Will LinkedIn make a move into the enterprise?
News surfaced this week that Facebook was considering a move into the enterprise sector with the imaginatively titled 'Facebook at Work'. Not a great deal is known about the service yet, but pretty much everyone is in agreement that it could provide interesting competition to incumbents like Microsoft and even the likes of LinkedIn.
It has long struck me as surprising that LinkedIn hasn’t made a similar move. Back in 2011 Jeff Weiner, CEO of the company, suggested that enterprise social tools was "an area where we want to add value". Yet so far we’ve seen nothing particularly interesting.
If the company was to launch some kind of offering for the workplace, it would likely mirror what Facebook is rumored to be doing and launch its own dedicated network. Yet it strikes me there is a better approach. Google, Facebook and LinkedIn have all tried to become de facto 'identify providers' on the web -- meaning users can login to other sites with existing credentials and pre-populate profile information. So why not apply the same approach to the enterprise?
Let’s consider a typical SharePoint or Office 365 company Intranet. A company board have listened to Microsoft’s sale pitch, and do indeed want a social collaborative environment to engage employees. Who wouldn’t? So they purchase the relevant licenses, and get Office 365 plumbed into their current Active Directory setup. Users arrive for a fresh day at work and can instantly login to a brand new Intranet, with all kinds of whizz bang tools. They can create Office docs online, update their status from their phone, and find colleagues working on similar projects to them.
But before any of this stuff works, or works effectively, they need to flesh out a profile. They also need to add some skills, and past projects they have worked on. Depending on the exact nature of the tool they might also need to find some groups and follow some people.
If our fictitious company is like any other then Active Directory data will consists of a username, email address and little else. Previous Intranet projects might mean there is a bit of biography info hanging around, but there will almost certainly be no nice profile photo. Any connections to relevant or interesting colleagues will need to be made from scratch, which is in itself difficult because everyone's data is so poor.
In short users have to spend time creating a brand new profile at work. Companies will often put in place initiatives to encourage adoption of enterprise systems. They might employ 'floor walkers' to help people to add photos, or hold training sessions to show people how to find co-workers. But haven't people already done this stuff a million times online? Why get them, often at additional expense, to do it all over again?
Facebook thinks it can solve this problem by presumably reusing a lot of its user data in a new dedicated tool. But what if LinkedIn approached things in a slightly different way? What if it offered its data, in a secure and workplace place appropriate format, and integrated with existing tools?
In essence LinkedIn could become the 'sign in' option on the company Intranet, or at least a some sort of background sync. When users arrive and login to the system for the first time they would see up to date profile, current biographies, and ready made connections to relevant colleagues.
Of course not everything on a LinkedIn profile is suitable for a work profile -- "I am currently seeking new opportunities" doesn’t always play so well with the boss. But this is a relatively simple job of refining the data and sync process, and trusting the provider.
Just think of the possibilities. Users login to the enterprise social network and find a whole host of useful work related connections that they themselves have already spent time refining. The employee directory is finally, and permanently, up to date. No longer do staff do a search on LinkedIn to find out about that day's new starters, they already have that data internally.
LinkedIn is just one example. There is a ton of data out on the web that could have a really useful impact in the enterprise -- YouTube, StackOverflow, Quora to name but a few. The "Consumerization of IT" has always been about enterprise services taking on the principles and properties of the consumer web. Why not expand the notion to include actual data as well?
Many companies will embrace 'Facebook at Work' when it arrives. But many many more would embrace up to date employee data, or prebuilt social network or knowledge repositories, that leverage their existing systems and investment.
Photo Credit: Atelier_A/Shutterstock
Chris Wright is the founder of Fifty Five and Five, a content marketing agency that helps technology and technical companies communicate better to their clients. He writes extensively about enterprise social networks, the future of the workplace, and Intranets. You can find his blog here.