ECM systems in the cloud: Ensuring a soft landing

Deploying enterprise content management systems in the cloud isn't rocket science, but success requires a practical approach.

Enterprise content management hasn't taken the cloud by storm.

In an April 2013 survey conducted by the Association for Information and Image Management, for example, only 14% of 290 AIIM members said their organizations were running records management applications in the cloud -- and that was the most popular use of cloud-based enterprise content management (ECM) systems. An even 50% said they hadn't moved content to the cloud.

The cloud is nothing more than a different implementation model.

Steve Weissman,
principal, the Holly Group

Cloud-based Web content management (WCM) systems are somewhat more prevalent, according to consultants who focus on ECM and WCM. But overall, most content management professionals aren't rushing to the cloud, said Doug Miles, AIIM's director of market intelligence. Nonetheless, he added, pressure to do so is mounting, as business executives want to exploit the cloud's expected benefits, including lower IT costs and better accessibility to documents, records and other information throughout far-flung organizations.

The good news is that deploying WCM or ECM systems in the cloud is hardly mysterious. But consultants and experienced cloud users cautioned that the evaluation and planning process involves challenges that you should weigh before committing to an implementation. They offered the following dos-and-don'ts tips to help ensure that cloud content management projects meet with blue skies:

Don't treat the cloud as something special. The cloud isn't some grand destination that needs to be on everyone's content management bucket list, said Steve Weissman, principal consultant at Holly Group in Waltham, Mass. "Think of the cloud as nothing more than a different implementation model, because that's all it is. Forget the hype; it's just another choice. Make sure you're going for it for the right reasons and not simply because it's the cloud."

Weissman added that by and large, the same issues apply in evaluating possible cloud ECM and WCM deployments as they do in weighing on-premises installations. Factors such as security, user authentication and system performance are universal concerns, whether content is managed internally or externally. "It's like you're looking at different model cars," he said. "You don't change the list of questions you're asking because it's one car or another."

Do your due diligence concerning cloud vendors. Get detailed answers to your questions from cloud service providers. Security and service levels are particularly important areas to focus on, according to Weissman and Geoffrey Bock, principal at consultancy Bock & Company in Newton, Mass.

In assessing cloud providers' service-level agreements, understand "what your requirements are and then shop based on those requirements," Bock said. If a cloud-based WCM system wasn't available for an hour because of a service interruption, how would that affect your business operations? "It might not, or it might be absolutely critical," he said, adding that the answer could influence your choice of cloud vendors -- or whether to go with a cloud system in the first place.

Security can be an even more complicated, and critical, consideration. "I don't think cloud implementations are inherently less secure than on-premises implementations are," Bock said. "But security is a legitimate concern, and you have to look at how it's architected [by a provider] and whether that fits your particular risk profile."

Don't change -- or dilute -- content management processes to fit the cloud. Consumer Reports is implementing a cloud-based records management system to centralize the storage of important business documents while improving remote access capabilities for employees. But the product-testing organization in Yonkers, N.Y., isn't changing its approach to managing corporate records.

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In a presentation at the AIIM Conference 2013 in New Orleans, Susan Goodman, director of records and information management and privacy at Consumer Reports, said that the standard principles of records management still apply in the cloud. That means the cloud system has to meet a variety of requirements, such as strong security and access controls, incorporation of records retention schedules and support for "defensible disposition" of no-longer-needed records. "We have to ensure that we have the control and the contractual arrangements we need to make sure the cloud provider provides us with what we need to confirm that things are being done properly," Goodman said.

That took some doing, added Robert Howley, associate director of IT operations at Consumer Reports. Cloud providers "want you to follow their processes and rules and regulations," he said. "But the vendors are starting to listen to us now. Just because it's in the cloud doesn't mean you can't follow your own rules."

You're in it together. For Consumer Reports, it was important for the IT and records management teams to work together on the cloud deployment to ensure that both groups got what they needed from the new ECM system, Howley said. That's good advice in general for cloud content management initiatives, according to Bock. "For a well-managed cloud deployment," he said, "IT and the business have to be well-aligned."

Craig Stedman is executive editor of SearchContentManagement and TechTarget's SearchBusinessAnalytics and SearchDataManagement websites. Email him at cstedman@techtarget.com.

This was first published in July 2013

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