Credit: Marcus Quigmire

Can Facebook crack the business market?

RBS signs up to Facebook at Work as the tech giant bids for a slice of the $344bn enterprise pie.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 26 Oct 2015

‘Why aren’t you on Facebook? You should be working.’ Not something employees typically hear from their bosses, but that could be about to change – if you work at RBS. As part of chief executive Ross McEwan’s efforts to make the bank about as different as it could possibly be from its heady pre-bailout days, RBS has become the first big firm to adopt Facebook’s shiny new enterprise platform.

The imaginatively named Facebook at Work is a simplified, private, business version of the social network, designed to improve communication between employees. Email and the phone, apparently, are old hat. It has most of Facebook’s more familiar features, such as groups, events, comments and now calls, but uploading cat videos is presumably out of the question (unless you work for a cat food company, of course).

It’s a smart move by the tech giant. Facebook at Work gives Mark Zuckerberg’s firm the chance to cut into a very lucrative pie – enterprise software will be a $344bn (£233bn) business this year, according to estimates by IT research firm Gartner.

Just as importantly, diversifying into a B2B sector with a freemium model (integrating into other platforms like Office 365 will cost extra, for instance) will lessen Facebook’s reliance on consumer-facing ad-revenues.

Wanting a slice of pie and getting it are two different things of course. But Facebook is well positioned to make the cut. As RBS’ chief administrative officer Simon McNamara told TechCrunch, ‘almost everyone uses Facebook outside of work. That means I don’t have to train anyone.’

Besides, this isn’t like Apple making a car or Amazon building drones. With 1.5 billion active members, Mark Zuckerberg’s company knows a thing or two about user experience on a social network, and its own staff have been using a version of Facebook at Work for years. After having had most of 2015 to correct any flaws with a beta trial, this is a product that’s likely to hit the ground running.

RBS certainly thinks so – it intends to roll Facebook at Work out to 30,000 employees by March next year and to the rest of its 100,000 workforce by the end of 2016. Having a bank - and a risk averse one at that – put so much trust in the product to handle sensitive information is a real early coup for Zuckerberg.

Of course, Facebook’s not exactly entering an open field. Enterprise software is already a battlefield in the many-fronted war of the tech giants, which are invading each other’s domains at a serious pace.

Microsoft’s Yammer business social network is integrated into Skype for calls, while rapidly growing start-up Slack has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to bring its own brand of ‘team communication in the 21st century’ to the world. Then there’s Alphabet, which boasts that 64% of the Fortune 500 (America’s biggest 500 businesses) have ‘gone Google’ in the workplace.

Facebook is well-placed, then, to become one of the industry leaders very quickly - so long as it can convince people that it can be serious too. Much like a comic actor desperate to do hard drama, there is a chance it could suffer from being typecast as something that belongs on a different stage - out of office hours.

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