Quick, someone post this on Mark Zuckerberg’s timeline: It doesn’t matter whether or not the reports private Facebook messages were inadvertently made public are true. The whole incident is going to make it more difficult for IT departments everywhere to build the concept of a social business.
Facebook on Monday denied accusations it failed to protect the privacy of millions of users, suggesting that posts originally placed on members’ “walls” were now part of the “timeline” feature that tracks a member’s activities on the service. The explanation did little to assuage the outraged reactions of many bloggers and privacy experts. And no matter how it is resolved in the longer term, the incident will likely become just another cautionary tale as companies consider whether or not to introduce corporate social networking tools as part of their efforts around unified communications and collaboration.
This is an area of greater investment than many might realize. A recent report from IDC, for example, forecast 42.4 percent CAGR in spending on enterprise social software that resembles Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus. Last year alone CIOs and IT departments spent US$768 million, with IDC projecting US4.5 billion of investment by 2016. Much of these services will likely be cloud-based and may not take up a lot of network resources, but over time they will almost certainly be integrated with enterprise telephony, e-mail and offered on mobile devices, whether corporate-issued or employee-owned through BYOD programs. The usage of these services by businesspeople, the learning curve they face and their expectations around information protection will also be almost entirely shaped by what they have experienced or are familiar with in the consumer social networking space, where Facebook is the dominant player.
Last week I attended Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce 2012 conference in San Francisco, where the company was trying to capitalize on what it was calling a “social revolution.” Salesforce.com has bet big on its Chatter social software, just as its more established rival, Microsoft, bought Yammer earlier this year. Salesforce executives lead sessions that showed how customers like retail giant the Gap are using Chatter to facilitate communication internally among employees, suppliers and partners. In Canada, a company called the Duha Group has been using Chatter to collaborate on new products with its B2B clientele. Duha Group creates, among other things, the color swatches used by paint suppliers and architectural firms. Douglas Crabb, Duha’s global director of sales and marketing, told me Chatter has been highly useful when, for example, a customer might propose a certain kind of colour card, and then Duha can explain that by changing the proposed dimensions, the company can deliver it faster and/or cheaper.
“It’s like a little private Facebook that’s secure,” he said, though he later added, “we’re creating our own social environment. We don’t use the word Facebook.”
The thing is, when you look at Chatter, Yammer or similar tools, it’s impossible not to at least think of the word Facebook. Which may lead more users to wonder about moments like this week’s alleged privacy breaches. The onus will be on IT departments to provide assurance that sensitive business data will be far more secure than anything on a public service. And if the history of IT is any indication, companies rarely put in the right level of security until data has been compromised for the first time. The takeaway from Facebook’s difficulties? Be prepared to outline a plan for making your organization’s potential use of social software as safe as anything else on your network, because a pilot project is likely in your future. The writing’s on the wall — er, timeline.
Get a better sense of how enterprise IT expectations will change by downloading ‘The Consumerisation of IT,’ a free white paper from Frost & Sullivan.