Unified communication and collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams are transforming the way millions of people work every day. As unified communications adoption continues to grow, and as more regulated employees remain at home, financial services organizations (FSOs) need a reliable omni-channel recording solution to stay compliant with global regulations.
In this Q&A blog, Peter Woodhams (Technical Specialist, MS Teams, Microsoft) and Chad Billing (Solutions Consultant, NICE) talk about trends in the marketplace, how Microsoft Teams is empowering a new way of working, and special considerations for regulated firms.
We’re in an unprecedented situation today with more employees working from home. From the standpoint of Microsoft Teams customers and communications trends in general, what types of impacts are you seeing?
Peter: We’ve all experienced significant changes over the last few months. From our standpoint, we’ve witnessed a real acceleration of digital transformation in a very short period of time. Anecdotally, customers have been reviewing projects and plans that were on a six to nine month timescale, and fast-tracking them to six weeks.
In terms of actual usage of Microsoft Teams, we’ve seen monumental growth in daily minutes spent in Teams meetings. For example, in the four-day period from March 12th to March 16th daily minutes grew from 560 million to 900 million, and by the end of March to 2.7 billion minutes spent in Teams meetings. That number has since nearly doubled again to 5 billion minutes.
Similarly we’re seeing daily users grow as well. Back in March, we had around 44 million daily active users in Teams. That has now accelerated to over 75 million daily active users, which is phenomenal.
More meetings than ever are taking place and with participants turning on video, meetings are interactive, engaging and inclusive. We are seeing an increase in video being used during meetings and that really helps in terms of promoting a connected collaborative meeting experience. Teams users are engaging in fully collaborative calls, where features such as application sharing and screensharing are frequently used.
How is Microsoft Teams empowering a new way of working?
Peter: Microsoft Teams is the hub for teamwork. It incorporates a meeting and calling experience, the ability to chat and collaborate with colleagues and customers, and of course integrates with a wide range of applications, workflows and bots -- all of which are key pillars within the Teams platform.
All of this capability can be achieved within Teams, at the same time, enabling users to create, read, share, and co-author content within a single pane of glass, which really does bring a very rich collaboration experience to an organization. In the current climate where many of us are working remotely, the ability to perform all of these interactions and tasks in a single interface is essential and Teams is driving this.
Your working day may start off with a one-to-one chat with a colleague, a chat within a channel with a wider community or with somebody external to the organization. As you are having a conversation on chat, you may then decide that you need to now escalate it to a voice call; Teams seamlessly elevates the chat experience to a call. Throughout the day you will need to contact others and this may be done through federation or even through leveraging the enterprise voice and calling capability within Teams.
A Teams user can also bring other people into the experience through a Teams meeting. At this stage, everyone could be sharing video, audio, screens, and coauthoring content. As part of that meeting experience, Teams will also create a transcript of that meeting that attendees can extract and play back later on for reference.
As an all-in-one chat, collaboration, calling and meetings platform, Teams provides a very rich experience -- not just for internal employees, but for external users, federated users and guests as well.
Even post pandemic, (when that does happen), there will likely be an expectation from most managers and employees to continue with flexible working and enable employees to continue to work from home.
Teams sounds like a really great platform for communication and collaboration, but are there any special considerations for regulated firms?
Chad: Those who know me, know that I’m a huge Team’s advocate. But for regulated FSOs, in order to stay compliant from a capture standpoint, it’s important for firms to ask ’what best practices should they be adopting when moving to a unified communications platform?’
As a unified communications platform, Teams provides far more than just enterprise voice. It gives regulated users the opportunity to collaborate across a wide range of modalities - video, screen-sharing, collaborating on documents together, even IM and chat messaging. All of these modalities need to be addressed through a robust and compliant capture mechanism.
Alongside this, there are other critical elements firms should consider as well. For example, how will compliance officers be able to share these recorded communications with regulators? Sharing needs to be quick, it needs to be accurate and it needs to be user friendly. And most importantly, it needs to be available when compliance needs that to happen.
One question to ask is can the capture solution handle long-term litigation holds? Firms need to also make sure that any regulatory policies, any retention rules can be applied to any modality of communication that’s captured and maintained by the system.
Ultimately, how can one prove the recording system is working? How can a firm make sure it is assuring compliance, trading accurately and representing its organization well in the marketplace?
If you’re a regulated firm, you want to make sure you’re taking advantage of all the benefits that Microsoft Teams provides, but at the same time staying compliant.
Why should I consider the NICE recording solution instead of just relying on the recording function embedded in Microsoft Teams?
