The enterprise collaboration space is already noisy, and it's about to get even louder when Facebook at Work makes its long-awaited debut next week. The market is wide open for new entrants, because workers and the IT professionals that support them are "starved for good tools," according to Tim Crawford, a former CIO who currently advises technology executives at large enterprises and blogs at AVOA.com. Crawford says no one set of tools has really hit the mark.
Facebook isn't the first consumer-focused company to make the leap into enterprise, but it's impact on business collaboration could be more widespread than anything that's come before, according to Crawford. "It's something we're familiar with in our personal [lives], they have massive adoption around the planet, and so there's a natural progression that they could easily take that into the enterprise and users would know how to use it," Crawford says. "Once you hit critical mass in the consumer market that then becomes an advantage to you in the enterprise market."
Consumer experiences inspire digital workers
Adam Preset, research director at Gartner, says it's increasingly common for consumer experiences to influence corporate tools. "Enterprise offerings from vendors that have historically been more focused on consumers can offer a new way of looking at user experience," he says. "They disrupt the market. They iterate faster. People choose to use the solutions from those consumer companies of their own free will, not because they are supported by IT."
Despite those advantages, the path from consumer to enterprise is bumpy. Google has sold email services and other productivity apps to enterprises for almost a decade, and it has changed the names of these products multiple times, which doesn't exactly suggest stability. The recently renamed G Suite used to be called Google for Work, and it was Google Enterprise before that.
During that time, despite the name changes, Google earned credibility in enterprises across many industries, according to Preset. "That means something if you're a CIO looking for peer benchmarks," he says. And though Facebook at Work's early pilot programs included more than 300 organizations, they may not do much to convince skeptical IT leaders of the company's effectiveness, Preset says. "Some CIOs are eager to boldly go first, but many others are happy to hold back for a bit while early adopters are bitten by bugs."
In other words, Facebook at Work faces a number of significant challenges, according to General Electric (GE) CIO Jim Fowler. During an interview at CIO.com's CIO 100 event in August, Fowler dismissed Facebook's potential in the enterprise market and questioned the company's ability to effectively straddle users' personal and professional lives. "I want separation of personal versus work," he said. "There's a lot of things that are combined but that's one for me. My Facebook is personal and never the two shall meet. I won't even friend people that work in my company, because I want the two completely separate."
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