It is the number one question among internal communicators today. They love the usability and high adoption of Workplace by Facebook but their organisation runs on Microsoft tools. So how do you get the best of both worlds?
We invited Rich Ellis and Angela Evans from Microsoft and Robert Porter from Workplace by Facebook to come to smilelondon and explain the benefits of their respective platforms to the 250 internal communicators in the room (and over 600 watching online). You can see recordings of their interviews below, but you will not be surprised to hear that neither company ceded much ground to the other. After all they are both in the same business of attracting hundreds of thousands of recurring annual subscriptions from the world’s largest enterprises, so why would they co-operate? Yet the two behemoths offer very different advantages so in theory it does not have to be an ‘either-or’ decision as they could co-exist in your organisation.
The problem of course is integration. While Workplace will happily take files out of your OneDrive it will not work with the groups or teams that you have set up in O365. Equally Microsoft Teams will not replicate the groups that your colleagues are using in Workplace to chat and collaborate. Today the technology focus is moving away from tools like SharePoint, Slack, Yammer, etc and focusing on making teams more productive. It is this kind of seamless integration on desktop and mobile that users are seeking and that large companies hope will deliver that all-elusive rise in employee productivity.
Regan Collins (seen here at smilelondon) runs Azuronaut, a tech company that sits in the so-called eco-sphere between the large one-size-fits-all vendors. It falls to companies like his to try and make the different tools talk to each other and play nicely, using what are called APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). These are the bits of code that software companies publish so that other programmers can build their own applications that will pop up in your portal. As you might imagine the large companies guard these APIs very closely. It is like them having an open door to their offices 24/7. They can choose just how far strangers can roam in their building – and the steel shutters can come down at anytime by changing the API configuration.
So it is a delicate operation for companies like Azuronaut to build bespoke integrations, but they are becoming more popular among clients building their digital workplace. Regan explains:
“From my vantage point it’s clear that both Microsoft and Workplace by Facebook can give big benefit to businesses by allowing organisations to use the best of both platforms. Organisations previously tried to meet their needs by using ‘one size fits’ all software solutions. Now — with SaaS implementation times and pricing methodologies — businesses can use multiple on-point cloud technologies, integrate them and reap the benefits. So when I meet with large enterprises to advise them on business transformation and better ways of working, the number one question I get asked is ‘where can I give my employees one place to perform all tasks and one place to access all systems and tools?'”
In the nineties, people sought to answer this question by linking IT systems together using Single Sign On (SSO) and developing purpose-built SharePoint Sites to bring employees together and help them collaborate. Despite heavy investment these solutions never fully worked or felt right because SharePoint wasn’t built with engagement as heart.
“Today, we put forward a very simple but powerful idea,” explains Regan, “Use tools for the purpose they were built for.
“Today, we put forward a very simple but powerful idea,” explains Regan, “Use tools for the purpose they were built for. Office 365 for productivity applications. SharePoint for document storage and management. Workplace by Facebook for engagement.”
One point of entry
Azuronaut have been working on implementing the two platforms through one single connected experience. Workplace becomes the entry point where employees login each morning and engage directly with colleagues. Microsoft’s tools and applications then operate behind the scenes allowing teams to collaborate on documents, store files and use purpose-built applications and workflows.
So if a user is publishing top-down content like the annual CFO announcement or the arrival of a new CEO they can get the appropriate approvals using built-in workflows and sign-off in SharePoint. They can then publish to the entire organisation using Workplace. According to Regan, it’s the same process as a traditional newspaper sharing its articles on consumer Facebook. Facebook becomes the point of likes, comments and engagement just like Workplace.
“What’s more is that forward thinking companies are now starting to move complicated but business critical systems to the background. These systems then operate as the brains behind a more engaging front end of consumer like applications and artificially intelligent chatbots.
“Workplace becomes the point of entry for users and Microsoft operates as the brains and workflow behind the interaction. The power comes from a unique partnership where two technologies work at what they do best and deliver flawless results to an organisation and its employees. Simply put, these two platforms are better together.”
SharePoint in action
One of the highlights of smilelondon was seeing Angela Evans, Office Group Lead at Microsoft, build a SharePoint news centre live in front of the audience. For those used to the hours of earlier versions of the product it was a revelation to see how easy they can configure a site O365. Her demonstration starts 10 minutes into this interview with her and Rich Ellis.
And if you are unfamiliar with Workplace by Facebook then here is Robert Porter, who explains the benefits of the platform one year on from its launch into the enterprise market.