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Facebook's Enterprise Ambition: 3 Big Hurdles

Even with 1.3 billion users, Facebook's rumored move into enterprise software faces steep obstacles. Can Facebook transform its reputation from data hog to data guardian?
Facebook: 10 New Changes That Matter
Facebook: 10 New Changes That Matter
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Facebook has its sights set on shaking up social business, according to a new report, which says Facebook is working on a new website called Facebook at Work. This service reportedly will compete directly with Salesforce, Google, Microsoft, and LinkedIn.

The Financial Times reports that the new site will look similar to Facebook, complete with a news feed and groups, but it will let users keep their professional profile separate from their personal profile. It will also include a chat function similar to Salesforce's Chatter, networking capabilities like LinkedIn's, and document collaboration tools similar to Google Docs and Microsoft Office.

Facebook's possible move into the enterprise software market isn't that surprising. According to Gartner, enterprise software spending will reach $321 billion this year, a 7% increase over 2013. Businesses are rapidly innovating in this space, too: This year, Apple and IBM partnered to bring enterprise software to iOS devices, while IBM, Cisco, and other companies all have launched better offerings.

[Other invasions of privacy are more egregious than Facebook's. Read Privacy: Zuck Is Not The Devil.]

But tapping into such a crowded market won't be easy for Facebook, despite its 1.3 billion users. The social network's reputation as a data-hungry consumer site and its history of privacy problems will make Facebook At Work a difficult sell for any business. Here's where Facebook will struggle.

1. Privacy and security
We've all been there: accidentally posting a picture or status update publicly, when it was meant for just our friends. Or, worse yet, discovering that content you posted months ago is actually visible to anyone. Users' constant struggle to maneuver Facebook's labyrinth of privacy and security settings don't bode well for businesses, which want simple, straightforward tools that promote usability and security.

Privacy and security, of course, are common pain points for any company that adopts social business tools. But unlike Yammer, Salesforce, and other popular solutions, Facebook's past is plagued with privacy flaps -- and overcoming that reputation is a tall order.

For Facebook At Work to thrive within businesses, Facebook needs to rebuild its privacy settings from the ground up and marry usability with the technical demands businesses require.

2. Data collection
Critics have taken Facebook to task a number of times over its collection and exploitation of user data. This year, Facebook revealed that it had manipulated more than 700,000 users' news feeds in an experiment to discern whether showing certain content could alter their emotions. And even though the social network ultimately apologized, it didn't say it had any plans to stop these experiments.

Users and privacy experts also have questioned Facebook's data collection practices, including how it may track and store your location even when you're not using the app. But even though the company has taken steps to clarify its practices, its past follies aren't easy to forget.

Data protection is paramount for businesses, which seek partners they can trust. Facebook's history in handling its own users' data won't encourage many companies that Facebook is the partner for them.

3. Adoption and trust
According to Gartner, 80% of social business efforts will fail through next year. The reason: Companies are too focused on the technology and not focused enough on the behavioral and workflow changes necessary to achieve success. These obstacles include adoption and continued participation, both of which will lag -- and sink a project -- if employees don't trust the tool.

And that's where Facebook will face its biggest obstacle in encouraging businesses to adopt Facebook At Work. Though Facebook has made strides in simplifying its privacy settings and making its data use policies clearer, users are still wary about the content they post. Without trust, there's no adoption, and without adoption, there's no activity to keep workplace communities alive and thriving.

Employers see a talent shortage. Job hunters see a broken hiring process. In the rush to complete projects, the industry risks rushing to an IT talent failure. Get the Talent Shortage Debate issue of InformationWeek today.