Features fall short in Facebook enterprise social network Workplace

Facebook's enterprise social network, Workplace, lacks integration with popular business applications and protections for corporate data.

Facebook's social application for business, which the company launched this week, lacks critical features that the vendor will have to add to compete against established rivals, experts said.

Workplace by Facebook, formerly Facebook at Work, lets employees in organizations chat and collaborate on PCs and mobile devices while in or outside the office. The enterprise social network is the latest in a crowded market in which major vendors, such as IBM and Microsoft, have head starts.

To catch up, Facebook has to go much further in making Workplace fit comfortably in a business environment, said Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill. Today, the application is limited in its ability to tie into systems that ensure data integrity and security.

Also, it lacks integration with Microsoft Office and Office 365, as well as other popular document repositories, Lazar said. "Until we learn more about how Workplace would fit into a larger enterprise collaboration space, I'm not expecting it to be much more than a niche product."

Advantages of enterprise social network rivals

Today, rivals have many advantages over Workplace. For example, Slack is ahead in developer support and third-party integrations; Jive Software has data governance controls; and Microsoft has folded Yammer into Office 365, so it's available to every user of the cloud-based productivity and unified communications suite.

Facebook's decision not to release a free version of Workplace is a mistake, Lazar said. Instead, Facebook is charging $1 to $3 per person, per month based on the number of users.

"Forcing people to pay for it right away will likely limit adoption and will prevent the kind of viral adoption that starts with small teams and workgroups," Lazar said.

Teams within organizations have been the main force behind the adoption of enterprise social networks, according to IDC. Use of the applications is expected to continue growing, with the global market rising from $1.7 billion last year to $2.8 billion in 2020.

The top five vendors account for slightly more than half of the global revenue, IDC reported. IBM led the pack, followed by Salesforce, Jive, Microsoft and Lithium Technologies Inc., respectively.

Facebook popularity a plus

Facebook's ubiquity in the consumer market is responsible for the attention Workplace has gotten in the industry. One in four people globally, or 1.65 billion, uses the company's general-purpose social network.

"I have rarely -- perhaps never -- seen so much enterprise interest in a beta product," said Alan Lepofsky, an analyst at Constellation Research Inc.

Indeed, more than 1,000 organizations are using Workplace, which Facebook started testing in businesses over a year ago, according to the company. The countries with the most users of the enterprise social network include India, the United States, Norway, the United Kingdom and France.

A feature that could help Workplace adoption is the ease in which it sets up groups that include people from outside a company, Lazar said. "You could see it gain traction for that kind of collaboration."

Nevertheless, Facebook will still have to show that Workplace can work well with business applications, secure corporate data and maintain privacy for corporate communications. Those elements are essential to winning over senior executives. Without their support, "it becomes really hard really quickly [for employees] to figure out what level of conversation they can have in that forum," said Vanessa Thompson, an analyst at IDC.

With so much work to do, Facebook does not have a sure winner with Workplace, experts said. Therefore, the features rolled out over time will determine whether it becomes a critical tool for doing business or just a place for planning the next office party.

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