Taking a critical look at Workplace by Facebook

And to be sure, Facebook has many competitors. A familiar social networking and conversation environment can reduce the need for initial training Live Video is a differentiating feature, particularly if your organization has no alternative platform for this service Facebook's heritage of scalable systems could address performance concerns in globally distributed enterprises The mobile client works well Workplace has good SSO support It's relatively low-cost, especially compared to standalone alternatives Note that Workplace comes in two editions: Standard (with restricted features but free) and Premium (paid, with pricing based on monthly active users). In the enterprise, collaboration tends to revolve around files and groups, so let's look at both. The biggest strategic risk with Workplace is the vendor: Facebook not an enterprise software company. What works for you? There's value in a platform like Workplace if you have not already deployed an ESN. Just know that experienced enterprise digital leaders are increasingly moving away from standalone social networking environments that often exhibit declining participation once initial contacts get made. Several rivals can already embed social features into collaborative-editing, file-sharing, innovation, project/task management, communities of practice, intranets, and other workplace environments. Perhaps the company's experience with bots will pay big dividends in the enterprise, though competitors are innovating there as well. Meanwhile, if you're seeking a Facebook-in-the-enterprise effect you may still find it, but perhaps most successfully with another vendor.

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Amid the emergence of enterprise social networking (ESN) platforms over the past decade, creating a “Facebook-in-the-enterprise” became a kind of short-hand exhortation by vendors and customer aspirants alike: Could we recreate the success of the world’s largest social network within the internal confines of an organization?

Now that Workplace by Facebook (formerly Facebook At Work) has more than a year under its belt, we can begin to answer that question. Some customers have indeed found success with the platform, but Real Story Group’s evaluation of Workplace finds that what Facebook brings to enterprise social-collaboration is mostly a recognized brand name (you can download the evaluation here). Familiarity can help with initial adoption, but improving employee effectiveness and engagement over the long run may require more than what Workplace—or any other ESN—can offer.

A competitive market

Officially launched last October, Workplace was greeted with great excitement even before it became generally available. Like Google, Facebook tends to get a bit of a pass among my industry analyst brethren. Perhaps we hope those big consumer platforms will finally fulfill all the promises we keep making about the “consumerization” of enterprise technology. You the enterprise customer should take a more practical view, and assess Workplace with the same tough, critical eye as you would any of its competitors.

And to be sure, Facebook has many competitors. Workplace enters a relatively mature market with several large and ESN vendors—including the likes of IBM, Microsoft, Jive and TIBCO, among others.

Workplace strengths

After debriefing a range of early enterprise customers, we can cite true strengths in the platform.

  • A familiar social networking and conversation environment can reduce the need for initial training
  • Live Video is a differentiating feature, particularly if your organization has no alternative platform for this service
  • Facebook’s heritage of scalable systems could address performance concerns in globally distributed enterprises
  • The mobile client works well
  • Workplace has good SSO support
  • It’s relatively low-cost, especially compared to standalone alternatives

Note that Workplace comes in two editions: Standard (with restricted features but free) and Premium (paid, with pricing based on monthly active users). Premium starts at $3 per user per month for the first 1000 users, $2/month for the next 9000 users and $1/month for any users beyond that.

Facebook is hosting a complimentary trial period for the premium version until the end of September 2017. Meanwhile, the service remains free for nonprofit organizations and educational institutions.

Platform weaknesses

So what’s not to like? A fair bit, depending on your needs.

The first thing that stands out is the comparatively underdeveloped feature set, which can reduce the value and applicability of the platform:

  • Workplace is a sub-par environment for real-time interaction, since it lacks status messages and, like the consumer version, chat remains weak.
  • The platform lacks community management features at a time when actively facilitated communities are increasingly recognized as the tip of the enterprise social spear.
  • Rudimentary management features (such as analytics and life cycle management) reduce your scope for administration.

The biggest surprise…

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