More on the Facebookisation of the enterprise

Note: This is a follow-up post to one I wrote a few days ago, The Facebookisation of the enterprise, given the kind of interest it generated. People seriously interested in the subject may wish to read my nine-part series on Facebook and the Enterprise from 2007. The first part remains my most-read post,  apart from the kernel for this blog: Building Society for the 21st Century, which is a page and not a post. You may also be interested in my Twitter in the Enterprise series, a sample of which is here.

If the IT department was made to behave like Facebook, what would an enterprise look like?

You join the “company”. You do this by using a personal token like an email address, choosing a password for all your activity in the company, then filling in some basic profile info. You’re all set. At this stage no one has given you a computer or a phone or anything like that. You’re Generation M. You come fitted with these things as standard. The first thing the IT department would need to provide is simple self-service signup. Access.

Because you’re in a new “social network environment”, one of the first things you do is look for a way to discover which of your friends is already here. So you look around. You need tools to do this looking around. You’d also like to invite the friends you already had into this space. Importing contacts, address books, that sort of thing. So you need tools to do this as well. The second thing the IT department would need to provide you is a set of directories, and ways of adding to them, searching them, extracting from them.

You don’t want the directory to be a firehose, so you want some ways of managing your lists. Making sure that you can group people the way you want to. Friends, family, group, company, department, location, whatever. So the third thing the IT department needs to provide is tools to classify the elements of the directory.

Knowing who’s around is a fat lot of good if you can’t connect with people. So what does Facebook do? It provides you with ways to send people messages, chat with them, converse, communicate with them. Publish stuff, upload stuff, read stuff, view stuff. The IT department must therefore provide communications tools, that’s the fourth thing.

Everything in business happens because people talk to people. [Even black-box trading is people talking to people, but delayed and via proxies]. It helps if people could plan when they were going to talk to each other. Facebook calls these things events. Meetings are nothing more than events. Tools for scheduling events is the fifth thing that the IT department needs to provide.

[Strangely, telcos used to have a stranglehold on the first few items: directories, groups, modalities of communication. But for some strange reason they never bothered to provide scheduling tools. Microsoft were the first to fix this gaping hole.]

Profiles. Directories. Groups. Events. Things published, like links, videos, photos. Relationships between all these things. None of which is static. Which means there needs to be a way of telling people what’s new, what has changed. Who’s joined, who’s left. Who was born, who died. Who joined up together, who broke up. Hatches, matches and dispatches as they used to be called. Which is why Facebook has a News Feed. The sixth thing that the IT department would need to provide is a News Feed. And ways of managing the firehose.

These are just the foundations. When people use Facebook, they use a series of other applications. Applications built by third parties on the developer platform. Applications accessed via Facebook, using the identity and relationship and profile and activity data provided by Facebook. Applications whose access to that data also requires the permission of the person whose profile it is.

Which is the final thing the IT department has to provide: A developer platform with the appropriate controls and service wrap around it.

Access to the environment, directories, ways to group people,  modalities of communication,the ability to schedule events, the publication of records of changes. And a developer platform that allows people to build edge applications that use this core in a safe and controlled way.

Was I talking about Facebook? Or was I talking about the IT department?

Which brings me to my final point. Facebook does not invest in the edge apps, build them, host them, amend them. They don’t support them, maintain them, back them up. I think IT departments would do well to learn from this. Let the people at the edge build what they want, within a 21st century enabling framework. They know what they want better than any IT department can. What the IT department should do is their utmost to guarantee safety and security of access, privacy and confidentiality, search and subscription tools, scheduling tools, data migration tools, visualisation and mashing tools, prioritisation and ranking tools.

Sometime later this month I want to spend time talking about the semantic web, linked data, the Web Science Trust and related subjects. I will also spend time on publish-subscribe and enterprise buses, on augmented reality. On mobility. On opensource. And bring it all back to Platforms and Stewardship.

In the meantime, I’d love some feedback.

26 thoughts on “More on the Facebookisation of the enterprise”

  1. JP – When I was closely following your thoughts on Facebook and the Enterprise back in 2007, I thought you were laying out the perfect recipe for a start-up to tackle that market opportunity. It’s been two years and a bit since then, a number of start-ups in the social enterprise space, but we’re still missing a product option for enterprises to choose even if they did have the foresight and the guts to take the risk to pursue such a path. There’s some tremendous opportunity here… (just thinking ;-)

  2. I believe that the part that is missing is that the workplace is inherently anti-collaborative. Facebook, primarily friends interact. We don’t interact with business colleagues on facebook on projects, meetings, conference calls etc.

