Facebook is being turned on its head. The social networking site, infamous for diverting the attention of knowledge workers in their office time, has inspired a new application that may change the old-fashioned way of corporate collaboration by email and boost productivity.
In late June, cloud computing pioneer Salesforce.com is set to formally launch a service called Chatter for office networking.
Companies such as Dell and Bank of America are already trying out variations of what is now being called the “collaboration cloud” that helps employees link with customers, partners, bosses and inter-departmental colleagues the same way as one bonds with family and friends on Facebook.
“It looks a lot like Facebook. But it is not about your personal life. It is about your work life,” said Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com, a $1.5-billion-revenues company that grew 24 per cent last year.
While Microsoft has a service called SharePoint for sharing of files, the game is now being taken for teams and projects to be tracked in a casual flow that could cut back on some meetings while boosting the sharing of ideas, contacts and suggestions.
“It is the next best thing to Facebook, and better than e-mail,” said Sumeet Vaid, founder of Ffreedom Financial Planners, a Mumbai-based startup that helps families plan their finances for a fee. Ffreedom’s team uses Chatter to share and work around sales leads.
“I think we are about to enter a new industry called social intelligence,” billionaire Benioff told partners and customers on Tuesday at a company conference in Singapore.
In the “corporate Facebook” the purpose is to have feeds to share status of projects much like status messages, invite comments and suggestions, track progress of tasks and collaborate on documents.
One key novelty is that this could turn the business of clogging of “cc-d” (copied) and reply e-mails and facilitate a coherent audit trail of projects. Links to documents replace e-mail attachments.
While social networking sites have tabs that you click to access friends, groups, interests and fun quizzes, in corporate collaboration the tabs take you to opportunities, accounts, content and dashboard views of projects or teams. The common features are profiles and groups.
“E-mail volumes are down 40 per cent,” said Peter Coffee, director, platform, at Salesforce.com, of the firms where trials have been done.
Collaborative software can also be tailored to include feeds from social sites like Twitter to address complaints that pour into a company network from the public Internet, with filters that can be set by the customer company.
For instance, product developers can get ideas from customers, or a customer stuck with a service problem can get advice, because the company network is linked with the external world.
(The writer’s trip to the Singapore conference and his boarding and lodging were paid for by Salesforce.com)