Collaboration Platforms Boost Reach and Productivity, But Create Compliance Headaches

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If your business environment is like most these days, a growing number of your employees are spending more and more cumulative time in Slack (or a different collaboration platform) for team-based internal communications instead of using email. If you are a private sector business, then your marketing department is also using social media channels and apps to reach new customers and to communicate with existing ones a lot more compared to email marketing as well. That same shift to using collaboration platforms more often internally and the growing use of social media to reach and maintain on-going interactive dialogue with the communities they serve is occurring for public sector/government entities as well. It feels like it was not that long ago that emails drove the reactive part of our business days, reading and responding to urgent ones as they popped into our inboxes. Not so lately.

Now, we tend to “catch up” with reading emails every few hours, and it’s these new collaboration platform messages and social media app notifications that get our attention, and immediate responses. These new team-oriented collaboration platforms and social media app-driven channels are shifting the way we communicate electronically and how we work with each other. Let’s take a closer look at both.

In my view, Slack is the originator for the new category of collaboration platforms but they are only one of several platforms that are rapidly gaining traction and competing to be the corporate standard for team-based non-email communications. Other vendors in this emerging space include Microsoft with Microsoft Teams, Facebook with Workplace by Facebook, and Cisco with Cisco Spark. There are more, but these are the ones I have most frequently seen gaining adoption.

In my role as Chief Evangelist at Smarsh, I often speak at conferences for regulated businesses and government entities. Throughout this year, I have been asking the audiences made up of compliance, records management, legal and IT professionals if they are currently using, or planning on using, a collaboration platform like Slack or Workplace by Facebook in their business. Six months ago, only a few hands would go up. Now, nearly the whole room has their hand in the air.

Using Slack as an example, the numbers we are now seeing for its adoption and daily usage backs up what we are experiencing in our work days and my show of hands instant polling results out in the field.

Last month Slack announced that it had passed the 6 million user mark. A year ago, in October 2016, they had 4 million users. The other stat that caught my eye recently is the amount of time these users are active on Slack on weekdays, which is 320 minutes on average according to numbers published by DMR. Given that the amount of hours in a day has not changed, it would be fairly safe to say that those 5 hours plus of activity in Slack have been stolen from time spent in email.

The answer as to why is very simple. Productivity, and the direct impact it is having on the workplace in terms of teams getting a lot more done and much quicker than using email when working together on a common task, goal or initiative. Email was not designed with this use-case in mind and breaks down quickly when trying to keep a group in synch as we answer an older message in a rapidly evolving thread and inadvertently spawn a new thread that complicates things quickly.

Contributing to the productivity factor and being the right tool for the job, these new collaboration platforms feature instant messaging (IM), persistent chat, video/audio calls and online meetings, plus file and document sharing with version control all in one integrated and unified platform to use versus being in and out of separate individual offerings for each all day.

Looking at social media app-driven channels, the business value is also easy to see. Marketing or communicating with the customers and communities that we need to reach and serve in an effective and responsive way is being driven more by social media based initiatives and activities these days because of the results that are being achieved when compared to email. This shift is due in great part to the wide adoption and preference for people to use mobile apps for staying up on what’s important or for being reached in a time-sensitive way. They too are not keeping their eyes on the email inbox as much, but rather the social channels that they are members of.

All of this is great news and the collaboration and social platforms will only mature and become more capable as they add more features, so where’s the downside for regulated businesses and government entities?

As we’ve seen earlier this year, the regulators (FINRA, SEC, etc.) have been very clear in their communication and published guidance that all forms of electronic communications being used for firm business need to be captured, retained and adequately supervised/reviewed for compliance purposes, regardless of the method chosen. Although the guidance was specifically targeted at social media and mobile text messaging, these new collaboration platforms are also subject to the same regulatory compliance requirements.

Just like with social media and text messaging, prohibition and restrictive usage policies are very hard to enforce with confidence knowing that individuals will utilize these forms of communication at times when the needs of the business necessitate it or for other valid reasons, such as increased productivity. No ill intent, but a compliance risk all the same if these messages are outside your compliance perimeter and not being archived and actively supervised alongside all of the other electronic communications channels being used by your firm.

The complicating factor with Slack adoption is that it is happening in a non-prescribed way within firms. Users can download the free Slack application from the web and deploy it as a team in a matter of minutes, and all without the need to ask for any help from IT. This is a big part of the reason that the number of Slack users is growing so rapidly. Slack monetizes on this freemium model later on when the business starts to require more advanced functionality that goes beyond what the free version provides.

This is the latest example of “Shadow IT” and is a very real situation for most firms we talk to these days, So, if you know your employees are using Slack (or another collaboration platform) within your financial services business and you are not actively archiving and supervising it’s use as you would your email or any other allowed channel, you need to be. If you’re not aware or aren’t sure about whether a collaboration platform like Slack is being used in your firm, I am willing to bet it is if you specifically go looking for it and ask your users.

The good news is that comprehensive archive technology has advanced and leading vendors have active relationships with Slack and other collaboration platform vendors to provide archiving connections that directly capture the messages, index, supervise and store them in a search-ready state alongside all other forms of electronic communications being used by the firm. Bottom line here is the goal needs to be achieving compliance and productivity as new technology emerges so you don’t succeed with one at the expense of the other.

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About Author

Mike Pagani is a seasoned IT professional and recognized subject matter expert in the areas of mobility, identity and access management, network security and virtualization. Prior to joining Smarsh in November 2014, Pagani held executive-level corporate and technology leadership/spokesperson roles for Stay-Linked, Quest Software, NComputing, Dell Software and others.