    Most work environments take the social and fun and collaboration out of the everyday processes. There are deadlines and powerpoints to hide behind. That doesn’t exist on facebook. Until we can collaborate better in the office- all this online collaboration and social corporate technology non-sense is just that!

  3. You have the heart of a startup guy. (Testing message. Using different email address, and web address to see I can get through the crack. Otherwise WordPress seems to have banned me from leaving messages at WordPress blogs.)

  4. We were, to an extent, moving towards this in BT. Until this week I was able to ditch my company supplied webtop and access the corporate Exchange service via my mac, enabling me to integrate this to my productivity work. By letting me work in the way I wanted I saved a significant amount of time – reduced transaction costs.

    I spend probably 90% of my time on the road or on client sites, and the rest of the time on client sites. I am more likely to work from a Starbucks than a BT office and I very much value the ability to step away from the standard corporate mobile working solution, which is better suited to those who hotdesk between BT sites.

    Having tasted this, and the associated increase in my personal productivity, it would be a factor in deciding on future roles.

  5. JP

    A very worthy follow up post :-) I personally think the biggest benefits of the “Facebookisation” is higher employee engagement – hence it is not the IT department that would take a step ahead with that – but the Ops, Strategy and HR groups that would be asking the IT department to follow FB’s lead to create a truly hyper-linked organizaton.

    The other big benefit (and this would need to be taken a call by Org Design and CEOs) is do the other systems and processes in the organization support the openness and transparency that the Facebookisation would bring. – if people are rewarded for individual behavior and if the Peformance system does not incentivise a culture of sharing and connecting – the phenomenon would be limited to the “social innovators” within the enterprise alone.

    I’m @gautamghosh on Twitter :-)

  6. Interesting concept Jp and pardon me if I have got it all wrong for i am a mere boring banker, but is’nt Google Apps already in the space capturing most of what you are laying out above? The sign in ( Google Profile), the comms platform ( Gmail & Gtalk, Youtube) , the contacts and filtering / grouping ( Contacts), the scheduling ( calendar), the newsfeed ( Reader) with the ability to sort your fire hose, the ability to manage your tasks & share with others ( GQueues), a platform to work on either individually or collaboratively across geographic boundaries ( Google Docs) and tools to store & search data intelligently ( Google Search) and finally now an ability to communicate via voice and link in most of these other tools ( Google Phone ) Voila !! facebookisation = googleisation of the enterprise

  7. Thanks for the comments. There are three big reasons why I chose Facebook over Google. One, Facebook is the hate du jour. Two, Google does not understand the importance of the friend graph and all that can follow from it. Three, as a result, the google developer platform tends to be a VM optimised for serving up ads.

    My next post on this subject will be about; especially after chatter, it is an exciting place to be.

  8. JP,

    I probably should have brought this up when reading the previous post, but the follow up has jogged me into action.

    I subscribe to almost all of what you espouse here, and as CTO of a newish startup I have the luxury of being to able to offer my team a set of tools that broadly adheres to these principles (though we don’t actually use FaceBook).

    The one thing I take issue with is the idea that people arrive with identity (an email address, an IM handle, a mobile number) and that they’re happy to reuse that identity in a corporate context. There certainly are professions where that makes sense, where the identity of the individual is robust and portable. I fear however that this isn’t always the case (even for generation M).

    We see countless examples on the web of Persona (which I tried to define here, and which I think we’ve discussed previously). People don’t want to present the same face to the world all the time, they often want to choose a different mask for a different context (e.g. you may choose to stick as ‘jobsworth’ when playing WoW, and anchor your virtual identity to your physical one, but the alternative of something like ‘SuperBadElf’ is clearly popular).

    Work is just another context, and another mask that people may choose to put on. Tools like Skype and Ribbit let me choose to have a ‘work’ telephone number that I still answer on the mobile that’s provisioned with my ‘personal’ number (thus avoiding this sort of problem – A corporate email address (or IM handle or whatever) doesn’t have to anchor me to a specific machine/client/application. The bottom line is that people need choices about how they present themselves – there is not one identity to rule them all as some of the sloppy thinking around things like ID cards would advocate.

