Will Microsoft Become Facebook for the Enterprise?

The nation’s fourth largest bank will roll out a social networking service for 110,000 employees over the next several months, giving workers a sophisticated knowledge-management platform that combines the user-friendly approach of the popular Facebook service with broad integration into Wachovia Corp.’s business applications.

The vendor for the big project isn’t one of the many contenders such as Visible Path, SelectMinds and Leverage Software in the burgeoning enterprise social-net market, or the ballyhooed Facebook itself. It’s Microsoft, which offers easy interconnection with other applications via its Office SharePoint Server product. Integration into the daily routine of business was a difference-maker in choosing the software. “Microsoft has a relatively rich technology offering, with natural integration across different product sets,” says Pete Fields, Wachovia’s director of eBusiness for employees. “Desktop and productivity tools are still so Microsoft-centric that it made sense.”

Wachovia is testing its social network in what Fields calls a “proof-of-business-value environment.” The Charlotte, N.C.-based bank, with $720 billion in assets, plans to introduce the social network across three divisions later this year and to the rest of the company by early 2008. Features include search, presence awareness and information sharing on a variety of business topics, along with access to employee-written blogs, wikis and an encyclopedia of all things Wachovia that some users within the bank nicknamed, inevitably, the Wachipedia. “Warm and fuzzyish” aspects are in the mix, too, Fields says. Users can upload pictures of themselves–and not just those hated corporate ID mug shots, either–and community development is expected to be a primary benefit of the system.

The network should also help Wachovia attract new talent as well. “A bright 26-year-old MBA will be seeing the tools and comparing them to what they use in own home, and they compare well,” Fields says. He’s referring to Facebook, of course, an arbiter of Web cred that big companies are eager to embrace even without using the service.

Facebook itself is not marketing its service to companies as a tool for knowledge management or other business functions or offering customized versions to corporations. Fields says he finds that lack of enterprise initiative puzzling for a company that commands such mindshare in a hot new field, but he’s satisfied that the Microsoft alternative is right for the big bank.

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