The Facebookisation of the enterprise

Imagine an “enterprise” world where:

  • You chose your own phone
  • You chose your own portable computing device (which may be your phone)
  • You chose your own desktop computing device (which may be your television)
  • You chose the operating systems you put on these devices

In other words, the IT department had “lost control of the device”.

Imagine an “enterprise” world where:

  • Your identity was actually yours and independent of the company you worked for
  • Your network of relationships actually described the people you spoke to, spent time with, worked with
  • Your “company” profile looked the same as your web “profile”

In other words, the HR department had “lost control of the profile”.

Imagine an “enterprise” world where:

  • You signed up to the subscriptions, alerts and services you wanted to sign up for.
  • You downloaded the apps you wanted to use.
  • And, if the services or apps needed paying for, you used your credit card to do it.
  • You did what the “job” needed you to do

In other words, the IT, HR and Finance departments had “lost control of the job description”

Imagine an “enterprise” world where:

  • You could use your own email id
  • You could use your own phone number
  • You could use your own usernames and passwords

I could go on and on. But I won’t. I hope you see my point.

Generation M (the mobile, multimedia, multitasking generation, born post 1982) is in the workplace. They don’t have to imagine any of this. It is how they live their lives. And if we want access to their talent, we need to change.

Which is where the enterprise needs to look a bit like Facebook. Responsible for identifying, authenticating and permissioning people, making sure that appropriate controls are in place from a privacy and confidentiality perspective. Responsible for providing an environment, a platform, for people to congregate electronically. A marketplace, a bazaar. A place where people converse with each other, share their interests, identify inventories, discover prices, negotiate, trade. A place where the things that need to be recorded get recorded, as in everyday life. Cash withdrawals, credit card usage, access to secure premises, and so on. A place where the things that need to be shared are made simply shareable, without the nonsense of bad DRM.

I’m being extreme, just to drive the point home. Of course people can have job titles and departments and cost centres and functions and job families and a whole lot else. But these are not the main event. They’re meant to be things that help people get work done.

Of course people can be asked to annotate what they did with their time, in environments where customers are to be billed in accordance with that time. But the main event is to do with the quality and quantity of output, not inputs.

Of course people should have their phones and laptops encrypted if sensitive customer information is held on their devices. But let’s also look at ways of avoiding holding sensitive information on devices that can be mislaid or stolen easily. Encryption again is not the main event.

As Keynes said, the engine of a healthy enterprise is not thrift but profit. For any business, the best strategy is to hire good people. Once we hire good people, why keep telling them what to do and how to do it? Be there for them. Teach them. Expose them to the problem domain. And provide an environment where their safety and security (and that of the customer) is sacrosanct, where they understand what they have to do, where the tools they need are available, where they can share with each other and learn from each other.

We make a lot of noise about teamwork, about collaboration, about knowledge management. None of these is complex per se. But they can be made that way.

We have to stop putting sand where we need oil, sugar where we need petrol.

Otherwise the engine of the enterprise will sputter.


The next time you look at Facebook, think about your IT department. Think about your shared service functions. Think about your company. Are you doing the important things?

35 thoughts on “The Facebookisation of the enterprise”

  1. Great post and one I agree with.
    But this is the easy bit. There are two big challenges to overcome:
    1) business change. Those in power will not want to dismantle the control structures that put them there. Those are people with the power to stop this transformation. In some areas this is no problem as they will be naturally displaced by market forces. In other areas (eg Government) the change will take a lot longer (a generation in fact).
    2) compliance. In the UK we have data protection, freedom of information, various central government dictates. Again, this is harder to change for government bodies than in the private sector, perhaps.

    Problem 2) is easier to solve as it is merely a set of technical hurdles. Problem 1) is harder. Overcoming it might even lead to losing your job.

  2. The vast majority of SMEs I deal with wouldn’t have a clue what you are talking about. There is still a very wide digital divide in the UK, between those with ubiquitous broadband access (inc mobile coverage) and those without. We have a long way to go, because as you have already noted anyone born before 1982 has often not had enough exposure to the tech to see its benefits. Until broadband is ubiquitous and affordable it is going to be very difficult to get your message across. (I totally agree with your message BTW). The majority of management people are a bit like Rip Van Winkle. They just don’t get IT. Government is a prime example, their internet info is printed for them on dead trees by admin staff. Most of them wouldn’t know where to find it. Councillors and RDAs are in the same boat. In fact many people who work on computers all day don’t know much about apps they haven’t come across…
    … things like facebook/twitter etc are discovered at home, at weekends, chatting to friends and experimenting. If folk aren’t introduced they don’t understand what we are talking about…
    …we still have a long way to go to engage them …

  3. One all that control has been lost, what remains of the “enterprise?” Coase’s raison d’etre for the firm, to reduce co-ordination transaction costs seems to have been transcended.

