Facebook as the intranet

When I first heard about the company using Facebook as their intranet, I wasn’t sure what to think.

Serena Software is really replacing its existing intranet with Facebook as a front end linked to a low-cost content management system behind the firewall. The firm is just over 800 employees but is still globally based (operations in 18 countries) with 35% of their employees working virtually.

I could see how something like this would be valuable for a company like this, where employees need to work together from different locations towards a common goal. But what about in an accounting firm? On audits you’re working closely with audit team members in one location, at least in my experience, so it may not be as useful.

But the value of a system like Facebook is its emphasis on people, and facilitating document sharing and collaboration. Which is where the typical corporate intranet fails to serve its customers adequately:

Like many companies their existing intranet was a poor platform for document finding, much less sharing. As an aside when I speak on web 2.0, I often ask anyone in the audience who can more easily find stuff on their company intranet than the web to raise their hand. This is a question I learned from Andrew McAfee. He reported that no one has raised their hand to this question and I have found the same results.

My hand wouldn’t be raised either.

How would a company implement something like this? WorkBook:

A secure enterprise overlay for Facebook. WorkBook allows employees to securely interact with their peers using the hugely-popular Facebook service. WorkBook combines all the capabilities of Facebook with all the controls of a corporate environment, including integration with existing enterprise security services and information sources.

The picture is really worth a thousand words in this case, as it shows you just how WorkBook appears to users.

Andrew McAfee, a professor at Harvard Business School, blogs about WorkBook and addresses the security concerns and technical operation:

Inside this [corporate] section were a number of standard Facebook features — friends, groups, Q&A, profiles, etc. — presented using the standard Facebook UI. But the data populating each of these were specific to [the company], came from the Worklight server installed at [the company], were encrypted as they traveled across the Internet, and did not pass through Facebook servers.

I really like the idea, and the implementation is perfect because it doesn’t try to do too much. Facebook already exists and works well for its users. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. For corporate intranets usually designed and maintained by the IT department, less involvement on their part from a UI perspective is a big improvement.

What do you think? Could this be just the thing to push Facebook onto the intranet for many companies?

4 thoughts on “Facebook as the intranet

  1. Neil, it’s interesting that you raise the issue of security, as it is a major component of the Facebook-into-the-Enterprise story. As employees use more and more consumer-style tools in the workplace (e.g. Facebook, personalized homepages, etc), companies must be sure interactions are protected. In our discussions with customers, including in the financial sector, we have seen that having a secure server-based approach is critical to leveraging these kinds of social networks platforms for work-related interactions.

    Yonni Harif

  2. Neil,

    This post really blew my mind! I had never considered using facebook in the work place like this.

    Thanks for posting!

  3. It could be, but it won’t be, judging from the hostility to open platforms and big companies’ love of proprietary/closed solutions.

    Unless of course they did some fresh version of the system that’s only open to one organization and isolated from the main system, then there’s something. We already have a similar system running actually – but for smaller outfits the solution would no doubt be way too complicated.

  4. I could see a tool like this increasing productivity, collaboration, and teamwork among employees who are not physically located within 20 ft of each other, but I can see the corporate/firm hostility to this technology as well.

    Most of the people making the decisions about implementation of software for communication may likely see facebook as an application that is a waste of time with no useful application in the workplace.

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