By Lionel Snell, Technology Writer
Based on an interview with David Gurle, Founder and CEO of Symphony Communication Services LLC, this article explains how his latest project promises to make business and personal communication and collaboration more straightforward and manageable than ever before, while meeting the strictest standards of security and compliance in an ever evolving landscape.
Since 2014 fifteen of the world’s leading financial institutions invested in a project to develop a scalable, cloud-based and highly secure collaboration platform that would address complex security and compliance challenges while providing a tool to enhance workflow productivity. The consortium comprised: Bank of America, BlackRock, BNY Mellon, Citadel, Citi, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JP Morgan, Jeffries, Maverick, Morgan Stanley, Nomura, and Wells Fargo.
The resulting company was called Symphony, and the platform would be specifically designed to address the security and compliance challenges in regulated industries, such as financial services, by keeping messages and data secure while facilitating and strengthening in-house compliance.
Some revolutions demand destruction and disorder, others simply happen. By 2012 ICM research estimated that business spent an average of two working days per week on business communication (even more for personal communication) and uses seven to eight different media. People were struggling to keep up with emails, text messages, instant messaging, video conferencing and social networks, with 60% feeling irritated by the need to switch devices while also being concerned about security and information control.
Meanwhile David Gurle, IP communications veteran and visionary, has been the driving force behind what is called “unified messaging”. He defined Microsoft’s Unified Communications strategy, he introduced federated communications with compliance as head of Thomson Reuters Collaboration Services and then ran Skype’s Enterprise Business. Things have been changing as a result of his vision: with Skype and other conferencing solutions it is becoming increasingly easy to use a single interface to make video or voice calls, real-time texting and file sharing at the same time.
This has been a gentle revolution in communications convenience, but sheer usability has highlighted the remaining concerns about security and compliance that Symphony now promises to address. The inspiration for this Symphony came from Perzo, the company David Gurle launched in 2013 to address the proliferation of communication tools and the resulting worries about security. People naturally adapt the way they communicate to suit the audience and the medium – whether it was formal business letters or banter between two friends. The closer the relationship, or the more important the message, the more we want security and dependability. Yet current communication platforms have pressured us into relying on social media that can be accessed by any third party while spreading our memories across too many different communication applications to keep track.
Perzo immediately attracted the attention of the finance industry, where real-time “chat” is a key communications tool. Traders that once crowded the stock exchange floor, using hand signals to attract attention and shout buy/sell messages, now typically sit at their desks before half a dozen screens and maybe twenty or thirty chat windows open at a time. It’s fast and efficient, but poses a regulatory nightmare: if there was any suggestion of insider trading or the leaking of market data, how can one be sure who was listening or how hurried messages might be interpreted? You can open private chat rooms for colleagues, but even the name or existence of that chat room might provide a clue to future market movements and that would undermine compliance.
Financial institutions like that provide a leading-edge example of the basic communication needs faced by all business operations: how to facilitate easy, natural discussion and problem-solving between individuals and teams, while limiting the communication to the right players and keeping a reliable record for later reference while, satisfying regulatory requirements in the extreme case of legal procedures. So those fifteen companies came together to support the development of an ideal communications platform – and Perzo was renamed as Symphony.
While the initial funding would be used on designs and features targeted at the finance industry, the intention all along was to make the platform as open and customizable as possible so that it could eventually serve much bigger enterprise and business markets and be adapted to different industry sectors and regulatory environments.
Think of it this way: after a couple of decades of e-mail usage and experience, what if one had the opportunity to start from scratch and create a new workflow communications system that incorporates all the lessons learnt in that time? This would be the result.
Businesses need the right balance between three potentially conflicting factors:
- Easy, natural communication between individuals and workgroups
- Granular security that can be adapted to any business and regulatory environment
- Strict control over the management and archiving of all communications to meet regulatory requirements and possible legal challenges.
In the first case, Symphony designed a cloud-based platform that integrates work-streams and provides a comprehensive, seamless communications interface that can be tailored to team or individual needs with access on a single screen, or via a choice of mobile or fixed devices. Initially focused on chat as the prime medium of interaction, the system will integrate screen sharing, voice, video and email, as required.
Powerful end-to-end encryption ensures that messages stay secure in the cloud and in transit. In the enterprise version, the encryption keys are generated by secure hardware located on the customer’s premises – this approach ensures that Symphony and its employees are totally unable to decrypt and display customer data. No other financial services platform provides a comparable level of security, as the system was expressly designed to facilitate and enhance customers’ compliance operations and help customers meet regulatory requirements.
