First came communication platform adoption. Now it’s time for strategy

Shadow IT sneaks into businesses because employees find tools they like. Employees like work tools that mirror the consumer applications they love. Employers don’t always sanction those beloved apps.

The endless replication of consumer-to-workplace software as a service (SaaS) offerings inspired Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Workplace by Facebook. These communication vendors are catering to two pools of customers: consumer and business. 

CIOs are charged with creating a user strategy for hastily adopted communication tools after the typical phases of tool adoption — security vetting, implementation, user training — were uprooted in March.

Sometimes users’ abilities are taken for granted. The classic example is the iPhone, Curtis Peterson, SVP of Operations at RingCentral, told CIO Dive. It’s “one of the most complicated devices on the planet with no user manual. And I think that’s along the lines of the new model” of communication platforms. 

Between strategy and employee demand, CIOs are confronted with a new challenge: preserving employee well-being. 

Historically “that doesn’t sound like a CIO role,” but CIOs are picking the tools employees spend eight hours of their life on every day, according to Peterson. “You’re not in the office, you’re not hearing that feedback directly anymore. I think this is a tsunami coming our direction.” 

CIOs will have to consider personal employee workspaces like never before: 

  • When stay-at-home orders loosen, employees will get to choose where and how they work
  • The sustainability of a good work-from-home environment
  • Tools and solutions the CIO has to extend to employees’ homes, including desks
  • What questions are appropriate for CIOs to ask, such as where they live

“These are big boulders in the way and technologies in the middle of them become either part of the problem or part of the solution,” said Peterson. 

CISOs take on communication

CIOs should expect the tools to evolve with the workforce or with likely changes in the office environment after COVID-19’s infection rates decline. While some offices will maintain 100% remote work, others may stagger schedules, or offices will adopt a hybrid model for working on premise and at home. 

The tools will have to tie directly to a business’ individual processes, workflows and how they engage with their customer base.

All of these factors tie into the underlying operations of the platforms because if a business is sharing internal processes over messaging and video platforms, vendors that “hold data hostage,” will be questioned, according to Peterson. Customers want to know what could happen to meeting transcriptions. 

An evaluation by Consumer Reports found that major players in the video conferencing space, including Cisco, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts, do some degree of transcript retention.

 Video conferencing in particular could jeopardize “verbal sensitive information,” Jean-Marc Chanoine, global head of Strategic Accounts at Templafy, told CIO Dive. “People tend to be a little more freewheeling with what they say as compared to what they write.” 

March highlighted how vendors, businesses and employees treat communication security and where the indifference was. 

“It’s like having a doorman at the door of your apartment building or not having one,” Lenley Hensarling, chief strategy officer of Aerospike, told CIO Dive. Overt security around user privacy is where communication platforms are heading. Similar to shared responsibility models with cloud providers, businesses need to know where their security ends and the vendor’s begins. 

Otherwise, the result is icing out vendors altogether. Hensarling had customers “outlaw” Zoom following March. The fear of Zoom-bombing swayed potential Zoom customers to competitors because IT had already “vetted those products for security and privacy.” 

CISOs overseeing a large workforce are doing their due diligence before adopting communication platforms. “They have a new set of questions and they’re going a little bit deeper,” said Peterson. 

Even CEOs are interested in third-party analysis of communication products. “People are going to start analyzing those budgets and seeing how much software we are going to need to keep up with what’s happening today,” said Chanoine. “Everybody’s looking.”

C-suite officials want to make sure that vendors aren’t “just saying ‘you’re good,’ but you’ve got somebody else looking at your data,” he said. Instead of taking the word of the vendor, third-party validations will increase. 

“But the twist is that during the initial throes of the pandemic, none of this mattered,” said Peterson. The questions were more so geared toward “how soon can you get me on board?” 

Now the long-term strategies of communication solutions are ready for evaluation. Businesses are assessing: 

  • The security footprint of the tool
  • Ease of use
  • Required employee training

In roundtable discussions with CIOs, Peterson said the overall feedback has been “surprising” at how well rapidly-adopted communications tools have performed.

Communication platforms were “probably item No. 60 in their mind and it dropped into the top five,” said Peterson. “We [are] really focused on what a CISO would want to see.”