Following RBS, should your firm sign up for Facebook at Work?

FB@Work signs RBS as client

Facebook has made it clear for years that it wasn’t just satisfied attracting attracting over 1 billion individual users to the social network. Beginning in 2014, rumors coming out of Facebook showed that the company was working on a business product. Facebook wants to reach business users — the same users that spend more time on Linkedin while in the office. Users who turn to social networks not to post their most recent selfie, but to network in their industries, stay on top of impactful trends, and identify and connect with prospective clients.

[email protected], as the product is now called, was just unveiled recently and the company just reported that it signed on RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) as its largest customer to date.

What is [email protected]

The early version of [email protected] is very similar to the consumer version familiar to over 1.5 billion registered users of the social network. The difference is that the enterprise version will be a much more secure, walled garden. So, to start, RBS employees will be able to connect with their peers at the firm and congregate into user groups based on pre-defined permissions.

This functionality is similar to the types of internal corporate social networks popularized by Yammer (now owned by Microsoft) and Jive Software. The social enterprise market is already pretty saturated with tools that function like collaborative intranets and take communication and collective work to a whole new level for the enterprise. Time will tell whether [email protected] will take its social network and enable users to connect and communicate with workers outside their firms. Financial service firms have their own unique archival requirements when communicating with clients, so Facebook will have to work with outside technologies to ensure compliance standards are met. [email protected] doesn’t currently function as a technology platform that other 3rd party apps could integrate into but all signs and messaging out of FB’s management points to such a future roadmap for the product.

As purely a messaging tool, Facebook will have to compete with massive incumbent, Bloomberg for its share in the financial services arena. Symphony, a communications tool developed and owned by a consortium of financial service firms, is making waves in fintech circles as it raises a war chest of capital to compete against Bloomberg’s dominance in messaging.

RBS was on an early trial conducted by Facebook and employee usage dictated the firm’s decision to rollout [email protected] more broadly:

“The pilot we’ve been running demonstrated we were ready for more,” said Simon McNamara, Chief Administrative Officer at the Royal Bank of Scotland, who oversees the bank’s rollout of the service. “The adoption rate was a phenomenal 90%.”

It will take more marketing to convince large IT departments that [email protected] is worth the hassle. Financial services firms normally take the wait-and-see approach towards new consumer-facing technology, so it’s interesting to see a bank become one of [email protected]’s most-prized early customers. Some CIOs have already communicated a certain level of skepticism around adopting these new social tools from a player with no real experience in selling into and servicing the needs of the enterprise.

“Social interactions within the enterprise largely support structured communication, collaborative work, finding and sharing experts and expertise,” John Baptista, an associate professor of information systems at the U.K.’s Warwick Business School says. Facebook may try to emulate that, but it will “struggle because its nature is instead to support user-centered, unstructured postings and to follow emergent activity streams.”

Like any popular new consumer tech, large enterprises have to contend with unregulated and uncontrolled employee usage. Financial services firms have approached the meteoric adoption of smartphones with in-house and bought solutions to enable employees to use their own phones to access corporate files and data. [email protected] will have to allay fears that Facebook’s own solution will be enterprise-grade in terms of security, safety, and compliance.

RBS plans to have 30,000 workers on its [email protected] network by March of next year, and its entire workforce of 100,000 using the platform by the end of 2016.

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