Get set for a bruising battle in the enterprise social network (ESN) space with Facebook at Work moving a step closer to launch. According to Julien Codorniou, Director, Facebook at Work , “We have been adding one new company every day last few months, and India has seen the fastest adoption rates.”

Globally, 450 companies have adopted Facebook’s workplace collaboration solution that is still in beta mode (expected to launch this year). In India, Yes Bank, Godrej, L&T Infotech, Zomato, Urban Ladder are among those who have got their employees to climb on to the platform.

Sees big opportunity

“Over 60,000 companies are waitlisted,” said Codorniou. According to him, if Facebook has 1.6 billion users, then the opportunity size of the workplace version could be as much as 3 billion. “That’s the global employee numbers,” he explains.

There are two offerings basically – a Facebook at Work app, which has 95 per cent of the features similar to the social network we know, including newsfeed, events, groups, Search, profile, and a Workchat app , which is similar to the Messenger app. It works over mobile and desktop both. Codorniou feels that emails will become irrelevant as workflow moves to Facebook at Work platform.

Subscription model

Facebook at Work has a subscription model - although exact amounts were not revealed, it could be a few dollars per employee. Not surprisingly, Facebook is targeting very large corporations. "The bigger the better," says Codorniou. Royal Bank of Scotland with 100,000 employees is the largest on its rolls so far.

With this product – interestingly built out of London and not out of Menlo Park - FB will now directly take on Slack, HipChat, Yammer (owned by Microsoft, Connections (IBM), Chatter(Salesforce), and a few other specialist vendors. Significantly, this April Tencent in China launched Enterprise WeChat – it is called Qiye Weixin - targeting corporate users for mobile and desktop users. India has seen startups like Flock – from the Directi stable – entering this space too.

Productivity app

Significantly, the global market size for Enterprise Social Network, which is part of the overall enterprise collaboration sofware space, is not all that large. “We estimate current global market size for this segment is about a billion dollars,” says analyst Kashyap Kompella, research director with The Real Story.

So why is FB making a play for this space?

“We are not calling this an enterprise social network – we are calling it a productivity app,” says Codorniou, implying that the play is wider than ESN.

Expanding user base

Kompella, however, feels that this is a push by FB to expand its user base. "Being shut out of China, enterprise is the next frontier for Facebook," says Kompella. If you look at the major consumer tech firms they all have an enterprise story. "

He expands, " Facebook is facing saturation when it comes to its user growth. The next big push for growth in user numbers will happen only when currently under-served population cohorts in emerging markets come online first (this is the subtext for the Free Basics debate) and then sign-up for Facebook . FB is shut out of China by the regulators there, so a potentially large user base is out of bounds," says Kompella.

Stacking up against competition

In a head to head comparison with Microsoft Yammer and other ESN offerings, Facebook at Work may not really be all that differentiated because as Kompella points out, ironically, rivals have incorporated the best features from Facebook (on the consumer side) into their products.

But where Facebook could score is in the familiarity of its application. Literally everyone would have used the general version, driving better user adoption in the enterprise space. Typically, collaboration is not really in the employee DNA and it takes a lot of driving and training to get people to adopt these tools. Also Facebook’s proven strengths of scalability and high performance are of potential appeal to customers, says Kompella.

There are a couple of compelling features such as the translate button on the newsfeed that corporations trialling it are finding useful. Speaking to Businessline, Sang Min Lee, Vice President Marketing and Commercial Coordinator, ClubMed, which has 13,000 employees in more than 40 countries, said that “Club Med decided to launch Facebook at works for its employees as it is user-friendly for all nationalities.”

Says Min Lee, " It increases tenfold the possibilities for pooling ideas and innovation by employees across time zones, languages and platforms."

Also, Ramesh Gopalkrishna, Head of APAC, Facebook@Work is at pains to stress that this application is not just targeted at managers but the entire workforce whether blue collar or white collar.

Its early days yet. For sure there will be many changes before the formal launch. But as Kompella poins out, more than generating a lot of revenues for Facebook, its workplace solution’s value for the Menlo Park giant lies in understanding the nitty gritty of the enterprise market when growth in core business slows, feels Kompella. This is the playbook of the major consumer-tech companies such as Amazon, Apple and Google as well.