RECAP: SmarshCONNECT Annual and Disrupted Communications

We just wrapped up a terrific SmarshCONNECT event, bringing together over a hundred of our customers, partners, and outside guest speakers in NYC. Thanks to all for making this year’s event truly memorable by sharing your insights, best practices, and feedback on how we can work together more effectively into the future. Considering that virtually all surveyed attendees indicated that they are either very likely or extremely likely to attend next year’s event, we look forward to making next year even more insightful, productive, and collaborative.

For those that were not able to attend, here are some of the high points and key take-aways:

Over the course of the 2 days, there were several consistent themes and talk tracks. Chief amongst them:

• Demographic changes are impacting firms of all shapes and sizes – reflecting an influx of new employees as well as changing preferences of younger clients. The phrase we heard over and over was “If we don’t support these new communications tools, our competitors might be” – indicating that support of new communications networks is not just an issue of risk, it is a top line issue impacting a firm’s competitive position.

• The journey to Office365 is a long and winding road – as expected, Office365 was a popular topic and raised a number of questions that generated very interesting discussions. “How can you transition content and infrastructure from Skype for Business to Teams?”, “How can you enforce data loss policies within 0365 similar to what you implemented on-premises?”, “When should you complement native O365 capabilities with third parties?”, “How can you best implement a hybrid on-prem and cloud Microsoft environment?” These are just a sample of the topics discussed. Early adopters brought lessons learned, which will be very useful as Smarsh continues to extend and expand the value it will deliver for Microsoft architectures.

• Collaboration tools are breaking email-oriented archiving and review consistent with all of the market acceptance statistics we’ve been reading (e.g. 80% of all large firms have now deployed a business chat or collaborative tool, up from 65% last year1), firms are investing big time in collaborative platforms. Firms are running away from email at a pretty significant clip, trading it in for always-on collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Google Hangouts and Facebook Workplace. Microsoft Teams already has more than 500,000 corporate customers, with Slack, on the verge of going public, not far behind at 100,000 customers and growing fast.

Some investment is being pushed by central IT, while departments continue to pull in their own tools including Slack. While the goal of productivity gain may be shared, the features, functions, access methods, and abilities to interact with each tool are different. The result is a spike in the volume of interactive, multi-modal, and media rich content landing in supervisory processes, which were clearly not designed for this purpose.

• Mobility First is here – our mobility experts have been in front of this subject for a while, and it appears that more firms are acknowledging that their policies, training, and technologies need to catch up to the world of apps, mobile messaging and device-specific communications. Prohibition policies are simply not working, but where do you begin to get an upper hand on today’s mobility first reality? For many at the conference, our Mobility Assessment appeared to be a well suited place to start.

• Must play nicely with others – the conference provided an opportunity to share progress with the openness and extensibility of the Smarsh platform, which received very positive feedback. Integrations with e-discovery analytics tool Brainspace, as well as on-going progress with IBM Surveillance Insight are both demonstrating the ability to leverage archived data within other enterprise applications. This spurred many discussions of other use cases and workflows that clients are looking to feed. What is clear is that firms do recognize the value of cloud applications that can work seamlessly with other systems – in contrast with the closed, first generation hosted email archives.

So, how did we do against the themes we had set out for the event? Here’s a quick rundown:

1. Embracing Transformation – we hit this right out of the gate. Brian Cramer and Greg Vesper highlighted how innovative firms are moving beyond the perception of compliance as solely a cost center. They are using the change in communication patterns of their companies – and the tools required to control those new sources – as an opportunity for top line impact. Information is one of a firm’s most important assets, and tools that enable greater visibility and response into risks, can also provide insight into your customer, their behaviors, and preferences. This point was also raised in our many discussions about the increasingly important role played by advanced analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, where firms are not only looking for opportunities to spot unknown risks, but also can become more effective in knowing your customer (KYC).

2. Mitigating Risk – while this is always a primary focus of our SmarshCONNECT events, the risk discussions brought a couple of new dimensions into focus. First, our guest speakers spoke about information leaks and financial crimes, including insider trading, as examples of where firms should be thinking not only about evaluating static compliance rules, but also examining the firm’s “culture of compliance” to determine where risks might exist. Leaks also illustrate that compliance controls should not only consider users bound by regulation, but also senior level employees – and include their activity on social media platforms.

In our RegTech panel we delved further into how technology is impacting compliance processes today, from the perspectives of firms and regulators. Our panelists agreed that firms are increasingly struggling with the volume and variety of communications interwoven with compliance processes, which is driving more teams to turn toward advanced analytics and surveillance applications to help ease the burden. The audience agreed – in fact, our live polling indicated that 80% of attendees believed that advanced technologies are either a top priority for their firms or are viewed to hold tremendous potential. Panelists also noted the significance of the re-casting of the FINRA Exam Letter to now focus on risk monitoring – and that regulators will be emphasizing the inspection of firm practices in identifying and mitigating risk. As former FINRA CTO Marty Colburn noted “This should not be a surprise as FINRA and the SEC have both been utilizing advanced surveillance technology for years. They expect that firms will be making use of the same approaches to complement their supervisory processes.”

Later in the day, our Supervisory break-out sessions went even further, with participants leading lively discussions on common supervisory challenges and best practices for dealing with today’s communications volume and variety. Key take-away: you can’t effectively manage today’s communications with technologies designed 10-15 years ago. As a result, firms are actively updating policies, investigating technologies to address today’s interactive and collaborative content sources, and exploring how surveillance technologies can complement existing supervisory processes (yes, superveillance!…).

3. Enabling Productivity – This topic was the subject of our other two afternoon panels focused on collaboration and mobility. As noted earlier, mobility assessments were a popular topic to help firms address the realities of today’s chat-obsessed workers and the new mobile applications being brought to the table by newer clients on what seems to be a daily basis. In the area of collaboration, key take-aways are that compliance, legal, and IT teams appear to be sharing this as a top priority that must be addressed now as firms are pressured for support for an increasingly complex variety of tools including Zoom and other rich media applications. The value of 3rd party applications to help clients with this new breed of applications has never been clearer.

Finally, standing squarely between attendees and the amazing assortment of shrimp and other cocktails, our product team capped off the event with a review of a few key areas of product investment, including the enablement of DLP controls with Microsoft Teams, our on-going work to leverage standards in as part of our multi-cloud strategy, and demonstrations of the power of Smarsh extensibility by showcasing our work with Brainspace.

An outstanding event, thanks again to the collaboration and contributions from our customers, our partners, and guest speakers Preet Bharara and Michelle Caruso-Cabrera. We look forward to continuing the dialog in our upcoming series of regional SmarshCONNECT events in a city near you. Stay tuned for more details.


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Robert Cruz

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