Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The future of business applications?

Facebook is a popular social networking tool and there’s no doubt it has shaped how people use the Internet to network. And I definitely think there’s a place for it in the workplace, where your success may well be dependent on your social connections.

But is it more than that? Does FB represent the future of business applications?

To answer this question, I’ve interviewed a leading authority in the field on Human Capital Management, Dr. Laura.

Me: Dr. Laura, do you think businesses will start using Facebook as a team management tool at work?

Dr. Laura: Interesting idea, but challenging when you get down to it because it doesn’t seamlessly include the business applications your teams probably use, like document management, etc.

Me: Could businesses at least use data mined from FB to help determine which employees are most connected, or use Twitter statuses to monitor what people are working on?

Dr. Laura (laughing): Businesses could likely get some very interesting data points if they had access to the Twitter statuses and conversation logs of their employees. The problem is, people don’t use FB to tell people, “I’m working on my functional design now,” because that’s, well, boring. Most people use FB to put their most glamorous, funny, exciting self forward, which may be of some interest to business in a broader context but perhaps not really germane to daily operations unless someone’s really crossing the line.

Me: What if businesses wanted to use FB to track project and work status, internal communications, etc.?

Dr. Laura: There’s something to that, since more and more employees are on Facebook ever day. But once you introduce ‘Big Brother’ to Facebook it would lose its spontaneity. It would no longer be the grass roots social phenomenon that business are trying to harness. Think about it this way: A status of “I’m watching Pimp My Ride naked with a beer and a pepperoni pizza, come on over!” that is visible to all your friends doesn’t really mix with, “I’m conscientiously following up with Global Dynamics about their critical security problem with our product,” which is intended for a smaller audience.

Me: Could it be re-designed to do a better job separating personal and professional information?

Dr. Laura: Absolutely. But there's a cost. For example, adding things like tags and security filters so you can share private stuff with your friends and communicate upwards at work appropriately would make it more cumbersome and less fun to use. That doesn't mean it can't be done and done well, it just means it's not there today.

Me: I’ve also heard rumbles about using FB as a core system of record for business applications but I don’t see it – the information that, say, a global HR system needs isn’t there and even the information that is there is spotty. For example, if my company wanted to get my employment history from FB it would look like I only ever had one job.

Dr. Laura: I completely agree. As a core business application I don't think FB is quite there, at least not in its current form. But it is definitely meaningful for business and will probably evolve over time to play an even more meaningful role in business. Business is about people, after all, so business can't dismiss anything that has captured the imagination and mindshare of so many people. And I think that the journey of collective intelligence/networking/thinking/sharing has just begun.

Me: Thank you Dr. Laura, for your time and insights.

Dr. Laura: My pleasure. By the way, this is one of my favorite blogs.

Me: Thanks!

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