Facebook Portal for Business: The Case for (and Against) Portal in the Office

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There's growing interest in using Facebook Portal for business.

With the release of Facebook Portal in 2018, Facebook tied its social media offerings into a physical video conferencing device that the company hoped would ultimately become the 21st century’s equivalent to the landline telephone. Released as a competitor to portal options such as the Amazon Echo Show, it promised its users an easy to use way to conduct video calling with family and friends, along with an Alexa-like voice assistant. While the timing of the release couldn’t have been worse–the Portal went on the market not long after the news of the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke–its relative affordability and accessibility helped Facebook gain a piece of the smart home hub market last year.

The growing competitiveness of the smart home device market has caught the attention of business users. As more consumers use these devices in the home, a growing number of users are coming to work with expectations around what conferencing and video chatting should look like. Companies are taking notice of the smart hub trend and are starting to consider using options like Facebook Portal for business to ensure that they are providing their employees with a set of digital tools that are familiar and that help increase worker productivity.

Are Smart Hubs and Portals a Trend or a Fad?

The question of whether smart devices are an important trend or a passing fad is one that every business now needs to ask themselves. Consumer-driven tech, from the PalmPilot to social media, will inevitably spill over into the business world. While the tech rarely changes when it moves from the hands of the consumer to the hands of a businessperson, the financial stakes are very different in each case. When the latest hot tech product suddenly grows cold, the risk is minimal for the consumer. A business, on the other hand, will have a much higher financial investment at stake. The savvy business decision maker should examine the pros and cons of each trend, as well as its staying power and integrability into the enterprise.  

Unlike the Alexa for Business service, Facebook Portal is entirely branded as a consumer product.

One example is the Amazon Echo. Amazon, long at the forefront of the smart device industry, recognized the business potential of its Echo product line. This led to its late-2017 announcement that it would be introducing Alexa for Business to meet the growing demand for virtual office assistants and portal-based video conferencing and chatting solutions. As trendsetting as the service was at the time, there were some key areas of concern, such as the need for businesses to develop and customize Alexa to perform general office tasks such as Outlook meeting scheduling. This may have been one reason for its slow adoption, which left early business adopters with a device that most often merely collected dust.

Unlike the Alexa for Business service, Facebook Portal is entirely branded as a consumer product. Yet, as Facebook Portal gains traction among consumers, businesses may find their employees eager to use the same familiar, user-friendly device at work that they use at home. As with any business implementation, however, it’s important to understand the full array of pros and cons that come with the use of Portal in the enterprise.

The Pros of Using Facebook Portal in the Office

While Alexa for Business did not generate the expected hype, it has opened Pandora’s Box when it comes to businesses seeking smart devices to help manage daily work. Audio and video smart devices promise to remove some of the tedious, time-consuming tasks from the plates of office workers. Facebook Portal has shown that it can do this for consumers, but can it provide the same benefits to businesses?

Facebook Portal has an Alexa-like AI component built into it for easing meeting scheduling or answering quick research questions.

The primary selling point of Facebook Portal is to communicate easily via video to other Facebook contacts. Facebook Portal brings with it some convenient functions, including:

  • Advanced camera AI. Facebook implemented next-gen AI functions within its camera. The camera is able to follow the presenter wherever they roam within the range of Facebook Portal. 
  • Flexible presentation options. Presenters are able to take advantage of camera AI by moving naturally around the room, such as to a smart board or whiteboard in the conference room. 
  • Easy digital content sharing. Facebook Portal has the ability to share photos and other digital content, making this a great tool for conducting collaboration meetings without loss of transmission quality. 

From the hardware side of things, the device itself is fairly small in size, making it a potentially portable video conferencing option for conducting off-site sales meetings or training sessions. Its low price point and ability to operate on a wide variety of networks adds to its business appeal. And, of course, Facebook Portal has an Alexa-like AI component built into it for easing meeting scheduling or answering quick research questions, saving your staff some valuable time during day-to-day operations.

The Cons: Why You Should Skip Using Portal for Business 

Facebook and security are rarely mentioned positively in the same sentence, and Facebook Portal only works to further that trend. The glaring enterprise security holes that this product introduces into the business environment may be too much to ignore for most any business. For starters, Facebook Portal cannot be centrally managed or monitored except for third-party network monitoring tools. As the Facebook Portal is not able to join a domain, security management quickly becomes challenging.

International businesses may encounter a blocking of calls made to certain countries.

Facebook Portal also (naturally) requires that users have a Facebook account, or, at the very least, the Facebook Messenger app. This means that employees will either need to use personal Facebook accounts, which will most certainly produce a backlash, or create business accounts, which creates security issues around protecting sensitive business data. 

International businesses may encounter a blocking of calls made to certain countries, such as China, or be forced to jump through regulatory hoops thanks to privacy standards set by treaties like GDPR. This would further limit the reach of Facebook Portal and force you to retain a secondary video conferencing service, unnecessarily complicating your business’ communications landscape.

Facebook Portal Needs to Mature

The promise that Facebook Portal brings to the table is great, thanks to its innovative AI camera and audio technology. While it does do a good job helping friends and family stay in touch with one another and may someday be as commonplace in the home as a landline phone once was, this is far from being the case in a business environment. There is a long list of boxes that must be checked off in order for the Facebook Portal solution to be fully business-ready.

Facebook Portal might perhaps be best suited as a means of internal communications in a small office environment.

Its lack of centralized management and the overall security concerns surrounding the Facebook brand make this a questionable addition to the corporate toolset. The potential is there for Portal to evolve into a great tool, but unfortunately that time has not yet come. In a business environment, Facebook Portal might perhaps be best suited as a means of internal communications in a small office environment or as a sales or training presentation tool. Otherwise, Facebook Portal should be left to excel at what it does best: consumer video communications. 

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