RBS Embraces Facebook at Work: My Reflections and Questions, and the Challenge Ahead

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Facebook announced Facebook at Work earlier this year, a business version of its service for use by organizations. In October the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) announced they were rolling it out wall-to-wall. In their press release, RBS states:

Facebook At Work will look and feel similar to the Facebook that people use every day and employees will be able to use all of the same features, allowing them to post photos, create groups and events, update their work profiles, and send private messages to colleagues.


RBS has already piloted Facebook At Work and quickly found that staff were able to work much more efficiently together, answer customer questions faster, update other colleagues on their work in a much more engaging way and source a far wider range of ideas for on-going projects. Given how many people already use Facebook in their every day lives, it was picked up quickly by those on the pilot, with minimal training needed.

Nice. But. In terms of actual current usage, this article from late November says that “over 500 employees are currently using Facebook at Work every day” at RBS, and later in the same article it says that “90% of employees who tried Facebook at Work remain active on a monthly basis.” In other words, RBS is reporting the adoption and active usage figures from a very small proportion of its employee base (“over 500” out of 100,000 employees), and you could argue that the initial users of the service will be more likely to use it than the later groups of employees who will be invited to join. If that’s the case (and it normally always is the case), then the 90% figure is going to drop and drop drastically as RBS moves through its phased rollout approach (30,000 by end March 2016, and 100,000 by end 2016 according to RBS).

There’s one major complaint I have about the announcement and coverage to date, and that’s the near total failure to mention that RBS already has an in-house business social site for all of its employees. IBM Connections has been a staple at RBS since at least 2011, and IBM Connections gives all of the functionalities and capabilities that RBS is looking to Facebook at Work for. It gives a way of moving beyond email. It allows for the swapping of information and communicating with colleagues, etc. RBS has had this for years. In terms of Facebook at Work, Kevin Hanley at RBS says:

… Facebook [at Work] lets us communicate, discuss and solve problems that other solutions, such as email, simply can’t …. We love the fact that Facebook at Work gives you the ability to opt-in to forums and groups you want to be part of rather than being on the receiving end of email distribution lists that you want to opt out of.”

Yeah, okay … but the current tool already deployed at RBS already gives all of this.

For example, see this case study from Avnet which is no longer available on the Avnet web site, but can be accessed through the Google cache. It talks about the use of IBM Connections at RBS, and uses the following language to describe what was going on at the time:

– it’s an “internal collaboration service to encourage innovation and cultural change.”
– sometime during 2012 the “user community has increased from 6,000 to over 36,000 users, plus a further 70,000 profiles have read-only access.”
– there’s a direct quote from George Dyball, who is noted as the Operations and Development Manager for Collaboration at RBS. George says that IBM Connections “was eventually made available to all employees throughout RBS around the globe.” (LinkedIn still lists George as being the Collaboration Manager at RBS, so there’s clearly some continuity from earlier times.)

So my point is that it would appear that something went kaboom with IBM Connections at RBS, RBS is now rolling out another tool with the same kinds of capabilities … but I don’t understand from the existing coverage how the critical issues around adoption and effective use are going to be any different with Facebook at Work.

In other words, good on RBS for trying Facebook at Work, good on Facebook for getting such a large banking client to go on record for saying they’ll roll out Facebook at Work to the entire employee base (strategic client accounts move mountains and influence many others to follow suit; I get that), but I see a big red flag around adoption and usage over the next 18 months with Facebook at Work as it is made available to the rest of the organization if the question of why to use Facebook at Work isn’t addressed. As the Facebook at Work person at RBS said, the how to use is easy; it’s the same as Facebook at home. But the why is the big issue – and is always the big issue – and unless RBS can internally deal with that question better than they apparently did with IBM Connections, I see another switch to the next cool platform in 2017 or 2018. From an adoption point of view, it’s not the how that’s the critical challenge, it’s the why.

I can see one reason why RBS would dump IBM Connections and go with Facebook at Work, and the Financial Times makes reference to it a couple of times in its coverage: so that RBS can “offer banking services to the public” through Facebook. Having a single / combined / coherent platform that is familiar internally through Facebook at Work and globally accessible to any customer through Facebook at home is a great story. There would be no separation of action between the way to use the internal version of Facebook and the external one. It could very well be that this is the strategic vision behind going with Facebook at Work.

Interesting times …

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