taking a peek
PHOTO: rafa_luque

IPOs come and go, and after the initial flurry of media interest, the only people that really pay attention are the investors. Last year we saw a few big IPOs in the technology world: ride-sharing company Lyft issued its IPO in March, Uber followed suit in May, Slack jumped in with a direct listing in June and video conferencing provider Zoom started trading in April.

While Zoom’s IPO gave the company a $21 billion market cap, the size of the cap indicates that videoconferencing services through the cloud is a technology that is only starting to gain ground.

Growth of Videoconferencing

Research published by Global Market Insights in 2018 predicted the videoconferencing space would exceed $20 billion by 2024. The report noted the current scenario of globalization has witnessed closer relations between countries, regions and districts, a fact which has allowed multinational organizations to grow while enhancing the communication and collaboration frequency between the companies. Corporations are relocating their workplaces to distant locations to take advantage of the supportive regulatory policies and resources in various regions across the globe. 

Zoom highlighted this global growth in its SEC IPO prospectus filing just before it launched its IPO. It also pointed out that other large established companies like Amazon and Facebook have in the past, and may in the future, make investments in video communications tools.

What's Inside Facebook’s Workplace on Portal

Sure enough, Facebook announced a major play in the market in October, which it's currently starting to roll out. The new addition to its video and collaboration space is the Workplace on Portal app. While Workplace users had access to live video and group video chat before the release, the latest move shows the company digging in in the videoconferencing space.

Facebook Portal is a brand of smart displays developed in 2018 by Facebook. The product line consists of four models (Portal, Portal Plus, Portal Mini and Portal TV) that can also provide video chat via Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp for users without a Portal device. The device includes an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered smart camera that automatically zooms and tracks people's movements, which allows people to move and speak freely while remaining in the frame. Smart Sound enhances the voice of the speaker while minimizing unwanted background noise. Workplace on Portal is coming soon to Portal, Portal Mini and Portal Plus. The new app brings the portal video display hardware to the office.

Workplace by Facebook is an enterprise connectivity platform released in October 2016, which features tools like groups, instant messaging and News Feed to enable collaborative work across the enterprise. 

Workplace on Portal was unveiled at the Flow conference, along with other capabilities designed to help workers do their jobs better, such as the ability to send surveys, the option for admins to post "learning content" like best practice guides, and an analytics platform for admins. There will also be gamification elements added like goals, thank you posts and badges.

“Over the past year we’ve been working on ways to serve people across the enterprise, including frontline workers, which make up 80% of the world’s workforce,”  Karandeep Anand, vice president and head of Workplace, said at the time of the launch. “The features we’re announcing today build on this momentum, and we’re making it easier for these employees to do great work by helping them to connect to their organizations through mobile in a secure way."

Related Article: 3 Insider Tips for Launching Workplace by Facebook

The Future of Videoconferencing in the Enterprise

Will this make any difference? According to Gartner, yes. In its Magic Quadrant for Video Conferencing published last September, it pointed out that:

  1. By 2022, 40% of formal meetings will be facilitated by virtual concierges and advanced analytics.
  2. By 2024, remote work and changing workforce demographics will impact enterprise meetings so that only 25% will take place in person, down from 60% today.

And in the context of the Magic Quadrant, Facebook is doing exactly what it should be doing by pulling all these elements together. The research report reads:

“Buyers of meeting solutions are increasingly interested in converged solutions that offer embedded audio, along with video and collaborative capabilities (e.g., screen sharing, virtual meetings etc).

Workstream collaboration applications blend multiple collaboration and communication modalities, such as messaging, content and meetings. They both augment and displace traditional meeting solutions in the enterprise by enabling more fluid execution of non-routine work. Examples of such applications are Cisco Webex Teams, Google Hangouts Chat, Microsoft Teams and Slack, as well as many emerging competitors.”

Related Article: The Evolution of Video Meetings Has Long-Term Effects

Will This Help Workplace By Facebook Pull in Market Share?

So, what is Facebook up to? Jaclyn Monaco of National Positions told CMSWire Facebook is trying to expand into the workplace ecosystem. However, it is not going to happen without some challenges, such as, “going up against the already-established competition occupying this space and breaking the stigma that Facebook is already known for and is used for social networking and social networking alone,” she said.

For example, if a social platform was going to enter this space, it would make more sense for LinkedIn to do so, but LinkedIn is already owned by Microsoft, which is not likely to cannibalize its own product. Even Google's suite of apps has offered the same (or close to the same) set of features that Facebook seems to be introducing. Beyond this, Google's communication tools like chat and videoconferencing are available right from your email.

"So, is there a chance that Facebook can break through and pull market share?" she asked. Possibly. “But they are going to need to show something far more enticing in their demos in order to do so. The one area that they may have the best shot at gaining users is SMBs that want to keep their staff on the same page without needing to learn a completely new system to do so.”

There are issues though. Live videoconferences and messages sent via Portal and Workplace could theoretically contain a lot of sensitive business information, including conversations about the running of the business and any trade secrets that involves. This makes the data that is passed around via Workplace a potentially elevated target for cybercriminals.

Related Article: Slack or Microsoft Teams? Well, That Depends ...

Facebook's Ongoing Trust Issues

“If the data blunders Facebook has made in the past are anything to go by, it is possible that valuable data belonging to businesses that use Workplace could end up being hacked or leaked accidentally. This poses serious questions about the sense of trusting Facebook to handle these important business communications,” said Ray Walsh, a digital privacy expert with ProPrivacy.com.

He added that businesses need to treat the everyday communication performed by their employees with as much security as any other data held by the company. The level of sensitivity of the data that could be contained in those electronic communications is often not even fully understood by the business itself.

Previous concerns over Facebook’s use of human contractors used to help train up Facebook’s speech recognition algorithms inspire concerns over the potential that Portal may be engaging in some level of passive listening. Again, this creates potential concerns over where data is stored and who at Facebook can access it.

“If data is held on servers that can be accessed by human staff, the potential for that data to be mishandled, stolen or leaked, may create substantial problems for businesses that use Portal and Workplace,” he said.

Finally, some concerns exist over Facebook’s control over personal social media accounts and professional accounts held by employees. For people who prefer to keep those two accounts completely separate, the potential for Facebook to create databases that combine data appropriated on the two different platforms rings alarm bells.

It's early days yet for Workplace on Portal and Facebook’s workplace videoconferencing ambitions, but keep in mind that Facebook has, with Workplace, gained considerable traction in the digital workplace. With conferencing, meeting and collaboration a core part of Workplace and the digital workplace, its progress in this space is likely to grow.