An important distinction of Symphony’s “end-to-end” security is that customers retain the ability to archive their employees’ communications by controlling their keys at an organizational level. The key management software also prevents individual users from altering or erasing their messages, so that every chat message can be archived. Being expressly designed to facilitate and enhance compliance, symphony includes an evolving portfolio of added features and tools to ensure customers’ ability to comply fully with changing regulatory requirements.
Public and Enterprise release
Feedback on the solutions’ usefulness for team collaboration has been so positive that it was decided to release Symphony as a free public offering, so anyone can sign up and start building out their teams today. For paying customers, there are enterprise and business solutions and customers can use cloud or on-premises infrastructure for key management. The on-premises version is intended for organizations with over 500 employees. Both solutions incorporate the full compliance and administrative feature set for $15 per user per month.
Since October 2014 the enterprise version has been thoroughly tested and accepted by thousands of users in the finance sector. But the same principle of designed-in flexibility that encourages users to shape their own communications experience is also enabling Symphony itself to evolve rapidly. Being subject to an ongoing bi-weekly development process, Symphony has the potential to meet the specific demands of other critical sectors such as healthcare, government and military users.
Among many new developments there has been the recently announced collaboration with Dow Jones, McGraw Hill Financial and Selerity to give subscribers fast, easy access to premium news content – and this has triggered speculation that Symphony will be taking on the giant Bloomberg with an offering whose basic cost is 120 times less than a Bloomberg screen. All eyes are on Symphony following its clearly very well planned and strategically timed product launch.
Please visit https://symphony.com/ to find out more about Symphony.
A technical communicator to non-specialist audiences for more than two-decades, Lionel Snell is a Cambridge mathematical analyst who enjoys getting to the core of complex, subtle subjects and communicating them in fresh and original ways.
Foxconn chairman says expects “limited impact” from chip shortage on clients
TAIPEI (Reuters) – The chairman of Apple Inc supplier Foxconn said on Saturday he expects his company and its clients will face only “limited impact” from a chip shortage that has rattled the global automotive and semiconductor industries.
“Since most of the customers we serve are large customers, they all have proper precautionary planning,” said Liu Young-way, chairman of the manufacturing conglomerate formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd
“Therefore, the impact on these large customers is there, but limited,” he told reporters.
Liu said he expected the company to do well in the first half of 2021, “especially as the pandemic is easing and demand is still being sustained.”
The global spread of COVID-19 has increased demand for laptops, gaming consoles, and other electronics. This caused chip manufacturers to reallocate capacity away from the automotive sector, which was expecting a steep downturn.
Now, car manufacturers such as Volkswagen AG, General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co have cut output as chip capacity has shrunk.
Counterpoint Research says the shortage has extended to the smartphone sector, with application processors, display driver chips, and power management chips all facing a crunch.
However, the research firm predicts Apple will face a minimal impact, due to its large size and its suppliers’ tendency to prioritise it. Apple is Foxconn’s largest customer.
Foxconn is looking at other areas for growth, including in electric vehicles (EVs), and Liu said their EV development platform MIH now had 736 partner companies participating.
He expected it would have two or three models to show by the fourth quarter, though did not expect EVs to make an obvious contribution to company earnings until 2023.
Liu also said the company was still looking for semiconductor fab purchase opportunities in Southeast Asia after not winning a bid to take over a stake in Malaysia-based 8-inch foundry house Silterra.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Jeanny Kao; Writing by Josh Horwitz; Editing by William Mallard and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)
EU seeks alliance with U.S. on climate change, tech rules
By Sabine Siebold and Kate Abnett
BERLIN (Reuters) – Europe and the United States should join forces in the fight against climate change and agree on a new framework for the digital market, limiting the power of big tech companies, European Union chief executive Ursula von der Leyen said.
“I am sure: A shared transatlantic commitment to a net-zero emissions pathway by 2050 would make climate neutrality a new global benchmark,” the president of the European Commission said in a speech at the virtual Munich Security Conference on Friday.
“Together, we could create a digital economy rulebook that is valid worldwide: a set of rules based on our values, human rights and pluralism, inclusion and the protection of privacy.”
The EU has pledged to cut its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, while President Joe Biden has committed the United States to become a “net zero economy” by 2050.
Scientists say the world must reach net zero emissions by 2050 to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial times and avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.
The hope is that a transatlantic alliance could help persuade large emitters who have yet to commit to this timeline – including China, which is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2060, and India.
“The United States is our natural partner for global leadership on climate change,” von der Leyen said.
She called the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol a turning point for the discussion on the impact social media has on democracies.
“Of course, imposing democratic limits on the uncontrolled power of big tech companies alone will not stop political violence,” von der Leyen said. “But it is an important step.”
She was referring to a draft set of rules unveiled in December which aims to rein in tech companies that control troves of data and online platforms relied on by thousands of companies and millions of Europeans for work and social interactions.