    So… whilst it’s fair to assume that people will show up with identity, I’d like to add to your list that corporate IT must provide tools that help project context sensitive identity. This also needs to go near the top of the list, as so many of the other services depend upon identity for their function. Finally the organisation needs to accept that for many employees the mask they give them is disposable – when they leave they throw it away.

  9. One of the biggest impediments to the adoption of these ideas in (big) enterprise is that they are toxic to almost all forms of traditional management hierarchy; perhaps most importantly, such an environment vastly reduces the scope for ‘gatekeepers’ and despite protestations to the contrary, this is anathema to the majority of middle and senior management in most (large) companies. Including – especially(?) – corporate IT.

    As you know this philosophy was embedded in our Digital Markets experiment, and yet even in it’s initial ‘Trojan Horse’ / highly-watered-down implementation, proved too much for the management culture to bear and it was duly neutralized by the corporate antibodies.

    In short, it’s the you-can’t-teach-old-dogs-new-tricks thing… So the question really becomes: is adopting a ‘facebook’ culture and standard operating procedures sufficiently powerful to enable a new entrant to overcome the advantages of incumbency? I suspect that the answer to this question depends on the business and services in question but would posit that it is relatively more likely to be true in businesses where human capital is the key input.

  10. Again, thanks for your comments. I try and keep the model simple, so I haven’t at this stage worried about the need for federation in the identity space, so that each person can use the identity/identities they choose.

    Bruce Schneier once made a forceful point about the importance of accountability rather than identity per se, the audit trail as it were. I’m relaxed about avatars from that viewpoint.

    Of course in every enterprise there is an inherent bias against sharing. But that’s not Coase’s fault, selfishness increases transaction costs so he would have argued against it. But thankfully “information selfishness” appears to be a generational thing, and the dinosaurs are passing on.

    Generation M is into sharing. Generation M is approaching 30. Game over.

  11. I think one of the other problems is how to get from where most of us are now, to where we might want to be …

    The problem is typified by my experience: I work for one organisation, but deliver solutions for other organisations, and I need to interact with the IT “solutions” from all of them. Of course they’re not interoperable, and one of them is right now trying to add some sort of “facebookisation” but doing it on a proprietary platform that isn’t interoperable … and they see this as a good thing …

  12. What you speak of, Bryan, is the problem that Cluetrain bangs on about. This incessant stupidity of building a wall around the enterprise. Think I’ll write a post about it.

  13. Nice piece of thinking JP – we have to address a key issue at some time soon in many organizations. namely the separation of running the centralized overheads of the back office using computers, and the decentralized model of enabling people to use expertise in the front office to handle events and opportunities. And that means two different funding models! IT on a yearly overhead recovery budget and ?? around people on a paid as consumed direct cost attributed model where the value and the cost of the activity are directly linked, and capex is removed from the considerations.

  14. i love this post. i like the concept and i like the implications on IT departments to actually understand the nature of the business itself.

    I will be following your thinking and will post some similar thought on my blog over teh coming weeks

  15. Don’t we just need a tool which can be implemented within the firewall that is reliable in many ways and scalable?

    Then some add-on to make it semi-permeable in a custom way that can be tuned according to the level of risk that each corporation can bear.

  16. What I really REALLY like about this post is how applied and practical it is. And that you’ve boiled down revolutionary capabilities into such concrete and deliverable chunks. You sure you meant to post this on your blog and not use it as a business plan for a new venture?

    And I agree with James’ point above: this kind of open, collaborative environment is likely to be a major help in attracting the best talent. Like the “free soft drinks and foosball tables” of the dotcom bubble startups. Only with much bigger impact.

    It would be interesting to explore at greater length how this kind of approach could make the organization’s walls more permeable — wait, that sounds too obvious, let me explain what I mean… Corporations today still run this binary “you work for us, we trust you completely” or “you don’t work for us, please go away” mentality. Internet email has eroded that boundary a bit, but you can still see it aggressively expressed in firewalls that block external IM, teamsites that are intranet only, etc…

    With the approach you’ve outlined there could be lots of interesting gradations of access and collaboration, beyond the simple we’ve hired you/we haven’t hired you boolean that rules today’s world.


  17. features and capabilities yes – but don’t emulate facebook’s robustness, availability, user interface or scant regard for users when implementing changes. These are perfect examples of how not to do it.

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