Facebook beef up Workplace offering – but is it enough?

It was a busy week for Facebook at their F8 conference in California this week. Along with some potentially groundbreaking Virtual Reality products, they announced a raft of changes to their Workplace product which show a commitment to evolving their enterprise as product as rapidly as their consumer one.

Six months after its official launch Facebook reports 14,000 organisations using the tool, who between them have created more than 400,000 groups (by comparison, Slack reports 5 million daily active users). Workplace is now being used on every continent including Antarctica.

But while Facebook now count some big names amongst their customers – such as Starbucks and Save the Children – many in our network report a reluctance on the part of IT teams to sign up. This week’s announcements seem designed to make Workplace a more compelling prospect for those medium and large enterprises.

So what are the changes? 


When Facebook introduced bots to the consumer space last year, growth in this new interface was rapid: 11,000 bots were available by July 2016 and by September, 30,000 has been created. From targeted news updates to ordering a pizza, you can get it all from your Facebook Messenger window. Bots are so hot right now.

Transferring this success to the enterprise is a clear opportunity. In our series on Workplace by Facebook we predicted that the platform would move from simple communication tool to a real value-driver for businesses once it was opened up to bots. And Facebook’s announcements this week haven’t disappointed; they’re bringing best-in-class chatbot capability into the enterprise space – where it’s badly needed.

Yesterday, Facebook demonstrated Repairbot as an example; this  allows employees to report factory faults directly from Workplace messenger. Providing a user-friendly interface for systems like self-service IT is precisely where Workplace can turn a frustrating user experience into a delightful one.

To ensure businesses make rapid progress and embrace this new interface opportunity, Facebook announced bot partnerships with Converse, The Bot Platform, Avaamo and a few others. It’s a canny move: as we’ve discussed in other posts, businesses need the adoption curve to be smooth and easy, so providing ready-made build partners should drive adoption.

But where is the chatbot integration with PeopleSoft, Oracle, Successfactors and SAP? There’s no better way to demonstrate your enterprise credentials than working with these behemoths – and no better way to delight users than to give them ways to avoid interacting directly with these user-unfriendly systems.

Bots for Workplace could be the tipping point that turns enterprise conversational interfaces mainstream. However, our advice still stands: just because you can don’t mean you should. You only have to look at most systems built in-house to see companies lack the design and UX skills to make a decent stab of this. Enterprise bots are great – but where possible buy don’t build to ensure they’re every bit as usable as the interface they exist within.

Getting serious about security

The biggest gripe we’ve heard about Workplace to date has been its security and compliance credentials, which many CIOs and Risk professionals in our network laughed out of the room. The announcements at F8 appear designed to tackle this criticism head-on.

For Facebook to gain a hold in the enterprise it needs to clearly demonstrate its ability to work within the security, governance and compliance constraints that such customers inevitably have. But as they don’t have a track record in this area they’ve chosen to partner with other companies to provide capability in e-discovery, compliance, data loss prevention and litigation discovery. Given this was previously their weakest area – and the one causing greatest concern for CIOs – that’s a sensible approach in our book.

File sharing is caring

Documents – like it or not – are the currency of work in most organisations, so enterprise collaboration without file-sharing is like Little without Large.  Before yesterday’s announcement, Workplace really didn’t handle files particularly well. After today it still doesn’t (boo), but it at least has taken some useful steps forward (hooray).

If you post a link to a Dropbox, Box or Quip location, you’ll now see a thumbnail with a direct and quick link to edit and view. This isn’t ground-breaking — Slack has done this for some time — but it’s a welcome update. The Box integration also extends to dedicated ‘Share to Workplace’ options from within the Box UI making sharing efficient and easy.

And finally, an integrated file share option with Office and OneDrive is very welcome given how many organisations are in bed with Microsoft. With so many strong players in this space Facebook didn’t need to reinvent the wheel here – and in making these well-established tools play nicely with Workplace they’ve really smoothed the adoption path. We approve.

Video killed the video star

The simplicity and accessibility of its video features was already one of Workplace’s standout features, but the social media behemoth are taking it up a level by adding support for high-quality live broadcasts via a number of partners. This recognises that many enterprise clients have invested in their internal corporate video strategy and want to deliver a higher quality experience using it all. Not every company will take advantage of this, but it’s streets ahead of its competitors.

Facebook’s also teaming up with BlueJeans to enable clients to stream multi-party video meetings directly to Workplace.

Again, a note of caution from our earlier series. While all this functionality is great, the strength and speed of infrastructure Workplace offers only applies as far as your front door. Most video issues in big organisations are down to limited internal bandwidth, and Workplace won’t (and can’t) fix that. Upgrade your network. Please.

Is Workplace enterprise-ready?

These steps are a welcome evolution of Workplace, and directly address many perceived shortcomings in the product that meant it wasn’t in play for many organisations, particularly larger enterprises.

Each of these changes have been designed to make it easier for Workplace to be an integral part of the company experience and to compete to get a piece of that communications business. But it’s also a tacit recognition that it needs to provide a tool set, partnerships and integrations, together with the credibility that enterprise customers demand. 

It’s all very welcome, but is it enough to convince CIOs that Facebook really understand the demands of the enterprise? Generally, yes. It’s a strong, highly usable, mobile-first product with some top-notch functionality at a great price point. If your organisation doesn’t already have an ESN it makes what was already a good product a more compelling proposition. If you’re already set up with Microsoft or Jive it may not be quite enough to make it worth switching, but these updates do make it a serious competitor (and force these providers to up their game too).

However, counterbalancing the new functionality is last week’s announcement of a ‘standard’ version of Workplace that anyone can sign up for and use, offering functionality but not admin features on the same ‘freemium’ basis as the Yammer of old and the Slack of today.  The full, paid version will be dubbed the ‘premium’ version. In our experience this backdoor approach to marketing can be as much a hindrance as a help in getting buy-in for enterprise collaboration.

Introducing enterprise social is rarely an easy sell internally (as almost every reader of this site can attest). While we welcome all of the new functionality announced this week, we hope this is accompanied by additional support, communication and information to help collaboration champions to make the case for investment internally. If Facebook can offer that too we’re looking at a real game-changer for enterprise social collaboration here.

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  1. Markus Leyendecker

    I’m curious about your comment ‘we hope this is accompanied by additional support, communication and information to help collaboration champions..’.

    What would you envision for this and is there someone who is doing this really well in the industry?

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