Today, we often take for granted the use of digital communications in general, and email in particular. Most of the systems currently in place are based on what we knew about technology and security back in the 1990s, but things have changed a great deal since then. With those changes, these old email systems have been patched and “enhanced” with plug-ins and patches that have often made them less reliable even as they make them more compliant. Symphony, a platform that is launching publicly this week, answers the question, “What if you designed a new messaging system from the ground up that met the communications needs of an increasingly social world and the security and regulatory requirements of today as well?”
With all of the news surrounding Hillary Clinton’s email, a product that might prevent the need or opportunity for security or regulatory problems would likely be at the forefront of both government and financial accounts, with health care not far behind.
I’ve been covering email systems since the mid-90s and what fascinated me about Symphony was that it wasn’t created by engineers looking for a problem to solve, but by companies who knew the issues that weren’t being addressed by conventional communications systems and the solutions that they needed.
Let’s talk about the foundation behind Symphony.
Security Against Government Intrusion
One of the key problems that multinational companies that supply communication technology are facing is the tendency for governments to come to them with requests for access to data. As long as the supplying firm itself has access to that data, it is the easiest avenue to gain broad access across the account base. While tactically expedient, this is actually strategically stupid, because it means the supplying firm has to find a way to prevent that from occurring. It typically does that by ensuring that only its clients get the keys to the encrypted email and assuring them that if the government wants access, they’ll have to go to the company itself—not the technology supplier—in order to get it. In this way, the firm is much more able to mitigate that exposure and far less attractive as a global source of information, thus substantially reducing the exposure.
A core security feature of Symphony is that the firm can’t see the emails it handles. All of the keys to the encrypted data belong solely to the firm that purchased the solution, which makes Symphony far safer than most alternatives.
One of the requirements that is driving many IT shops nuts at the moment is the increasing need for compliance. This is particularly difficult to do when collaborative groups cut across company lines. For compliance, companies need some kind of real-time scanning against keywords that will immediately flag or block communications that may be in violation of policy or regulation and that might open up the firm to potential litigation or regulatory enforcement action.
To address this, Symphony has automatic controls that assure compliance. They range from tools that support the compliant export of content, active expression filtering and information barrier tools that can actively alert when communications that appear to violate policy or regulations attempt to cross lines. In addition, the system automatically inserts the appropriate legal disclaimers when the preset policy and regulatory conditions are met to further assure compliance.
Born in Finance
While Symphony appears to have broad applications ranging from government and health care to pharmaceuticals and utilities, it was created for the financial industry and it is backed by Dow Jones and S&P Capital IQ (part of McGraw Hill Financial). Its primary purpose is to provide secure and compliant access to secure financial information and reports by both internal and external users of these financial firms’ services.
Symphony also integrates with Selerity Context to go beyond security and into information discovery. Symphony has one of the first production uses of a semantic engine to rapidly locate and recommend contextual information based on natural language queries. This is because it doesn’t do you a lot of good to have strong security if users can’t easily find the information they need to do their jobs.
Wrapping Up: New Kind of Email
We don’t see a lot of new email systems coming to market, and when we do, they still seem to be largely based on communications needs as they existed one or two decades ago. Today, we not only need much more powerful security and compliance tools, we need stronger tools to find the information we need, when we need it, and to effectively and safely share information with the folks with whom we are collaborating. Symphony is very different in this regard and will likely herald in a change in email and collaboration platforms as they shift from the world as it was to the world as it is now—a very collaborative and extremely unsafe place.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+.