Chad: There are a couple of different reasons why regulated firms should consider a third party recording solution like NICE. One of the biggest reasons is around policy. Various regulations require regulated employee communications to be recorded, regardless of their modality, and a business can experience different regulations in different regions. Firms need to be assured that any communications that are occurring are automatically being recorded. In a regulated environment, where recording is mandated, you can’t rely on an employee to click a record button at the start of a conversation. And although it’s a secondary concern, doing so would also disrupt the seamless Teams’ user experience.
Another big consideration is what happens after the recording finishes. Recording the communication is only the first piece of the puzzle. There are a lot of reasons why a firm might need to find and replay recordings, or do things with them after the fact. For example, what happens if a firm needs to go into litigation -- can it put necessary calls, chats, IMs, etc. on litigation hold? How does the compliance analyst export them? What level of audit control does the capture solution provide? Can the firm securely manage and protect the data?
Recording resiliency is also key for regulated markets. 2N is very much the industry standard now and NICE has taken Teams recording to that same level of redundancy and resilient capture.
At the end of the day, the reason regulated firms need a purpose-built, third party compliance recording solution is because that’s exactly what it was designed to do -- to help the firm stay compliant in the first place.
I understand you can record Teams Communications, but what about other NICE products? Can we surveil those communications as well?
Chad: NICE is an incredible organization with so many powerful tools for various businesses and industries. There’s an element here of R&D association between these divisions to ensure native interoperability among solutions. Let me give you an example. One of the big things that we’ve come to realize is that it’s not just about how we record Teams communications, but how we are able to surveil them as well.
When firms use disjointed solutions, it can be difficult to get what’s captured in the recorder into the surveillance tool itself. A workaround to this is bulk export, but the problem with bulk export, in my view, is that you’re kind of undoing a really important part of the capture process -- and that’s the encryption. If you’ve got two systems trying to work with each other, the secondary system needs to be able to ingest and normalize that communications data.
Because our communications surveillance solution is natively integrated to our Teams capture platform, it’s able to automatically ingest, normalize and analyze the data without manual workarounds.
Microsoft Teams is a cloud-based solution -- what are the options for deploying NICE Teams Recording in the cloud?
Chad: Of course, Microsoft Teams is purely cloud-based and cloud deployment is the direction in which the industry is heading.
But from a capture standpoint, is every business going to be ready for that day one? I think not. I think a lot of our customers, especially in the financial services realm, are looking to us and saying, ’how are all of the standards, all of the business as usual activities, all of the compliance assurance features and functions and processes that are now supported by our legacy solutions going to be held accountable when we move to the cloud? How do we make sure that the progression from on premise to cloud can be done in a very risk-adverse manner?’
The good news is that the compliance capture products that NICE provides are fully customizable based on each business’s appetite for risk. Whether you want the record on-prem, in the cloud, we can work out a phased risk-adverse migration by leveraging an element of hybrid connectivity into the NICE cloud.
So it doesn’t have to be a big bang approach. Especially in the larger deployments, we can take a very conservative phased approach to help firms migrate from traditional legacy technology into the cloud, in a compliant, risk proof manner.
We also don’t limit our customers to the types of technology that they can use. We’re very happy to provide a compliant archive, but if a client wants to bring their own archive, that’s fine too. Not every firm wants one vendor for all of its cloud technologies.
If a firm is undertaking a technology refresh for the first time in a very long time, and moving away from a traditional on premise into a cloud type of solution, they may not know what the pitfalls are -- so firms also look to us to provide that knowledge, insights and answers to questions. We have a fantastic cloud solution, but we’ve also got the experience and know-how to help firms migrate to the cloud.
We’ve talked a lot about current unified communications capabilities. What do you see going forward from the standpoint of new Teams enhancements on the horizon?
Peter: There are many exciting features coming to Teams over the coming months, we’ve recently released live captions with speaker attribution so the name of the speaker will be attributed to what is being discussed. That point in time captioning is really important for accessibility, so that attendees are able to read the captions, as well as hear what is being discussed in the meeting.
As we move forward, another piece of functionality that we’ll be releasing within Teams is to bring transcription into the chat window while the meeting is taking place. So if you didn’t see the captions at that specific point in time, then you have that continuous thread of the meeting transcript to go back and review. It will give attendees the ability to scroll backwards and forwards throughout that transcript while the meeting is in progress. As part of the meetings experience, breakout rooms will be also coming to Teams very soon, enabling attendees to be assigned to smaller meetings and then be brought back to the main meeting.
Speaking of meetings and attendees, previously we’ve been supporting up to 250 attendees in a meeting, and we recently scaled that to 300. Coming soon, we’ll be increasing that to 1,000 users in a Teams meeting, and scaling beyond that to provide a 20,000 user capacity for large overflow meetings.
As we bring all of these capabilities to market, being able to capture and record all of these aspects in regulated environments will be really important.