WorkLight App Helps Facebook Work at Work

Although Facebook has become a staple consumer application, businesses have grappled with how best to contend with it internally. Dogged by concerns of employee productivity, security and compliance, many companies have banned employees from using Facebook during the day, both on their work computers and corporate mobile devices.

Business technology vendors, including IBM and Microsoft, have tried to tailor their products to help companies bring their employees social networks in a secure manner. They provide internal social networks with Facebook-like functionality for employees to share expertise and collaborate on key projects. But industry analysts say those efforts have been hampered by poor adoption rates within enterprises. Because they are closed networks, they limit the ability for employees to communicate and share with customers and partners, making the value proposition much lower.

Another company, WorkLight, has taken a third approach that could serve as a compromise between closed social networks and a total Facebook ban. Worklight is essentially a server that companies buy. The server acts as “a bridge” between traditional corporate IT systems and consumer portals like Facebook. Since the information passes through the server, it protects company’s internal systems from attack and data leakage.

Inside Facebook caught up with David Lavenda, WorkLight’s vice president of marketing and product strategy, to find out how companies are enabling their employees to use Facebook to get work done.

IF: Why are companies that you speak with hesitant to let their employees use Facebook? Is it for security concerns?

Lavenda: While Facebook is an attractive venue for enterprise social networking, organizations need to be comfortable with, or find a way to deal with [some critical issues]. One is Safeguarding information on a consumer social network. A social network that is designed for the consumer market may not have the requisite qualifications that companies require of enterprise systems. To thwart possible Web 2.0 security risks, companies need to safeguard systems and users, and ensure employees can safely collaborate.

IF: Why would enterprise social networking work better on Facebook, opposed to buying an internal social network from one of the traditional business software vendors?

Lavenda: Unlike proprietary collaboration solutions, an enterprise social network nested on Facebook would benefit from the service’s popularity to spread among employees. This would obviate the need to aggressively promote new tools across the enterprise, as employees are already on the popular network. However, to ensure even those employees that are not signed on to the popular Facebook can collaborate within the same space, companies can use solutions such as WorkLight to allow them to securely collaborate on Facebook.

IF: We wonder if employees would find it it difficult to mix their personal and professional life on Facebook?

Lavenda: Privacy in a corporate setting — some people are uncomfortable about mixing their personal lives and their professional lives. Unless a clear delineation between the two can be created, people will be apprehensive about “buying in” to the enterprise usage. Again, this is something that WorkLight helps to solve.

IF: Can you explain how Worklight can be used to enable employees to communicate with customers and partners on the social network securely?

Lavenda: The WorkLight Application Platform connects with enterprise systems and applications on the one hand, and extends these applications via a host of consumer Web 2.0 services, such as Facebook on the other. Companies that use WorkLight can offer employees a secure overlay made available much like any other Facebook application.

WorkLight is, in essence, a secure app running within the Facebook window. It leverages the Facebook social graph (and combines it with the corporate directory ala LDAP or some other directory). Employees can use WorkLight to form groups with colleagues, share business insight, news and links, upload documents and diagrams, perform simple business tasks such as time reporting and purchase requisition approval.

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