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RBS announces partnership with Facebook At Work

RBS has described the partnership with Facebook At Work as “ground-breaking”, but analysts have questioned this as the app simply helps companies build a private social network

Facebook has added its first bank to users of its Facebook At Work free enterprise app, sparking speculation that version 2.0 may be imminent.

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is the biggest company to partner with Facebook At Work to date, but some observers say the move makes little sense with the app's current functionality.

RBS has described the partnership as “ground-breaking”, but analysts have questioned this in the light of the fact that version 1.0 simply helps companies build a private social network for their employees to contact and collaborate with each other.

According to RBS, the business version of Facebook is to be made available to 100,000 staff to encourage collaboration and allow employees to communicate faster and more efficiently. 

As well as using it on desktop computers, employees will also be able to download it to their phones and tablets so they can keep track of work when they are on the move.

The app has a similar look and feel to the Facebook that people use every day and employees will be able to use all of the same features, allowing them to post photos, create groups and events, update their work profiles, and send private messages to colleagues.

RBS said a pilot study has shown that staff were able to work much more efficiently together, answer customer questions faster, update other colleagues on their work in a much more engaging way and source a far wider range of ideas for ongoing projects with minimal training required.

The bank said Facebook At Work will be completely separate from personal Facebook accounts, meaning information shared between RBS employees is accessible only to colleagues within the bank.

Information shared on the site will be safe, secure and confidential, the bank said, without providing any details. Julien Codorniou, director of global platform partnerships at Facebook, told the Financial Times that RBS had a lot of security requirements which have all been addressed.

According to Codorniou, all the data that resides in the application belongs to the employer and is not mined for advertisements, as on the main site. It is treated as “highly confidential” and is encrypted in transit.

However, he said that like the main Facebook site, the data is not encrypted at all times. This theoretically allows Facebook to be served with a subpoena to obtain information that resides in the network, the Financial Times said.

News of the move comes just a week after a suspected data breach of four million customer details at phone and broadband provider TalkTalk shook the UK business and consumer worlds.

RBS began the pilot of Facebook At Work in July 2015 and it will be rolled out to 30,000 employees by end of March 2016. By the end of 2016 all employees will be using the tool.

“I’ve already been using Facebook At Work while we test it and it’s been so useful – allowing me to exchange information and ideas quickly and securely with all my team on a wide range of projects,” said RBS chief administrative officer Simon McNamara.

“I’m excited about how bringing people together from all across the bank through Facebook At Work can help our employees do their job better, whether it’s being able to find answers to customer queries much faster or helping us come up with bright new ideas.”

Enterprise software integration

Eventually, analysts expect Facebook to offer Facebook At Work as a subscription-only enterprise app that could include productivity features like those already available in Office 365 and Google Apps For Work.

But commentators have noted that Facebook At Work does not currently offer any real spreadsheet or document creation features like Office365 or Google Apps For Work.

Facebook later plans to charge for extra features, including integration with other enterprise software, such as Microsoft’s Office 365, according to the Financial Times.

“The quote about helping employees ‘do their jobs better’ by ‘finding answers to customer queries faster’ and ‘coming up with bright new ideas’ is almost the boiler plate statement for any enterprise collaboration tool,” said Tristan Rogers, chief of retail collaboration platform provider Concrete.

“Analysts are already calling time on enterprise collaboration 1.0. Talking about work is not doing work, and version 2.0 needs to be about tools that make doing work easier, faster and more collaborative. Facebook may be the grandaddy of social media, but in the enterprise it looks like a tool which is seven years too late to the party. And it wasn't a very good party in the first place,” he said.

Other commentators have speculated that the partnership with RBS is an experiment in creating an alternative Facebook-branded Office cloud-based platform for corporations that are currently dependent on Office 365 and Google Apps For Work.

According to analyst Motek Moyen, it is not that difficult or expensive to create a cloud-based spreadsheet or document creation app that allows workers on Facebook At Work's social network to create/collaborate over office-related documents/files.

“The rapidly growing enterprise software-as-a-service (SaaS) market is a fertile expansion ground for Facebook. I'm confident that Facebook could eventually really compete with Microsoft and Google by coming up with a flat $1 per user monthly licensing fee for its own future enterprise productivity suite,” he wrote in an article for Seeking Alpha.

This means 100 million employees using Facebook productivity apps will generate $100m a month and $1.2bn a year in non-advertising related revenue, which will meet Facebook’s need to expand beyond its advertising-centric business model.

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