Collaborative Working

Does RBS's Facebook at Work move the collaboration goalposts?

The news that Facebook at Work will be deployed across 100,000 staff at the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has led to theories that this might be the pistol shot that starts the race in earnest between social sharing tools with roots in consumer technology and traditional enterprise collaboration software.

I swapped emails with Tristan Rogers, CEO of Concrete, a collaboration platform with retail customers including Gap, Williams Sonoma and Marks & Spencer, for his take.


Are you seeing many organisations taking up non-traditional enterprise collaboration tools?

Concrete works in retail in the Europe and the US. The US marketplace is more likely to be looking for a "collaboration solution", as there is generally more awareness around new technology than in Europe/the UK. However, Microsoft's ubiquity in any business sector means that even in the UK and Europe, Office 365, along with Yammer and Sharepoint, are often visible to the business and IT. But outside of that it is rare to find a European or UK retail brand considering an enterprise collaboration tool.


Where they are deployed, are those non-traditional tools of the Facebook at Work ilk or stitched together in-house?

Currently, the nearest thing to Facebook at Work in the business domain is Jive Software. It is a horizontal market play, so its penetration in retail is not significant. Again it would be Yammer and/or Sharepoint that would be the most prevalent in our market and that is a different proposition to Facebook at Work, as it will require far more build-out by the IT team or outsourced SI partner.


Looking at Facebook at Work specifically, can this be a significant player in business/enterprise?

I don't think so. Business leaders need to better identify what business processes they want to improve before setting out on a journey to implement any software. RBS's comments in the Facebook at Work press release are typical of the wishy-washy benefits statements I hear about enterprise collaboration, and if you look at Jive Software's share price, I believe it reflects the lack of traction and retention this proposition has in the marketplace. For retail, we know that store staff utilisation and efficiency are key areas of focus by the C-suite, as they attempt to drive a positive bottom line. If a collaboration solution can tangibly help in that area then, yes, it will get traction.

However, to be credible the solution will need to show, out of the box, how it achieves this, and that requires the solution to be built or configured to address this specific issue. Facebook at Work, from what I can see, is peddling the Yammer and Jive rhetoric of improved productivity through better visibility of information and responsiveness. But what information, and from whom, in what context? This is why Jive is failing. How is Facebook at Work any different?


What other tools do you see as competing?

The analyst community now seem to agree that enterprise collaboration is a dissolving market, at least in terms of a Forrester Wave or Gartner Magic Quadrant or suchlike. This is broadly down to the reasons set out in the previous answer. However, the issue now is ‘what next?’ Again, the analysts are talking about an array of different terms that broadly centre on "digital working". This means that a worker can work straight into a cloud environment rather than an offline desktop environment. The benefits of this shift will be more discoverable and follow-able working as it happens, breeding a more responsive working environment. I believe this is the next chapter in the collaborative enterprise and something we support and have evidence of achieving in our retail customers' businesses.


Is there a profile of a company that looks at these new social tools e.g. media/creating/young?

Enterprise collaboration, as defined by Yammer, Jive, BlueKiwi, Chatter, Podio, Connexions, JAM and Facebook at Work etc., is probably best suited to flat-structure organisations, where, if used for posting work knowledge as a stream of written communications, it can be searched on and benefitted from by peers working on similar things. Good examples of flat-structure businesses are creative agencies, accounting firms and management consultancies. Where lines of command are important, and process is key, the flat nature of Enterprise collaboration can be dangerous, as junior staff can have a voice that influences other junior staff against the wishes and processes of line managers. This is very much an issue in retail, banking, CPG/FMCG, pharma, automotive and health and leisure. 


Is this really a threat to the Sharepoints of this world?

No. Sharepoint is a powerful tool that is often manhandled by IT teams or systems integrators who don't really know what they are building a solution for. However, that is not to say that a customer may be thinking about Facebook at Work as an alternative to Sharepoint/Yammer. It comes back to what the business problem is that they are trying to solve.


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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