Outlook for ECM in the cloud is still mixed

Companies can offload some data management with ECM in the cloud. But some worry about the security of enterprise content management system data.

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While cloud providers tout the simplicity of doing business in the cloud, many companies that handle enterprise content management are hesitant to jump on board with ECM in the cloud. Proponents of cloud-based technology say it is cheaper and faster to deploy, provides more capabilities, and is more reliable than keeping information on-site. But others caution that cloud-based technology is not as secure as it needs to be and that it is safer to keep critical information on the company premises.

What both sides agree on is that cloud technology has created new opportunities but also has raised many questions. While some embrace the opportunities, others want to get those questions answered before they make the leap.

Going full tilt to the cloud for ECM systems

Companies that use an ECM system manage a vast amount of data, whether from documents, images and records, or for Web content or collaboration. This information needs to be stored somewhere. In hard copies, it can be put into storage systems on or off company property. Conversely, it can be transferred into digital form and put on a company's or a cloud provider's server; in the latter case, a provider handles the data management for the company.

Different content may work better in different environments.

Thomas Eid,
vice president of enterprise software, Gartner

At the University of Miami, both the university and the University of Miami Health System are going full force toward using cloud technology, said James Balter, senior manager of IT. Two years ago, IBM consultants told him that the university's current 19-year-old content management and document management system would not be supported after 2014. Faced with the choice of upgrading the current system or moving to the cloud, he set a goal of moving the majority of the university's data to the cloud within two and a half years.

"We wanted to be remote-hosted in the cloud; we wanted one-stop shopping; and we wanted a company that could support an institution of our size, with 15,000 students, 60 different graduate programs and an entire medical facility," Balter said, adding that he found the solution in Hyland's OnBase Cloud.

Although some data just can't be moved, Balter says that most information will be.

Balter's plan is one of the more aggressive ends of the spectrum.

Hesitance and hybrid clouds for ECM

An October 2012 study, the nonprofit Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) indicated that while 41% of businesses surveyed believed that cloud technology would be used in some form within the next three years, doubts about it still remained, with 61% of respondents concerned about the security of cloud technology.

"The more sensitive the document or content is, companies tend to keep the content on-premises," said Thomas Eid, vice president of enterprise software at Gartner Inc. "A lot of documents are aligned to regulation and legislation," he said. In addition, some of these regulations can be country-specific, requiring the flow of information stay within the country.

Concerns about security remained strong, even though the AIIM study showed that only 4% of respondents had ever experienced a security breach, including data loss, security intrusion, long-term unavailability or supplier failure.

The study also revealed that the majority of those companies that were moving toward cloud technology were planning on using a hybrid cloud while still keeping some data on-premises.

A hybrid makes sense, said Eid, explaining that different content may work better in different environments.

"If the content is user-generated, and there are various documents and revisions, with co-authorship or co-ownership, it's very common to use a SaaS [Software as a Service] or cloud-based system to easily access information," Eid said. Once that information becomes static, however, it can be archived on-premises.

But some users, like Balter, say there's very little incentive to continue to archive data on-site at all. With the cost of storage and the potential for on-site security breaches, in addition to the capital expenditure of upgrading older systems, the cost of training staff on updates and the time it takes to implement an on-premises system, why wouldn't more companies move more quickly toward cloud technology?

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David Jones, former AIIM analyst and currently the solution marketing manager for cloud and architecture at Hyland, said that self-preservation is sometimes one of the reasons for the resistance.

When the AIIM study looked at which segments of an organization support cloud technology, business managers were in favor of it but IT departments were not, perhaps concerned that using the cloud would decrease their department's size and scope of responsibility. Jones also added, however, that organizations where IT does embrace the cloud are the ones where positive things really start to happen.

Another reason for the delay? With business in the cloud still developing, some companies are struggling to determine how to best utilize the technology.

"It doesn't have to be a case where everyone 100% jumps ship," Jones said. Businesses can begin to move to the cloud by specific business areas. But as your company considers this transfer, keep in mind several key points:

  • It is essential to have a plan to manage your data, whether it is kept in the cloud or on-premises. It's a mistake to think of the cloud as having limitless storage space, University of Miami's Balter said. If you don't need a financial record after six years, don't keep it past six years and one day, he said.
  • If you are using a hybrid system, make sure your cloud technology can "talk" with your on-premises technology, Hyland's Jones said, to ensure the information can interact.
  • Cloud technology is always changing, always being augmented and modified, Gartner's Eid said. It's going to improve and become more reliable, he said.

Business in the cloud may still be a hazy concept, but as more use cases develop, the forecast for ECM in the cloud is likely to improve.

This was first published in September 2013
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