WorkLight, a Web 2.0 startup that specializes in securely transferring corporate data to popular consumer Web-based applications, has created a tool that allows employees to broadcast proprietary information about themselves and their specialties over their Facebook homepages to one another. But David Lavenda, VP of marketing and product strategy for WorkLight, is quick to point out that the tool, called WorkBook, has been built in such a way that sensitive corporate data isn't visible to Facebook members outside the organization, nor does that data ever live on Facebook's servers.
"The more we talked to companies, it became clear that collaboration and social networking is really important to them," Lavenda says. "Some had tried to do social networking using a proprietary network. They tried to build something internally. But the problem they're running into is they can't get their employees to adopt because people like the tools they're using."
Statistically speaking, given Facebook's 55 million users, there's a good chance that it's the tool in use. Utilization of consumer social networking sites in the workplace is as prominent as ever, according to a recent survey by Nucleus Research, which found that 40 percent of the workforce accessed one or more social networking sites regularly. And those are the ones corporate IT knows about.
"Clearly the adoption of Web 2.0 technologies like social networking is becoming as much of an employee's work life as it is their personal life," says Rebecca Wettemann, a Nucleus analyst.
WorkLight has made its name by taking data from old proprietary customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and pushing them to popular online portals such as iGoogle pages, for example. Since customers use a WorkLight server that sits behind a firewall and acts as middleware between the enterprise app and the iGoogle page, the information doesn't pass through Google's servers.
The same is true for WorkBook, WorkLight's tool that allows employees to share information about projects and personal expertise over Facebook, then build networks based on that knowledge. When the staffers log on to Facebook, they don't immediately have access to the corporate data. Instead, Lavenda says they must type in a corporate user name and password to access the proprietary data.
Lavenda believes it could have benefits for large enterprises with distributed workforces.
"Allowing people who are geographically remote but doing similar jobs to reach out and talk with each other [over Facebook] is very valuable," he says. "We can provide that for them securely."