EMS launches fully managed Matrix bridging for WhatsApp

September 09, 2021
News

WhatsApp usage within the workplace is bad for all sorts of reasons, yet we all know it’s endemic.

The solution is to introduce an enterprise-grade alternative, like Element. But weaning people off their WhatsApp habit is hard; for many frontline workers and contractors it’s become the default, and it’s often an off-the-record comms shortcut for senior management.

So we’re delighted that EMS now offers a fully managed WhatsApp Bridging service (based on Matrix community contributor Tulir's open source mautrix-whatsapp bridge). Element gives a company a powerful end-to-end encrypted collaboration and messaging platform, *AND* one that interoperates with WhatsApp to help transition the workforce from the Wild West of free consumer apps.

The fully managed WhatsApp Bridging service allows EMS customers to:

  • Send messages between Element and WhatsApp
  • Ensure effective workflows between teams on the move (frontline or traveling) and office-based environments
  • Keep track of WhatsApp-based conversation to address errant WhatsApp usage
  • Build stronger relationships between frontline or external WhatsApp users and the rest of the organisation
  • Ease a migration from WhatsApp usage to Element

WhatsApp Bridging addresses shadow IT

WhatsApp is a free consumer-grade messaging app from a company that has an ad-funded business model. When used within the workplace, companies risk sensitive data being sucked onto proprietary servers raising all sorts of data management issues. It might be acceptable to all parties in the consumer world, but governments and companies need to be in far better control of their data.

So HR leaders, compliance officers and data security experts will be delighted to have a viable way to begin to address some of the shadow IT issues caused by the use of WhatsApp in the workplace.

How to migrate from workplace WhatsApp usage in two easy steps

Step 1: Switch on WhatsApp Bridging service

With EMS in place, the WhatsApp Bridging service lets Element and WhatsApp users message each other from their respective apps. The enterprise-grade functionality within Element means that WhatsApp messages can be managed transparently, addressing workflow and compliance requirements.

However organisations still face having employees’ WhatsApp-related data and messaging on Facebook’s hardware as every conversation bridged to WhatsApp will of course still end up on Facebook-owned servers. WhatsApp users will still be subject to WhatsApp/Facebook data collection policies, and potentially monetized through data mining. Which is why step 2 is important.

Step 2: Encourage employees and contractors to move from WhatsApp to Element

Forcing users out of an app, or banning it, is rarely effective. With the WhatsApp Bridging service in place, a company can more easily transition its employees to Element.

The advantages of enterprise grade messaging are obvious when users see more structured group discussions, complete with data feeds, widgets and file links - all underpinned with easy SSO access. “Stuff just works,” is a common reaction as people are freed from flipping between apps and clunky workarounds.

When a company eventually has its entire workforce using Element only, all its data and conversation remains end-to-end encrypted and under its ownership and control.

WhatsApp Bridging for interoperability with external parties

Even when an organisation has fully adopted Element, it will have customers, partners and suppliers that use WhatsApp. By using WhatsApp Bridging, a company’s workforce can stay in Element when communicating with external parties using WhatsApp.

That brings all sorts of productivity benefits, improves customer service and helps the organisation keep track of its conversations.

Combined with other EMS bridging services - including Microsoft Teams, Slack, Discord, Telegram and others - Element becomes a universal point of interoperability for all of an organisation’s discussions with external parties.

Bridging WhatsApp into Element may not be sufficient for security-conscious firms

Bridging workplace use of WhatsApp into Element solves many shadow IT issues. It is ideal for connecting office-based employees with workers who haven’t made the full move to Element yet. It brings a level of coordination and transparency to frontline environments such as events and festivals, or where there’s a high proportion of temporary, casual or freelance workers.

But because WhatsApp is a consumer-grade free app owned by a data mining company, it doesn’t meet (and doesn’t claim to meet) companies’ need to protect confidential data.

So even with bridging in place it should be noted that any conversation involving a WhatsApp user will still be captured by WhatsApp and stored on Facebook-owned servers. WhatsApp users still shouldn’t be sending sensitive information such as consumer or healthcare data as that raises significant data compliance issues.

Bridging into Element also doesn’t address the lack of admin control around provisioning and remote app management.

Security-conscious companies that want truly enterprise-grade messaging, including complete data ownership, need to ensure their workforce is using Element exclusively.

Sounds good - what’s the cost?

WhatsApp bridging service is US$0.50 per active user per month - a user is counted as active if they send messages over the bridge from the WhatsApp side during the billing month.

Is EMS powered WhatsApp Bridging suitable for everyday personal use?

Absolutely! However, in addition to the current features, we’re working on something specifically aimed at the personal use case which should be ready for prime time in the next few weeks...

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