Data is the lifeblood of the enterprise. Now that enterprises have pivoted from office-based work to work-from-home models – a pivot that may continue to a large degree even after the Covid-19 epidemic ends – the question of how to protect, secure, and analyze enterprise data is more critical than ever. I met via Microsoft Teams recently with Howard Konopka, the Director of Compliance Advisory Services at Micro Focus, to hear his perspectives and those of the customers with whom he works.
Compliance in the Remote Workforce Era: A Q&A with Howard Konopka
Achmad Chadran: Thanks for sharing your time and ideas, Howard. Before we begin, can you briefly explain your role here at Micro Focus? Specifically, how do you gain access to the thoughts and concerns of Micro Focus compliance archiving customers?
Howard Konopka: You’re very welcome. As a senior compliance subject matter expert, I get the privilege to work directly with our archiving, compliance, and eDiscovery archiving customers in concert with their assigned sales account managers and customer success directors to ensure their needs are met. This means that as conditions evolve, I’m one of the first to understand what these changes are, how these changes impact enterprise operations, and the pressures our customers face in trying to stay on top of the compliance requirements they’re charged with upholding. I of course keep up with industry trends and regulatory requirements but nothing beats voice-of-the-customer feedback.
AC: So let’s start with the big-picture view. This COVID-19 pandemic has really thrown a wrench into the way we all do business, hasn’t it?
HK: That’s putting it mildly. Most experts, like those at the Federal Reserve, now recognize the broad business response to the pandemic will result in lasting business change, like less travel and more digital collaboration, engagement, and telecommuting. These changes require firms subject to various regulations to rethink how they safeguard compliance…like how do they monitor remote employees and how do they archive all the new types of business communications, like Slack, Teams, and Zoom?
AC: And from a legal and regulatory compliance perspective, these challenges we're all facing… did the compliance executives you engage with regularly even imagine any of this a year ago?
HK: Simply put, I don't think anyone saw this coming. Did you? I have current and prospective customers asking the same, poignant questions, like "How will we oversee the work activities and communications of our far-flung employees in a way that’s effective?" Granted, they have several mature collaboration platforms – like Slack and Teams – to choose from. But do they have a strategy and solution for archiving, discovery, and compliance? Are they ready for the increased data volume, channels, and content types we've seen this year and expect to see going forward?
Look, Microsoft found a 72 percent increase in instant messages after the world pivoted to work-from-home. Again, nobody saw this coming. But we're in this together – in our sales process we act as a trusted advisor to address the questions that are most important to our customers.
Sustained Enforcement by Regulatory Agencies
AC: Well what about the impact on the regulatory side? What’s been happening there?
HK: As you know, even before the pandemic, enterprises were facing the twin headaches of relatively new regulations like GDPR and MiFID II as well as the onset of social media. But I don't see any letup by regulators like FINRA. They’re as stringent as ever, and they aren't providing much pandemic-specific guidance.
AC: So what guidance can you and the team offer them?
HK: Well, now more than ever, companies have to be hypervigilant in meeting their dual archiving and compliance obligations with the vast majority of their staffs conducting business at home, sometimes over a VPN, but often outside the corporate firewall.
I'm particularly concerned about less experienced employees who begin to conduct business too casually, especially over social media. Just like the language we use in a corporate email is often less formal, rigorous, and vetted than a printed memo or business letter, the language we use in social media posts or collaboration chats is even more casual than email. Casual communication content and style puts employees at greater risk, for example, of violating supervision policies like MNPI, offense language, and guarantees and assurances, to name a few. So it's harder than ever for managers and mentors to provide effective oversight.
The Limits of Responsible Adult Behavior
AC: It’s interesting…I like to think most enterprise workers are responsible adults who understand the consequences of making inappropriate comments or worse. I take it, however, that you’ve talked to customers about these types of challenges?
HK: Oh absolutely. I spend a lot of time in the fields of social media governance and compliance, for example, helping customers tune their supervision policies and lexicons in response to the "new normal" of social media corporate communications.
