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Facebook’s CEO started the latest round of buzz on this topic, which has been discussed to death many times over. Do a search on google and you will see that every one has an opinion on it.  

 

If you have not seen Benioff’s blog – here it is. http://techcrunch.com/2010/02/24/the-Facebook-imperative/

 

Now, any one who has followed Benioff would have realized that he has one of the best PR brains out there. So, there is a fair chance that he just found a clever way of getting free publicity via his guest blog on Techcrunch.com.  And in his blog, he does promote Salesforce Chatter. So after I read through his blog – I did not feel it compelling. But then I read responses from several other people, and slowly but surely my view on the matter changed.

 

The one I liked the most was by Charles Zedlewski

http://yetanothersoftwareblog.blogspot.com/2010/02/enterprise-software-is-not-like.html

 

Charles Z esentially has 3 reasons why he does not think Enterprise Software should be like Facebook.

1. Facebook is designed for entertainment, not productivity

2. I do not have the same social relationships with my co-workers that I do with my Facebook friends. 

3. Facebook is not another better Lotus Notes

And instead of Facebook, Charles proposes that a comparison to Amazon.com is a better idea.

 

Here is Vinnie Mirchandani’s take on the topic

http://dealarchitect.typepad.com/deal_architect/2010/02/why-isnt-enterprise-software-more-like-bmw-and-national-hurricane-center.html

 

Vinnie M likes the idea of innovation – and points out BMW and National Hurricane Center to make his case. Several people I follow on twitter seemed to agree with Charles Z’s position that Amazon is a better case than Facebook for Enterprise Software to aspire.

 

[this is newly added on 2/28.]

 

Another noted commentator in this space, Dennis H has this to say in his blog

http://www.accmanpro.com/2010/02/26/facebook-and-business-software/

 

[ / this is newly added on 2/28.]

 

And me – I think I will vote with Benioff on this one. So allow me to make my case.

 

1. Facebook uses a “Push” mechanism to get me information. So should Enterprise Software.

 

I like it when others do the work, and I just get to see and use it. Let me put it in Enterprise context. An Enterprise has vendors and customers and employees.

 

Wouldn’t it be great if I am a sales guy, and I wake up in the morning, and see my customer ask me a question on my product on my facebook like system, and I can answer right away? And I can pull in others in my company (like say engineers) to get my customer some value-added info? I can put photos, links, videos – whatever it takes to help my customer, and close the deal. And best of all, I can do it from my iPhone or PDA.

 

Say I am a manager of procurement. Wouldn’t it be great if I can get my Vendors to display there wares for me and answer my questions right there, and use rich content to make it less frustrating for me? We could exchange information real time on stock levels, price changes etc

 

Now lets say I am a Project Manager. And my team is all over the globe. Wouldn’t it be neat if my team posts updates, and every one else can join in and get their questions answered and clarifications done?

 

None of this replaces traditional B2B transactions. The actual transaction is not the real issue in any company. SAP and other vendors have optimized sales orders etc to a large extent, and further improvements are at best incremental. However, Enterprise Software does not help solve the processes that surround a structured transaction. That is where a Facebook like system can add value.

 

2. Do you want your customers to come to you for the shortest possible time for a transaction and then leave?

 

This is where I differ from Charles Z’s position the most. If I run a company, I want a lot of my customer’s mindshare. If they come to me only when they want something, and then quickly run away – then I have limited opportunity to influence them, and consequently I lose out on opportunities to up-sell or cross-sell. I also might lose them to a competitor for some reason like price. 

 

If on the other hand, I get the customer to like the experience I provide and stick around – then I have a better chance of generating a lead, and hopefully those leads will convert to better sales. And I am also less likely to lose them to a competitor, since customers can let me know (of course if they choose to ) what is influencing their buying decision, thereby giving me a chance to do something about it.

 

I have no way of telling Amazon real time that I went to BN.com because of better price on a Dan Brown title, and hence Amazon cannot influence my decision to go there.

 

Even for Amazon, they would not want the customer to buy something quickly and run. They would certainly like the customer to stick around, and hopefully make the customer buy something else too.  Amazon does try to up-sell and cross-sell and have some success at it. However, the content is largely static compared to a Facebook like setting – and I don’t get to interact with the site much. In a Facebook like environment, I think customers will engage more and probably end up buying more.

 

Where I do agree with Charles on the Amazon thing is the speedy checkout part – yes, absolutely that kind of speed should be present in all the commercial transactions.

 

3. Enterprise Software becoming like Facebook does not need you to have a social connection with your co-workers, vendors or customers

 

I think a lot of people dismiss Facebook like Enterprise Software as a silly idea because they cannot stand the thought of having customers, vendors and co-workers in their social life. I agree – I don’t think I will sign up for that either. But I don’t think making Enterprise Software like Facebook needs you to invite these people into your  social life at all.

 

We don’t need a 100% replica of Facebook – we just need to reuse some of its  useful concepts. Instead of adding people as friends, you add business partners as friends in this paradigm. And you should have enough security settings to make everyone comfortable. From that point forward – you and your business partners can collaborate about anything that you need to, just like you would in Facebook. This is especially true in industries where constant interactive customer input is vital to product development. A good example is the high-tech industry, where design-win is a core part of the strategy.

 

Apart from all of these, there is the obvious benefit of better usability. I don’t think that is a make or break thing any more since Enterprise Software vendors are very aware of that and are making a good effort to make their products have better usability.

 

However there are three things that I think will be vital for the success of a Facebook like solution in an Enterprise setting – those are Security, Search and Analytics. Without a strong presence of all the three, I don’t think this will fly.

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