It’s the rare organization that hasn’t taken some form of cloud-based software for a spin. Salesforce.com, the CRM company largely credited as the poster child for Software as a Service (SaaS), is a mainstream player in the enterprise today and dozens of other applications, from human resource tools to collaboration platforms, have made the leap out of the corporate data center and onto the cloud, oftentimes promoted by business users and with little push-back from IT.
Companies heading to the cloud are pretty universal in what they expect to achieve. First, there is the promise of lower operating costs thanks to the pay-as-you-go licensing model and no requirement for expensive server and network infrastructure. Then there is a reduced administrative burden, allowing IT to shift focus away from non-value-added activities to strategic initiatives designed to benefit the business. Finally, with more users working outside of the confines of the corporate firewall, cloud-based systems are more flexible in accommodating the needs of a highly disparate and dispersed workforce.
It would seem that Enterprise Content Management (ECM), often-times referred to as document management, could benefit significantly from any of these changes. Traditional, on-premise ECM can cost upwards of $1 million, can take anywhere from six to 18 months to deploy, and when all is said and done, implementations have a tendency to become silos that are not easily accessible remotely nor do they foster widespread collaboration. I’d say there is room for improvement.
Yet despite the potential of the cloud to address some, if not all, of these issues, companies have been reticent to transition ECM systems over to the emerging paradigm. According to AIIM‘s (The Association for Information and Image Management) State of the ECM Industry survey, only 4% were deploying SaaS or cloud-based ECM technology at the time. In a recent informal poll, AIIM uncovered a bit more momentum around cloud-based ECM, with 11% of respondents looking at a full cloud ECM model (mostly those new to ECM) and 14% considering a mixed model, melding traditional on-premise ECM capabilities with new SaaS-based functionality.
Why are adopters of ECM so much slower to embrace the cloud? It turns out while many shops are considering cloud ECM for cost reduction, multisite availability, faster time-to-deployment, and other reasons, the lion’s share of ECM users still harbor concerns about information security and governance related to the cloud deployment model.
Many of their concerns are valid, but a good number are due more to perception than reality. In addition, ECM vendors are ramping up efforts to appease users’ concerns, particularly in the area of security. Computhink, for example, has just released its Contentverse Cloud , a hosted version of its ECM platform that can be deployed in a matter of hours, integrates with customers’ existing processes, applications, and hardware, and offers security and governance capabilities on par with the traditional offering.
Before ruling out the cloud or blindly embracing it as the foundation for next-generation ECM, it pays to consider the following:
The use case for ECM. If the system drives a corporate intranet and is the preferred place for user collaboration, the cloud-based model makes sense. Also, if this is a first foray into ECM, starting with a cloud approach will be far easier than trying to retrofit an existing system.
- Level of customization. Many ECM systems are highly customized to meet specific business requirements and to support specific business processes. If your system falls into this category, it might be more difficult to support the same levels of customization with a cloud-based system, not to mention, create significant issues for migrating the existing system to a new platform.
- Security risks. This is the biggest hurdle for many organizations and an on-going issue for all cloud-based systems, not just ECM. Companies considering cloud-based ECM need to drill down into the security roadmap of potential providers as well as take a hard look at the security and compliance requirements for their particular company as well as industry.
- How much integration is necessary. ECM systems that require high levels of integration with on-premise back-end systems can pose challenges for cloud-based scenarios. Be sure to identify what systems are part of a broader ECM strategy and be sure they are accommodated with a cloud-based ECM provider’s integration framework.
- Reliability and cost. The initial cost of a cloud-based system is generally far less expensive than an on-premise deployment, but the real costs over time can be deceiving. To do an accurate price comparison, be sure to consider the total overall costs of cloud, including end user training, on-going subscription pricing, and customization charges. While cloud systems have come a long way in reliability, there have been widely reported outages. Make sure your cloud ECM provider has a formal redundancy plan and that local backups are maintained.
As with any kind of major IT deployment, there are no hard and fast rules governing cloud-based deployment. With ECM, as with any enterprise computing platform, moving to the cloud is the ultimate lesson in looking before you leap: Take a step back, cut through the industry hype, and make a clear decision based on the unique requirements of your organization. As any industry veteran will tell you, that’s easier said than done.
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