity suite and scheduled for general availability in the first quarter of 2017.

Microsoft Teams had been pitted against another collaboration tool Slack, reported to have 4 million active daily users including 1 million paying customers.