Nicholas Piël, Surfly: “with the pandemic, companies that put off digital transformation ran out of time”

The pandemic caused a rapid digital transformation, creating a need for more collaborative features almost instantly. An overnight shift to remote work was not an easy task for many companies. There was a sudden demand for effective online interaction and collaboration, both internally within teams and externally with clients and customers.

As the hybrid work environment became the new normal, many remote work solutions have been developed and continue to serve and help businesses operate.

However, it’s important to adopt solutions that also ensure first-rate security and compliance.

That’s why Cybernews invited Nicholas Piël, the CEO of Surfly – a company that builds web technology that enables digital collaboration. Piël shared his views about the effects of the pandemic on their field of work and secure communication measures.

How did the idea of Surfly come about? What was your journey like throughout the years?

In 2008, I was a college student working part-time in tech support. I once had a call with an older lady who was unable to solve a technical issue on her PC. It took me several hours to resolve the issue over the phone, and I kept wondering if there could be a better way. That’s when I realized the need for better ways to interact online, and I started working on the first Surfly prototype.

The journey has been incredible. From those humble beginnings, we now have over 40 employees and serve over 200,000 users globally. There have been ups and downs, as with any start-up journey, but the important part is that we learn and grow from every situation, improving a little bit each time.

Can you tell us a little bit about your Interaction Middleware? What problems does this solution help solve?

Our Interaction Middleware is the engine that powers our technology, which can transform any web interaction instantly without changing the original application. You could see it as a “CDN on steroids” that can hide, remove, or change functionalities within the web session without the need to change the underlying code of the web application. This enables technologists to create collaborative, fully customizable, and innovative online journeys with ease.

One application of this technology is co-browsing which, along with video chat, screen sharing, and annotations features, enables you to browse any website together with multiple users without the need for any tech integrations. This is being used across a wide array of industries, such as insurance or retail, to remotely meet customers in secure and compliant digital journeys.

But the potential applications are endless. For instance, with Startpage, we’ve added a privacy layer to strip out all the user data that a website requests, ensuring that they remain anonymous. We have also implemented instant translation on web pages for clients whose agents work with foreign languages.

Another interesting application of our technology is that we can enhance the speed to market of any new integration. For example, a CPaaS platform could take months to get integrated into their client’s tech stack as that might require a full overhaul of the existing application. However, with our technology, new changes and/or functionality could be overlaid on the existing application without the need to change a single line of code on the original application, greatly reducing implementation time.

What are the differences between co-browsing and screen sharing?

Co-browsing software works by only sharing the contents of your browser tab – it takes all the HTML content that makes up the web page you want to share, sends it to the participant, and recreates the page on their end.

Screen sharing, on the other hand, works by sharing the pixels of your entire screen, so a video stream is being shared with the other users.

Speed and quality: Since the data shared during co-browsing is text-based, it requires less bandwidth than screen sharing. That means it’s faster, higher quality, and less resource-intensive.

Security and compliance: Screen sharing shares your entire screen or application, so even if you share just a browser window, all your tabs and bookmarks will be visible. And if you pass control, your whole device can be controlled by the other user. This is neither secure nor compliant, and sectors like insurance and finance have strict compliance rules that make screen sharing a bad option for their use cases.

Surfly Co-browsing can be thought of as a browser within a browser (a browser sandbox) – all interactions occur within this walled garden and data leaking is simply impossible. Passing control will only pass control of the session, not your device.

Collaboration: With co-browsing, you have drawing tools, collaborative editing of documents, and seamless control switching that makes your web sessions collaborative and creates a better experience for your users.

How did the recent global events affect your field of work? Were there any new features added to your services?

The world had already been digitizing gradually, but with the pandemic, businesses that thought they could put it off ran out of time. Going online and remote became mandatory overnight.

Our web interaction platform helps our clients transform their existing offering into a collaborative one. So, instead of using non-compliant external tools such as Zoom, Teams, or Meet, they were able to transform their own web application into a collaborative one where they were able to instantly add co-browsing, video chat, or file sharing.

We also launched a few new features based on customer feedback during this time. For instance, to facilitate the digital sales process, we quickly added e-signing functionality to our suite of features. This allowed customers to sign documents within the session and ended up shortening their sales cycle.

We also added screen sharing functionality for those of our users who are not bound by compliance requirements and would like to share content that is not browsable on the web.

Additionally, given the recent events unfolding in Ukraine, we decided to launch Opensight – an open service accessible in Russia providing access to news that has been blocked in the region. This is our initiative to stop censorship & misinformation and was built on top of our Interaction Middleware.

Recently, maintaining creativity has been a serious struggle for some organizations. How can companies foster creativity and innovation when most of the workforce is working remotely?

Using tools that enable remote collaboration is a great way to foster creativity and innovation in a remote work situation.

  • We use Surfly internally for our online meetings, presentations, and brainstorming sessions.
  • The Google suite of tools is amazing for remote collaboration, so we use those within a Surfly session to enhance our experience with video chat and drawing tools.
  • Asana is a great tool for project management, and when we review our tasks with our team members, we use Asana within a Surfly session so that we can use the collaborative features while conducting the review.

Some other tools we actively use to consider are:

  • Miro – an online collaborative whiteboarding tool
  • Figma – a collaborative tool to create, test, and ship better designs, faster
  • Slack – for internal communication
  • Trello – for task and project management

Besides secure collaboration solutions, what other security measures do you think modern companies should invest in?

Great question! Any company handling user data should keep security at the core of its business regardless of it being an operational decision, product development, or vendor assessment.

Firewalls, IPS/IDS, secure code development, scanners, etc. are all essential measures but are barely adequate to mitigate current cybersecurity risks.

I highly recommend implementing a security framework across your organization and regularly investing in vulnerability assessments/penetration testing. If you can afford it, a good ethical hacking (or security bug bounty) program is highly recommended.

As for individual users, what tools would you recommend to ensure secure communication?

This is actually a perfect use case for Surfly. As discussed earlier, any meeting you have within a Surfly session takes place within the browser sandbox and does not require any software to be installed on either side, minimizing any potential malware risks. Also, we have designed our technology to act as a transparent layer, with information only passing through but never stored. And when no data is stored, no data can be lost or leaked.

What predictions do you have for the future of collaboration technology?

The trend today is to add collaborative features to existing applications and use cases. If we look at Google Docs, it is basically a collaborative Microsoft Word, and if you look at Figma, it is a collaborative design tool that positions itself against Adobe. These types of tools have been eliminating their competitors, and it is evident that having collaborative features within your product is an amazing selling point.

We will see more and more tools coming up with collaboration technology built-in. It will become a “must-have” rather than a “nice-to-have”.

Can you give us a sneak peek into some of your future plans for Surfly?

Our vision is a world where online interactions have endless possibilities. Our product roadmap is built toward making this vision a reality – we want to enable technologists to transform any online interaction in real time with minimal effort.

To achieve this vision we will need lots of talented and motivated people, and as part of our expansion initiative, we will be looking to raise funds for a Series A round later this year.

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