Facebook’s Key Competitive Advantage: Purpose-Built Software

Facebook’s prominence in the technology community rivals that of its more established peers. So what’s the CIO’s role at a company that’s already as cutting edge as Facebook? In this recent Wall Street Journal article, Facebook CIO Timothy Campos says ensuring workforce productivity is his paramount concern; everything else is subordinate.
Tim Campos, CIO at Facbook

Tim Campos, CIO at Facebook, believes that purpose-built software is the best way to make Facebook’s internal processes better, more efficient, and faster.

In the interview, Campos dishes on the secret to productivity at the tech giant, and here’s the rub: “Tweaking off-the-shelf software would force [Facebook] to adapt our process to the tools. We want to do the opposite: make our process better, more efficient, faster. Our tools are very purpose-built.” Campos continues: “We focus on automating tasks that happen all of the time.” He details use cases for employee recruiting and on-boarding, supply chain, and even meeting coordination on the expanding Facebook campus.

When you think about a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) platform, the entire business model is designed to be generic enough to solve challenges for as many customers as possible while still being relevant to the end user. This ends up forcing a customer to shoehorn their internal processes into the application, as Campos alludes, or requires a significant amount of customization/configuration. At Entrance, we typically find that our clients need to budget an additional 3-5x whatever licensing costs them for off-the-shelf software to cover implementation and integration, depending on the platform.

By comparison, with a custom application, you can focus on productivity in key business processes that creates a competitive advantage for you with your clients and potential customers. Consider your business. Where are the repetitive, manual, or inefficient bottlenecks? A few common areas:

  • Capital expenditure approvals
  • Paper processes, including printing/scanning
  • Duplicate data entry into multiple systems

Many companies say that their people are their unique competitive advantage. If this is the case, then you should invest in automating the mundane aspects of a knowledge worker’s role, freeing her up to make value-creating decisions. When an employee has an opportunity to increase work visibility and value to their organization, there is a direct correlation to improved work product, results, and retention.

For Facebook, the decision to build vs. buy is clear, but it’s not always the right decision. In my next post, I’ll elaborate a little further on how a company should decide whether it’s a better investment to buy something off the shelf or design purpose-built software.