Facebook Reportedly Preparing Its Own Enterprise App Suite

NEWS ANALYSIS: The social network is busy integrating tons of intellectual property--both home-developed and acquired--in order to soon make available a new enterprise work suite.

It's no surprise that several of the world's most successful consumer-oriented IT companies are moving around big time into the enterprise market.

Apple is the biggest name in this category, for sure. Google, at its origin in the late '90s, was simply a search engine individuals used to traverse the Web. Disney, which once only produced films for movie-goers, is now one of the largest consumer and enterprise content-making conglomerates in the world.

Facebook, only a tweenager at 10, is the latest big-name IT star to move from consumer to enterprise. Truth be told, it's been working on this strategy for more than half its life; it's just been quiet about it.

The huge (now up to 1.32 billion members) social network is busy integrating tons of intellectual property—both home-developed and acquired—it owns in order to soon make available a new enterprise platform tentatively called Facebook at Work that ostensibly will compete with other established suites from Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, Box, and LinkedIn.

Facebook at Work

The new package, reported the Financial Times Nov. 16, would allow users to chat with their colleagues, connect with professional contacts and collaborate over documents—just like all the other competitors.

Facebook isn't talking; it declined a request for comment on the report. Too bad, too, because eWEEK had a few questions to ask.

To say the least, Microsoft Office/Office 365, SharePoint and Google Docs and all its additional collaboration tools are, suffice it to say, pretty well entrenched in the world's servers, laptops, networks and anywhere else there's an Internet connection. Box and Dropbox—among a number of other cloud storage apps—offer a gaggle of work collaboration features.

Salesforce, with its quarter-million users around the world, is a huge player here also. We won't even go into all the enterprise apps offered by IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle and dozens of other high-profilers.

New Value-Adds Will Be Needed

Facebook had better come up with some pretty compelling new ideas to move these folks aside.

"At first blush, it seems that Facebook is following the lead of Google and moving from a pure consumer play into the enterprise," IDC analyst Rob Koplowitz said in a media advisory to eWEEK. "We really don't know how far they intend to go. Google took their productivity applications and email into the enterprise to compete with Microsoft in an established multi-billion dollar market.

"If Facebook takes their current capabilities into the enterprise, they could compete with enterprise social offerings like Yammer, SFDC Chatter and IBM Connections and some extent chat offerings like Lync or Cisco Jabber."

In reality, Facebook has already been competing with Microsoft Yammer and Salesforce Chatter on an ad hoc basis for several years. People who work use whatever tool or app they need to use when they need to use it, whether it's during or after official business hours. Facebook enables immediate connections, although not to the detail and professional level of all the others.

But it stands to reason that people tend to use whatever app they are comfortable using. That's human nature.

Familiar User Experience Important

"Facebook certainly has a familiar user experience that people love, and could blur the lines between employees and customers in a very compelling way," Koplowitz wrote. "They have the ability to drive enterprises toward new levels of customer activation.

"It's not clear how far they would want go with an offering like this. To fully compete in the enterprise requires deep and complex capabilities that aren't required in a consumer offering. It can also be a tough, low-margin business where cost of sales can be high."

True, but Facebook isn't hurting for cash right now, having shelled out $19 billion several months ago for WhatsApp, which is simply that—an app. So it can afford a bit of a loss leader for a while.

Its developers have been moving right along with dozens of projects, creating new development tools and releasing them to the open-source community; releasing a constant stream of new features for the home site; and integrating IP from acquisitions such as the aforementioned WhatsApp, Instagram, Oculus and PrivateCore into its overall lineup.

The word from FT is that Facebook probably won't charge for its office-suite service, at least at the outset. That would be one way to get companies that have banned Facebook use for employees on company time to relent.

We'll keep an eye on this for you.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...