In the latest repudiation of costly, complicated enterprise software, the Royal Bank of Scotland has agreed to deploy Facebook at Work to facilitate online communication among the bank's 100,000 employees.
The company claims it is the first bank and the largest employer to date to do so.
Facebook at Work differs only slightly from the version of Facebook used by almost 1.5 billion people every month around the world. It has an alternate color scheme, white instead of blue. It requires users to have a separate work account. There are no ads, but it retains familiar services like Events, Groups, News Feed, Messenger, Notifications, and Search. Its intent, to promote information sharing among users, remains the same.
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RBS began testing Facebook at Work in July. According to a company spokesperson, the pilot test went well. RBS employees needed no prodding to engage through social networking. Approximately 90% of employees in the trial used the desktop version, and 80% used the mobile version, the spokesperson said.
Deployment costs look particularly appealing. Because many RBS employees were already familiar with Facebook through personal use, there was no need for training. What's more, Facebook at Work is presently free.
Facebook hasn't disclosed its monetization model yet, but it could charge for connecting to other enterprise services, for administrative controls, for yet-to-be-developed applications, or for meeting specific compliance requirements.
According to The Financial Times, Facebook at Work data is not analyzed for advertising. It is encrypted in transit, but not at all times, raising the possibility that Facebook at Work data could be sought from Facebook through a subpoena or similar legal process.
Facebook didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
"Information shared on the site will be safe, secure, and confidential," RBS said in a statement.
RBS chief administrative officer Simon McNamara said he's been using Facebook at Work and found it to be useful as a way to exchange information with team members. "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," he said in a statement.
RBS said it will offer Facebook at Work to 30,000 employees by March, and to the remainder of its staff by the end of 2016.
Consumer affinity for Facebook could encourage interest in Facebook at Work among companies, particularly if the medium promotes positive engagement with customers. The fact that so many people readily use Facebook suggests that many might willingly to do so in a commercial context, particularly if alternative platforms for interaction impose a less intuitive interface.