We are hardly out of the 2015 gate and the enterprise collaboration market is already experiencing a shakeup.

Facebook released Facebook at Work on Jan. 14, the same week Box resuscitated its delayed IPO event, slated to launch tomorrow. While seemingly unrelated, these two events underscore the continued significance the "consumerization of the enterprise" trend will continue to play in 2015, especially as it relates to collaboration.

The State of Enterprise Collaboration

Several years ago, a new breed of enterprise collaboration tools seemed ready to take the market by storm. These tools, such as Jive Software, offer a wealth of collaboration features including document sharing, chat, discussion boards and unified communication. They were "one stop shop" collaboration tools, aiming to replace an assortment of disconnected technologies like email, shared file drives and the telephone.

While solid in concept, enterprise collaboration tools have largely failed, as companies have experienced just how difficult it has been to change people’s daily work habits. Furthermore, workers quickly realized they would need one tool for connecting with colleagues inside the company and a different one to connect to partners and customers outside the company. So in the end, people have done what they always do: default to what works best … and that continues to be email.

On the other hand, the consumer equivalent of enterprise collaboration tools have taken off spectacularly. Facebook has over a billion monthly users, WhatsApp has 700 million users, while Dropbox and Instagram have over 300 million users each. With such success in the consumer market, it still makes perfect sense to try and leverage the popularity of consumer social tools for getting work done at the office. And that leads directly to last week’s announcements.

The Announcements

The newly-announced Facebook at Work focuses on extending Facebook’s chat and microblogging capabilities to the enterprise, so workers can share information, ask questions and chat with colleagues. The thinking is that since people already use Facebook at home, there won’t be any training or adoption issues when using it at work, even if they are participating in a different network.

Box’s announcement focuses on the company’s efforts to break out of the commoditized enterprise file sync and share market. On the product side, Box has already added differentiation through workflow capabilities that extend file sharing by “creating simple rules for automating common tasks like reviews and approvals and improve how information moves through the business.” On the business side, last week’s announcement describes how Box plans to extend its already huge investments in sales and marketing, to capture a sizable portion of the market before it consolidates.

So how are the two announcements related?

The Enterprise Challenges

In a business setting, people typically work together within the framework of projects. To complete a project, colleagues need to collaborate around documents such as plans, proposals and contracts. But workers also need to confer with each other by asking clarification questions, and by requesting feedback on ideas and suggestions. So, ultimately, work requires the use of both documents and social interaction. Today we use email to do both of these tasks, getting feedback through email messages, and sharing documents as email attachments. We all know how inefficient email can be. Here is where consumer social tools can help.

And that is what makes last week’s announcements so interesting. Box offers enterprise document sharing, while Facebook offers complementary social chat and discussion capabilities. Each offering provides a necessary but insufficient piece of the enterprise collaboration puzzle. So combining the two capabilities makes sense.

Going it alone in the enterprise will be tough for both companies. Box lacks a critical mass of enterprise users. Box trails Microsoft Office 365 significantly in the enterprise document sharing market. And the recent Microsoft/Dropbox strategic partnership now enables Office access to the hundreds of millions of Dropbox users, presenting an additional hurdle to succeed in the enterprise space.

Facebook on the other hand, has a critical massive of users, but has a massive trust issue. It seems far-fetched that organizations will entrust Facebook with potentially-sensitive corporate information. Plus, people will likely be reluctant to use Facebook at Work if it can potentially risk exposing personal information within a work context.

The Solution: FaceBox at Work?

So, how about Facebook and Box combining their two offerings? We could call the combined offering FaceBox at Work -- it would include Box secure document sharing and workflow, with Facebook’s chat and discussion capabilities. Box would benefit from Facebook’s score of users and its war chest of cash to feed its voracious sales and marketing engine, while Facebook would benefit from Box’s file sharing capabilities and enterprise street cred.

While it’s highly unlikely that the two companies have ever considered partnering, a combined solution might be the best option to succeed in the enterprise market. Of course there are a zillion reasons why this wouldn’t work, some related to technology and many related to the two companies themselves. But, however silly this idea might sound, it’s this kind of out of the 'Box' thinking that could help both companies save ‘Face’ … and you can take that kind of advice directly to the bank.

You heard it here first.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Grey World