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?


Corporate intranets and their effects on productivity

A post by Jeffrey Veen talks about the typical corporate IT department and how it influences (negatively) external and internet web projects. The thrust of the post is that a centralized corporate IT department consists primarily of “technologists [more] accustomed to controlling resources and managing services” than user-centered design and the user experience.

I can relate to his findings in my own firm. We have a national intranet as well as an office intranet. The national one was recently updated and looks a bit sharper, although it still clings to using frames to lay out and organize content. More bells and whistles, but still no easier to find what you’re looking for unless you know where it is. In its defence, it has to serve a diverse national firm with large offices in the major urban centres like mine of nearly 100 and smaller offices in rural Canada of less than 10.

But the office intranet is something else. The color scheme is, in a word, hideous, and it makes liberal use of the marquee tag, and probably has looked the same for many years. It certainly looks very Web 1.0, as in Netscape Navigator 1.0. I’ve been toying with the idea of throwing the office intranet into something standards-compliant, use some CSS for the layout perhaps perform radical surgery on the information architecture. I think the standards argument would resonate with accountants.

Maybe once busy season is over.