AC: You mentioned the oversight challenges have increased with the adoption of collaboration platforms. I know what you mean… I volunteer for a couple of non-profit organizations, so I’m on Zoom all the time. But I also know that Microsoft Teams is huge. Then there’s Slack, Salesforce, and others that combine chat, email, and file sharing. What are some of the specific challenges that you see with these platforms?
HK: Oh, trust me, there are plenty! A lot of executives don't realize the complexity an archiving vendor faces in capturing collaboration content. Is the platform on-prem or SaaS? Does it have formal APIs for compliant content capture? Are there configuration options to consider, large attachments, public vs. private rooms, and chats to consider? So during a data connector implementation, we ask a lot of questions – we want our solution to be based on detailed requirements and not on assumptions on how the customer's platform is configured or used daily.
AC: And what about social media? What are customers talking about on this front with the pivot to work-from-home?
HK: Social media is as important to handle as business collaboration platforms. A guarantee or assurance made by an employee over LinkedIn, Twitter, WeChat, WhatsApp, or Facebook Messenger is no different from one made via corporate email. It carries the same weight, the same legal obligation. The question I ask customers to consider is whether that message or chat has been archived and is therefore subject to supervision and potential future discovery.
Enterprise Resourcefulness and Sticky Change
AC: Makes total sense. And here’s another thing: with employees working remotely, doing the best they can with all these new tools at their disposal, hasn't enterprise data growth accelerated?
HK: Almost exponentially, especially if you're using message count as the volume metric. A lot of communication that would have otherwise occurred fact-to-face at the office or a customer site is now digital, and it's occurring at all levels of an organization. And of course, the adoption of video conference solutions like Teams, GoToMeeting, and Zoom is a big part of the work-from-home model, with the added complexity of employees concurrently chatting and exchanging attachments during a video conference.
AC: It's sort of remarkable how across most industries, employees and the companies they work for are creative in adapting to change… in keeping the lights on for their customers… I'm reminded of one of Bill Gates' latest podcasts in which he talks about the seven ways the world will change post-COVID. The number-one change: remote meetings are the new normal. He compares it to the large-scale entry of women into the workplace during WWII. Again, an example of an unforeseeable pivot that wound up changing the way we work, the way the lines between our work and home lives are increasingly blurred.
But so far we've focused on the theoretical… from a practical standpoint how do enterprises respond effectively to the work-from-home pivot?
HK: Well they can talk to Micro Focus as a first step. We offer the most secure and scalable compliance archive and supervision solutions for the broadest types of eCommunications. Meeting the information governance needs of global enterprises is what we do. And with massive investments we’ve made – and continue to make – in Digital Safe, we’re delivering innovation on a timelier cadence than ever before. So we’re helping our customers deal with the very pandemic-related challenges we've been discussing. And we can help IT, compliance, and legal leadership even if they’re not current customers.
AC: And why should information executives talk to Micro Focus in particular, as opposed to anybody else?
HK: Oh, I would never discourage anyone – customer or non-customer – from talking to archiving and risk management subject matter experts at companies other than Micro Focus. But they should definitely talk to us. Why? Because for one thing, Micro Focus was the first and is still the largest enterprise information archiving vendor with a full complement of social media governance, supervision, and legal eDiscovery solutions. For example, our Supervisor product provides unmatched email and social media surveillance, scales up to tens of thousands of monitored users, and fully integrates with a customer's enterprise directory for an automatic user account and mailbox group membership updates.
Micro Focus also offers an enterprise-grade eDiscovery solution that covers all EDRM case phases: data processing, Early Case Assessment (ECA), Technology-Assisted Review (TAR), review, and production. Micro Focus for eDiscovery played a vital role in some of the world's most complex and demanding litigations, like the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill case, which involved a case team of over a thousand legal analysts and a review of half a billion documents.
AC: Amazing. Thank you for your time, Howard.
HK: It’s been a pleasure, Achmad.
Learn how the innovations engineered into Micro Focus Digital Safe and Supervisor can help your organization optimize today’s distributed workforce environments by attending our free webinar, Managing Compliance in the Post-COVID Era.