Will COVID-19 be a catalyst for the digital transformation of enterprise communications?

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Patrick Joggerst, CMO and EVP Business Development at Ribbon Communications, looks at how the current crisis may transform the way businesses communicate.

The Covid-19 pandemic is affecting people and industries around the world at an unprecedented velocity. While this situation is unprecedented and scary, we are seeing touching acts of kindness and a determination to keep going.

This is particularly true in our industry of telecommunications, which is fundamental to keeping society online and informed, as well as ensuring critical aspects of the economy can continue to function. For the majority of us who are currently not sick, maintaining our productivity at work in the face of this adversity is critical. It will support the economy both now and as things recover, and it will also help us to keep morale high during this period of prolonged isolation from our regular day-to-day life.

Countries around the world are now thinking about how to safely restart their economies, and telecommunications has a massive role to play. Businesses which had not been used to having remote employees have suddenly turned to our systems of communication and connectivity. We expect that many gains in comfort with these tools will be made soon, and smart providers are already seeing asking how they can  improve on what exists currently. Achieving this when there is so much uncertainty in the world will not be easy, but we are already seeing changes that will have a tremendous impact both now and in the future.

One obvious change, driven by the huge number of people now working from home or remotely, is an increase in awareness of the crucial role that communications technology can play in keeping employees engaged, customers served, and businesses running. Many businesses are now realising that they already have a solution that enables employees to seamlessly switch on and do their job wherever they have an internet connection. Others are quickly playing catch up. As a result, usage of platforms such as Microsoft Teams has risen rapidly in the effort to get as much the global workforce as possible online.

This shift in attitudes is especially apparent in the events industry – particularly in the tech and telecoms sectors – where there are questions around the future of major tech conferences in light of the cancellation of this year’s Mobile World Congress and many others. The cancellation of mass gatherings and face-to-face meetings is already forcing companies to ask whether we need to practice what we preach – ourselves included – and make significantly better use of the digital technologies that we produce.

We are realising that, at present, too many companies have no function to set up their employees from home, and those that do have too many different tools for communicating internally and with their customers. Be it email, chat or a video conference bridge, presently these tools are rarely connected through one, internet-based platform. The problem with this is that it makes communication clunky and it puts users off when things go wrong, thus preventing them from making the most of the technology at their disposal. With so many different applications being used by employees – which means numerous passwords, or in many cases the same password used many times – this also poses a significant security risk.

This need not be the case. Among the gamut of real-time communications technologies available to business in the 21st century – unified communications and Communications Platform-as-a-Service to name a few – there is the option connect all of the many tools that we currently use for communications and to organise them within one, centralised platform. This facility enables companies to embed real-time contextual communications capabilities, such as voice, video and chat, directly into their applications and websites, meaning a more seamless experience when interacting both internally and externally. This technology ensures that communication and the sharing of information can take place across multiple mediums wherever you are in the world with an internet connection.

This is not new technology, but right now we are seeing a catalysation of uptake in digital transformation of communications across many businesses – largely in the professional services sectors – as they are forced to find workarounds to stay online during the Covid-19 crisis. In ordinary times, these companies may not have invested in such technologies and while the catalyst for this investment is tremendously sad, we do believe that this shift to digital will have a tremendous and lasting benefit to business globally. When we emerge from this crisis, many businesses can and will be better for it, and that is something we can hold onto over the coming weeks.

 

Patrick Joggerst is the Chief Marketing Officer and Executive Vice President of Business Development for Ribbon Communications, a secure real time communications company. Previously, Patrick was EVP of Global Sales & Marketing for GENBAND. He has an accomplished career in communications spanning three decades, having managed sales and marketing organisations for both telecommunications service providers and technology suppliers. Prior to GENBAND, Patrick served as Vice President of Global Sales for BroadSoft. Patrick is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

EE feels the sharp-end of the opt-in stick

EE is the latest firm to feel the rising wrath of the Information Commissioner’s Office as it is forced to cough up £100,000 for opt-in violations during 2018.

