Facebook at Work chief shares details on its new social enterprise tools

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Credit: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Facebook plans to release its Facebook at Work social network for business in the 'coming months.' The project's leader spoke with CIO.com about the motivation behind Facebook at Work, how the consumer-focused company prepares to take on business customers and how the tools enable new levels of productivity.

Facebook at Work isn't just another app or service from the maker of the world's largest media and communications platform. Facebook is entering a new arena: the enterprise. And the move requires different strengths, a shift in sales strategy and a modified business model, according to Julien Codorniou, the company's director of global platform partnerships, and leader of the Facebook at Work team. 

"We spent the first 11 years of the company connecting people in their personal lives, and now we're coming after the workplace," Codorniou says. "It's a market that's 3 billion people, where some of them, maybe most of them, never had access to modern, mobile-first enterprise software." 

Codorniou says Facebook at Work is "the first SaaS startup inside Facebook," due to the new challenges it faces and the group's lofty goals. The engineering team that built Facebook at Work is based in London, according to Codorniou, and it has been working on the app for longer than a year.

[Related Analysis: Marketing drives Facebook at Work deployment at Coldwell Banker]

More than 300 companies, including Coldwell Banker, are currently testing the beta product, and others such as Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Club Med have committed to large, company-wide Facebook at Work deployments. The service will be widely available in the "coming months," according to Codorniou. In the meantime, it's taking feedback from its early testers to improve the product before it goes live. And many of the current customers have recurring calls with the Facebook at Work engineering team at least every other week. 

For Facebook, enterprise represents more demanding customer

Facebook at Work brings a new and different type of customer to the company, according to Codorniou. "We need to learn all these skills and hire people who will bring us the DNA that it takes to build the foundations of a very ambitious enterprise software company inside an 11-year old mobile consumer company."

Facebook is putting together a global sales team to better understand and serve these enterprise customers. "That's not the kind of employees we have at Facebook, you know, employees who can help large corporations like RBS to deploy enterprise software to 100,000 users," says Codorniou. "We need to scale up the team to make sure we have the right resources to invest in our customers because we see a lot of traction in the market, but we also need to make sure that there is no bottleneck to major deployments."

[Related Feature: How a big U.K. bank uses Facebook at Work for collaboration]

Facebook will hire new account managers and specialists when necessary, but Codorniou's goal is to build software that doesn't require an "army of consultants to deploy it and use it successfully." The Facebook at Work team wants to build enterprise software in a "Facebook way" with consistent updates and improvements, he says. "We don't think you need any kind of training to use Facebook at Work on day one." 

Facebook's social network for business will be free at launch, but the company will eventually charge for additional support, analytics and integration with other enterprise collaboration tools, such as Microsoft Azure, Office 365, Google Apps, Box, Dropbox and others, Codorniou says.

"The fundamental bet behind Facebook at Work is that a more connected workplace becomes a more productive workplace," he says. "When you connect people, you create a more open, more transparent workplace, and ultimately a more productive workplace."

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