Facebook for the Enterprise

In this blog on IT Business Edge, Dennis Byron discussed Facebook as an enterprise software company. His thoughts were based on a keynote address from Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, given at the 2009 annual National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications conference. Dennis stated that Chris indicated that Facebook is much more business friendly than what may have been the perception just two or three years ago. After reading it, it was my opinion that the position being advocated was the use of Facebook, as is, for corporate purposes. That already occurs today, but primarily as another B2C channel, used by marketing types. There are some pioneers out there doing more, but of the ones I’ve seen, it’s all about the customer/potential customer community.

In my opinion, viewing Facebook solely as a marketing/customer support channel is seriously limiting its use to an enterprise. The conversation should begin with an analysis of the communities that can be supported. Guess what? There’s a looming community with a very complicated social structure that exists within the walls of the company. Why can’t tools that are designed for enhancing communication and interaction between the social structures of society be applied within the walls of the enterprise?

Personally, I see this as having potential for a revolutionary change, rather than evolutionary change, in the way inter-company communication goes on and there’s a simple analogy to the world of SOA. Today, and even before the days of email, groupware, collaboration portals, etc., the primary model is still directed conversation. You’re either in the loop, or you’re not. To compare this to SOA, it’s a world where our focus is still on application A calling application B. What’s missing is support for undirected conversation. Combine SOA with EDA, and you have a much more powerful environment. The actions taken by application A and application B are events, and those events may be valuable to other applications. If those other applications have no visibility into those events, that value is left on the table. The same goes for our social interactions. If that information is kept private, there is value left on the table. You may counter, “It’s all out there in my SharePoint site,” but that doesn’t constitute an event-based system. While the information is there, it’s not conducive to searching, filtering, reading, etc. This is where an environment like Facebook has the potential to add much more than an email/IM/portal-based environment that is the norm today. The key is the news feed. It consists of messages from people (friends), but also from applications, coupled with more of the traditional collaboration tools of messaging, chat, file sharing, etc. While the Facebook news feed may not be quite as flexible as Twitter feeds, it’s clear that it’s headed in that direction. The key to success, however, is getting those events published. If applications don’t publish events, it’s hard to achieve the full potential of SOA and BPM. Add employees to that sentence, and it’s hard to achieve the full potential of the organization.

Unfortunately, asking a corporate enterprise to simply start using the public Facebook for these purposes is asking for too large of a leap. While I do think we will get to the point where the technology must allow the corporate communications to extend to parties outside the company, today, it’s still largely a private conversation. Requiring companies to fit their needs into the current consumer-driven, public environments is a big leap for old established companies. The right first step is an environment that packages up all the features of Facebook that are appropriate for a corporate environment and make that available initially as it’s own private world, but with a clear path to integration with the broader, public Facebook. This doesn’t mean that they’re installing it in their own data center, although that could be an option, it just means that it’s a walled garden for that company. It’s like the difference between Yammer and Twitter.

I’m looking forward to seeing more stories of companies leveraging social networking platforms inside their walls and then taking the next step of extending that to external communities as appropriate. I hope that we’ll see some case studies out of some large, established enterprises and not see adoption limited to the world of the new startups that begin with a culture built around these tools.

2 Responses to “Facebook for the Enterprise”

Leave a Reply


This blog represents my own personal views, and not those of my employer or any third party. Any use of the material in articles, whitepapers, blogs, etc. must be attributed to me alone without any reference to my employer. Use of my employers name is NOT authorized.