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Facebook for Work may jolt enterprise social, collaboration markets

Facebook for Work may give the enterprise social market the boost it needs with a familiar, enterprise-grade social collaboration service for users.

The days of perusing the Facebook newsfeed and updating statuses on the sly from the office may be coming to an end. The social networking giant is allegedly developing and beta-testing Facebook for Work, a social networking and collaboration service designed for business use.

Industry heavyweights and startups alike have often marketed their social collaboration tools as having a Facebook-like experience, but these business-grade social and collaboration tools have often fallen flat. Facebook has the potential to deliver a compelling product that employees are already using, and to give businesses the justification they've needed to make the purchase, said Irwin Lazar, vice president and service director at Nemertes Research Group Inc., which is based in Mokena, Ill.

"I think this is potentially incredibly disruptive, especially to other social vendors," Lazar said. "Facebook already has this great platform built, so if they can create isolated, secure instances, they would have an amazing opportunity to sell it [to businesses]."

Facebook for Work: Separate personal and professional personas

Facebook for Work will include a news feed and embedded messenger tool -- similar to the company's consumer service -- as well as the ability to create project work groups for employees to communicate and collaborate within. Users will also be able to upload and collaborate on shared documents.

To keep personal profiles distinct from professional ones, Facebook for Work will be separate from the consumer version of the platform, according to anonymous sources (subscription required) who leaked information about the new service last month. "Facebook isn't looking to simply extend what they already have. They are planning to wall it off and build in more business-grade features -- like file sharing and co-editing -- along with most of the features we already know," said Rob Arnold, principal analyst and program manager for unified communications and collaboration for Frost and Sullivan Inc., based in Mountain View, Calif.

Facebook will most likely offer some integration with its consumer service, Arnold said. "If a business is using Facebook for marketing or has a business page, there has to be a connection. But that distinction is going to be a bit of a challenge for Facebook to build out."

External collaboration has proved challenging for many businesses, but Facebook for Work could make it easier, Nemertes' Lazar said. "Because it's a cloud service, Facebook could easily allow businesses to invite external users into group workspaces because they won't have to come in through a firewall," he said. And because Facebook is already so popular, businesses won't feel like they are the only ones using this service, which happens frequently in the crowded enterprise collaboration and social markets, he said.

From an IT standpoint, administrators already know that Facebook can scale and stay up and running and the user interface is familiar, so employee training may not be needed. "Facebook for Work may be the tool that finally brings social to the masses in the enterprise," Lazar said.

Facebook for Work security challenges

Security and governance will be the biggest challenge for Facebook, Lazar said. Among other features, Facebook for Work would need integration with Active Directory systems, so an employee's account could be deactivated if they left the company. Facebook would also have to ensure encryption and data retention for legal purposes, and the service might need to demonstrate that data is not traveling across international borders for compliance reasons, he said. "When you think of other hosted collaboration tools, these are the kinds of things that certain business customers are struggling with when it comes to adoption," Lazar said. "These are also the kinds of issues that companies like Cisco have been working hard to solve."

While the company has not commented on its rumored enterprise service, a small group of companies are allegedly piloting it. Facebook will reportedly announce the service in early 2015.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.                                                                    

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