As employees enter their new virtual offices, they need chatrooms, direct messaging platforms and the capacity to share and simultaneously work in documents and other files. However, the present communication systems, such as email and messenger apps, can interrupt workflows instead of improving them. In this article, Bob Balfe, CTO, 4Pines, explains why the next generation of business communications in private capital will be single sign-on.
Emails are a great baseline form of communication. After too many back-and-forth exchanges, however, everyone knows that email becomes clunky and stressfulOpens a new window . Chat and messenger apps, in contrast, are great at fostering teamwork and productivity, even in private capital offices that may now be 100% virtual. But let’s be honestOpens a new window . They can be stressful, especially in the high-stakes funds world. Both forms of communication can interrupt workflows rather than improve them, cause confusion rather than simplify and cost time rather than save it.
A lot of very smart people are working hard to find the solutions to these problems. Before the coronavirus pandemic, one might have argued that they weren’t so urgent. The lockdowns and rise of working out of the office, however, have clarified the value proposition of investing resources in technology that can streamline increasingly complicated digital workflows. That’s why the top office communications platforms (e.g., Microsoft, Slack, etc.) are aggressively marketing products that let different organizations create new, shared channels to bridge divides that were taken for granted only a few years ago.
Because so many companies and professional workplaces have harnessed technology to make it easier to work from home, I don’t think it’s presumptuous to begin thinking about the future of business communications beyond what is just now becoming possible. Based on my experience in private equity and fund administration services, I believe we can go much farther in cultivating closer virtual relationships between clients and their partners with seamless interfaces that can boost productivity and benefit morale.
Software engineering and other tech sectors especially enjoy robust cultures of chatrooms and other shared virtual spaces. Most American workplaces aren’t so advanced. They trade emails, cowrite Google docs and share Excel spreadsheets as attachments. Many are in the upper echelons of the economy. Investment firms that use the most advanced algorithms to forecast and trade, for example, also manually upload hand-written PDFs to their fund administrators. Others purchase expensive third-party tools that can take hours to perform basic tasks like generating reports from the data they already possess.
The legacy most companies carry with these systems, however, makes it hard for them to switch over to something new without losing all the data they’ve accumulated over the years. Our task is to rid ourselves of these old systems and adopt new ones that don’t throw away everything in between. That’s possible with automation and cloud-based solutions that marry the efficiency of private channels and instant communications with the deep knowledge that comes with extensive logs and versioning systems. While nobody has managed to say exactly what it will look like yet, I’m going to hazard some guesses.Â
The Next Generation of Communications Is Single Sign-On
The next generation of business communications will be single sign-on. Americans, on average, have 75 passwordsOpens a new window and more than 100 online accountsOpens a new window . Compelling workers to keep track of a few more strings of letters, numbers and symbols compromises the security, erects barriers to use, and wastes time. Once they enter their new virtual offices, individuals would obviously need chatrooms, direct messaging platforms and the capacity to share and simultaneously work in documents and other files. These tools are now too stitched into daily practices to replace. Lastly, a one-stop-shop requires databases and emergency backups to archive all â€“ not just some â€“ of the notes, discussions and other work products that would circulate in large virtual offices.
But what does this shop look like?
In private equity fund administration, accountant turnover is often a problem. It’s frustrating for clients who become used to a single advisor, only to have them replaced by someone new who must introduce themselves, get up to speed and perhaps make a mistake or two before they are sufficiently familiar with the client’s history and needs. It’s frustrating for fund administrators for the same reasons.
Imagine if the new accountant could speedily and comprehensively review all the correspondence between the client and their predecessor. Of course, firms today have hand-off protocols in place that include records of meetings, filings and similar materials. Poring through every email and following paper trails to their ends are too much, however. Nobody has an incentive to waste so much time. A better system would produce a searchable chat history, a single folder of files sent and received and other features that would make onboarding smooth.
Because it would be automated and draw from data streams within a single system, the new virtual office would be instantaneous and consistent and therefore save money compared to current manual and multi-app processes. The better the user interface, the more likely its effectiveness would grow, too, as individuals become more comfortable with interacting and producing in a single venue shared on the cloud. Whenever they engage, they would engage in a single virtual workspace.
Ultimately, the best business communications platforms will break down the barriers between coworkers and partners completely. Currently, a major stumbling block in efforts to collaborate in chat and messenger apps across organizations (whose respective professionals grew sick and tired of emails a long time ago) is meshing channels. That’s changing. Maybe, however, the next stage of innovation won’t come from expanding current platforms but expanding our concept of shared workspaces in general with things like searchable history, embedded workflow, and notifications.
In the world of finance, for example, firms often contract their fund administration services and other back-office operations to third parties. Improving both sides’ access to a shared chatroom would certainly make their communications more efficient. Wouldn’t it be even better, however, if a firm could have access to the same screen that the fund administrator used? Rather than attaching spreadsheets in emails, they could have direct access to the charts that both were using. They could also compare those graphs to notes they have written to colleagues on the same screen, in the same application, with quick reference tools to past conversations at their fingertips. The back office would be their shared virtual office.
It’s a vision that’s not only plausible; it’s taking hold as the new reality.