They show the European Commission’s frustration with its antitrust cases against the tech giants, notably Alphabet Inc’s Google, which critics say have not addressed the problem.
But they also risk inflaming tensions with Washington, already irked by Brussels’ attempts to tax U.S. tech firms more.
Von der Leyen said Facebook’s decision on a news blackout on Thursday in response to a forthcoming Australian law requiring it and Google to share revenue from news underscored the importance of a global approach to dealing with tech giants.
(Additional reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Robin Emmott and Nick Macfie; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
Packaged food giants push direct online sales to gauge consumer tastes
By Siddharth Cavale and Nivedita Balu
(Reuters) – Packaged food giants including Kraft Heinz, General Mills and Kellogg are pushing sales of their products to consumers directly via their own online channels, in a quest to gather more data about shoppers’ purchasing habits.
Velveeta-cheese maker Kraft Heinz saw its e-commerce sales double in 2020, now representing more than 5% of its global sales, Chief Executive Miguel Patricio said at the virtual Consumer Analyst Group of New York (CAGNY) conference this week.
The company sells Heinz baked beans and tomato soup by subscription or in bundles directly to consumers on a “Heinz To Home” website in the United Kingdom, Australia and Europe.
Sales on the site are “giving us valuable insights into consumer behavior, enabling us to quickly test and learn from innovations,” Kraft’s head of international business, Rafael de Oliveira, said at the conference.
Kraft would continue to use the site as a channel to generate strong sales in developed markets, he said.
The company also counts sales of its products through marketplaces such as on Amazon.com and Walmart.com as part of its e-commerce sales.
U.S. shoppers spent on average $1,271 buying groceries online last year, 45% more than they did in 2019 as the pandemic spurred shopping online, according to market research firm Earnest Research. In contrast, the average dollars spent in stores rose only about 7% to $3,849.
PepsiCo sells products including Doritos, Quaker oats and Gatorade directly to consumers through two websites, pantryshop.com and snacks.com, both launched in 2020.
Chief Financial Officer Hugh Johnston said that more than 45% of the company’s capital investments over the next few years would be dedicated toward manufacturing capacity, automation, and a “ramping up of investments in our e-commerce channel.”
As major online retailers including Amazon.com and Walmart.com continue to gather valuable data on shoppers, many packaged food manufacturers are keen to gather their own data on shoppers, too.
“COVID (has) simply accelerated our digital growth and has provided us with yet another source of data and insight,” Monica McGurk, chief growth officer at breakfast cereal maker Kellogg Co., told the conference.
Kellogg, producer of Corn Flakes as well as Pringles chips, said on Wednesday it had launched a direct-to-consumer website focused on digestive wellness. The group plans to sell its new Mwell Microbiome Powder for gut health via the site to gather data on customer interest before it launches the product more widely.
E-commerce sales have doubled in the past year and now represent about 8.5% of the group’s $13.77 billion in annual sales, Kellogg said.
Pillsbury dough-maker General Mills also sees the benefits of tracking consumer habits more closely.
“We’re aggressively investing in data and analytics. We are gathering unparalleled insights from the first-party data we collect through our brand websites,” General Mills’ Chief Executive Jeffrey Harmening said at the conference.
On its Bettycrocker.com website, General Mills provides hundreds of recipes using Betty Crocker cake mixes and frosting. The site leads people to the closest store or an online retailer where they can purchase the products, thereby generating data for General Mills on what a particular customer from a certain zip code is buying. The company does not sell the food products directly on its website.
Consumers, however, may have to shell out more if they shop directly from brand websites.
Prices on the two PepsiCo sites, for example, were generally higher than those on Walmart.com or Amazon.com, Reuters checks show. On Walmart.com, for example, a 10 oz pack of Doritos Nacho Cheese was on sale for $2.50 compared to $4.29 on Pepsico’s website.
Kraft Heinz offers tins of soup, beans, pasta and baby food bundled into packs ranging from six to 25 items and costing between 10 and 20 pounds ($14.01-$28.03) on its UK website. It told Reuters the relatively higher prices of items and bundling of packs than on some other online marketplaces was to be able to eke out a margin after including delivery costs.
“Longer term, we see real value in this channel to be an insight and data channel for us,” Jean-Philippe Nier, head of e-commerce for Kraft Heinz’s business in the UK and Ireland, told Reuters. People are more prepared to order directly from manufacturers than they were before. The time is now.”
Graphic: Direct online sales to cross $20 billion in 2021 – https://graphics.reuters.com/PACKAGEDFOODS-ECOMMERCE/rlgpdexngvo/chart.png
($1 = 0.7137 pounds)
(Reporting by Siddharth Cavale and Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Vanessa O’Connell and Susan Fenton)
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