The messages, which were sent back in early 2018, encouraged customers to use a new feature but also to suggest device upgrades. EE claimed the communications were sent as ‘service messages’, but due to the presence of directing marketing, fell afoul of the guidance on electronic marketing put forward by the ICO.

“These were marketing messages which promoted the company’s products and services,” said Andy White, ICO Director of Investigations. “The direct marketing guidance is clear: if a message that contains customer service information also includes promotional material to buy extra products for services, it is no longer a service message and electronic marketing rules apply.

“EE Limited were aware of the law and should have known that they needed customers’ consent to send them in line with the direct marketing rules. Companies should be aware that texts and emails providing service information which also include a marketing or promotional element must comply with the relevant legislation or could face a fine up to £500,000.”

EE might feel a little bit hard-done by here, though it is a pretty clear violation of the rules.

As these messages contained prompts to earn EE a few extra quid each month, they clearly fall into the marketing category. EE would have to secured opt-in from these customers in the past, or in the case of ‘soft opt-in’, existing customers would have had to buy relevant products and given the opportunity to opt-out.

In this instance, the ICO accepted EE had not knowingly broken the rules, though as it did intentionally send out the emails it did not escape a fine. A second-batch of messages were sent out to those who didn’t engage with the first, which probably didn’t help the EE case.

Although this is a relatively minor fine, we expect to see a lot more of these investigations over the coming months. Rules around privacy and data protection are being toughened up, and the regulators need to be seen enforcing them. This fine might not be significant when you compare it to total revenues at the BT Group, but it is symbolic; we expect a few more of these ‘gestures’ sooner rather than later.

Telegram faces ban in Russia

Messaging app Telegram is on the ropes in Russia after the state communications watchdog said it filed a lawsuit to limit access after it refused security services access to its users’ secret messages.

According to Reuters, Russia’s FSB Federal Security service had requested information hidden behind the app’s encryption software, but was refused. Citing respect for users privacy, Telegram refused access for the intelligence services who were reportedly following leads of terrorist activity, and now faces being banned in the country.

Telegram is currently listed as the ninth most popular messaging app worldwide, roughly 200 million users, using software which it claims is more secure than mass market applications such as WhatsApp and Line. The team claim to support two layers of secure encryption, which is based on 256-bit symmetric AES encryption, 2048-bit RSA encryption, and Diffie–Hellman secure key exchange.

While the normal chat groups are pretty secure, Telegram states the secret chats feature uses end-to-end encryption, leave no trace on its servers, support self-destructing messages and don’t allow forwarding. On top of this, secret chats are not part of the Telegram cloud and can only be accessed on their devices of origin. In other words, Telegram is pretty confident in its security, so confident it have a £300,000 prize set aside for anyone who can prove they can crack the encryption.

The Russian watchdog, Roskomnadzor, claims that by refusing to offer the information to security services, it is not complying with its legal obligations as an ‘organizer of information distribution’. Since passing new legislation in 2016 which forces messenger services to provide authorities with a backdoor into encryption, Russia has been clamping down heavily on online communications. It’s already battled with Instagram and YouTube earlier this year over videos uploaded by political activist Alexei Anatolievich, while Twitter and Facebook have agreed to host user data locally to comply with encryption laws. Telegram has refused to do so to date.

Should the Russian government be successful, it will force ISPs to block Telegram inside the nation, in a similar manner to what has been done in Iran over the last 12 months. That said, in Iran has been a relatively simple process to navigate around the hurdles using a VPN.

Such threats might make some of the internet giants tremble, but it does not seem to worry CEO Pavel Durov who has long stood by the idea of privacy. While it is certainly not uncommon for CEOs to preach about the best interests of the user, few applications can boast the same depth of security.

While this will certainly be of interest to users in the country and worldwide, investors will also be watching closely as Telegram is also undertaking the world’s biggest initial coin offering, with pre-sales reaching £1.7 billion already. Such attention from the Russian government might have a way of making investors nervous.