    A “facebooked” enterprise sounds a bit like a sailing ship with a steam winch, a mongrel in transition.

  4. Thanks you very much. I love your piece. I’m a microbusiness and know what you’re talking about, I think. I work for companies that are struggling to adapt to this new world and we need good people to hold their hands.

  5. @hamish coase’s theory of the firm isn’t wrong per se. as you say it’s all about transaction costs. once firms understand that facebookisation reduces transaction costs, they will move that way. but they have to realise that some of their control mechanisms raise transaction costs when compared to new ways of doing things.

  6. @martin I think the economics of the situation will win out over time. you just cannot compete with a facebookised enterprise.

  7. I am CIO of a largish firm that has implemented much of this. Using an infrastructure based solely in the cloud, the users PC, OS, mobile device etc is of little importance and is left largely up to them. of course, their email address has to be a company one, but it’s already almost there. IT departments (and HR depts for that matter) should be enablers.

  8. @rustlem that’s fantastic! Delighted to hear it. Yes, I am aware of a number of visionaries out there who have actually implemented it. Would you like to share more about what you’ve done? I am sure Andy McAfee at MIT will be interested. Happy to put the two of you together.

  9. Hi JP. We exited the MS world, migrated from exchange to gmail and google apps; worked out a way to support users’ machine images over the internet using open source (all we need in any office is an internet connection); serve files mounted over the internet, web-enabled our apps etc. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t that hard either. My CEO once asked me what (except for cost) was the rationale for doing all this. My answer was that with previous infrastructures you bought something then watched it get out of date, depreciate in value, and then looked forward to a nightmare of change, retraining and costs to move forward. Now we innovate without trying (google enhance almost weekly, for example), our services get faster and more efficient month by month, and our disaster recover plan can be boiled down to four words: go home and work. It’s that simple. Our users can use MS, Mac, or linux (I use all three), any smart mobile device (we give option of blackberry or iphone and are looking at the droid/milestone, and others buy themselves something else). I still feel that we are only a few steps along the road. In the old days corporations had better technology that the home user. This has reversed entirely. Users shouldn’t step down when they step into work. Only by embracing change, by accepting that you cannot foresee what users may want to use tomorrow, can you design an infrastructure that truly reflects our modern environment.

  10. Thanks JP. This is a great, thought-provoking post. As you say, the example is extreme to make a point. In some industries it will take regulation changes as well as a cultural shift within the organisation to make some of these things happen, but this article really shines a light on what an IT department should be focusing on providing and what the user should be able to choose for themselves.

  11. Well that reminds me of the golden quote
    “Imagination is powerful than Knowledge as it opens new frontiers of Knowledge”
    I think this imagination will kick start new phase of virtual office and identity concept not based on current knowledge standards but on as you wish platform giving you more power to choose and imagine!!!!!!

  12. I thought this post was interesting. I am the CEO of a web-based medical software company in Ireland. We are developing iPhone apps for surgeons and physicians and getting a great response too. Our whole infrastructure is built this way….sometimes our problem is convincing our market (very conservative) that this is the way to go. My problem is that I was born in 1981!
    Why is 82 the magic year? I know you picked this as an arbitrary year to make a point….but I think it is more complex than that, I think it comes down to cultural and social influences. For instance in the US people are far more eager to take up the kind of technology in enterprise you are talking about than in Europe. Social Class and Education play a big part in this too. The reality is that the 1982 people are becoming the decision makers so it is just a matter of time.

  13. Enterprise 2.0 (aka Facebookisation of the enterprise) needs to marry a new Leadership Philosophy, which in turn helps to drive the ‘culture of collaboration’ mantra. (perhaps, otherwise known as Malone’s Cultivate and Coordinate mission)

    Love what you imply JP, and where I work (Canadian Telecom) that’s where we’re heading in 2010. – a few notes of mine about the marriage I speak to above

  14. Love the ideas in this post and think this is what ‘flexible working’ should mean – provide the tools and let people do the job where and how they work best. Hard work getting there, even in a small-to-medium NGO with a radical agenda, but well worth the effort.

    In response to Richard’s question – ‘why 1982’ – in the UK I would credit the Alvey programme (1983-88) with some of the ‘why’, as a driver for a more integrated approach to R&D. Not the whole answer, but a significant role in accelerating the agenda.

  15. Hello JP,
    Great post. And an idea that badly needs to come alive. All that is said here, in todays world, is just plain common sense – something that is really uncommon!
    Just wanted to direct your attention towards a great (and a bit famous) book “Maverick” by Ricardo Semler. I believe the book shares these core values.

  16. Great Post JP. I guess at the end of the day, its all about how we balance both the worlds ( Personal / Professionals) As long as we as responsible professionals publish the content over the web, its perfectly fine.

Let me know what you think

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.