The news that Facebook is trialling a work-oriented implementation of their eponymous social network might seem like bad news for Microsoft, who paid a lot of money in 2012 to acquire Yammer and has been busy since to integrate Yammer into its Office framework. Yammer is now available to all enterprise Office 365 tenants and is used by Microsoft to host community sites such as the Office 365 Network.
Facebook is certainly the premier consumer social network and has become the lynchpin of electronic life for many. It benefits from huge brand recognition and a very familar user experience (especially for the millennials in the workforce), not to mention a well-developed partner ecosystem. In addition, many large companies have a presence on Facebook that they use to engage with customers. All solid assets indeed, but I doubt that Facebook will pose much competition for Microsoft in the near future.
Compliance is probably the biggest hurdle for Facebook. I doubt that the compliance officer of any large company will be happy at the prospect of employees using Facebook to discuss work-related topics, especially if sensitive information is discussed. It’s one thing to talk about the details of how best to travel to a company picnic; quite another to debate whether one supplier is better than another when considering who might help build the next generation of a critical product.
Although we don’t have many details yet of just how Facebook will provide a service to companies, it’s unlikely that Facebook has developed plans to address issues like document lifecycle management, retention policies, rights management, data loss prevention, immutability, eDiscovery or the other aspects of compliance that concern large enterprises. And even if Yammer still lacks the same degree of sophistication in terms of compliance features that Microsoft has built into products like Exchange and SharePoint, you can bet that the experience gained with the other Office server products will make its way into Yammer. Just look at how the data loss prevention functionality that first appeared in Exchange 2013 in October 2012 is now making its way into SharePoint Online (the principles are the same, the implementation is by necessity different).
It’s also fair to say that Facebook file sharing is not like putting documents in a SharePoint document library where functionality such as check-in/check-out and version control are available. Even the more limited document libraries provided in Office 365 Groups are so much better than Facebook can offer. And of course, if users start to share documents via Facebook, they’ll create an information silo that is impenetrable for tools like Office Delve, which is slated to consume data feeds from all parts of Office 365 to become a one-stop shop for information discovery.
Another issue to consider is how third-party compliance and archiving products play in a Facebook scenario. After all, if your company has invested in the deployment of a solution such as Symantec Enterprise Vault or HP Autonomy, you’re probably not going to be overjoyed at the prospect of employees swapping sensitive documents or other files via Facebook.
I think Facebook @Work will be terrifically successful for some companies, including start-ups that have no legacy collection of documents or no other way to swap ideas with colleagues. It’s also good to have some competition in the social networking space as this might drive some increased innovation all round and encourage Microsoft to increase their efforts to integrate Yammer better with the rest of Office. But I’m not sure it will fly in larger companies where the need for compliance and sophisticated document storage will be the iceberg that Facebook @Work might hit.
Of course, there’s always underground IT and unless you block Facebook from corporate networks, users are able to make their own choices.
Follow Tony @12Knocksinna