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Deciding if a cloud ECM system meets your needs: tips and advice

Find out what you should look at in assessing whether a cloud-based enterprise content management system is right for your organization and whether cloud ECM fits your IT strategy.

The migration of enterprise content management (ECM) systems to the cloud is going slowly: In a report published last year, research and consulting firm Gartner Inc. predicted that only 10% of content will be managed in cloud environments by 2015. But Gartner analysts, and others, are seeing increased interest from users in at least exploring cloud ECM options.

So, once a company has decided to consider a move in the cloud direction, what are the steps involved in assessing whether a cloud-based ECM system is right for the organization? As with any other major IT undertaking, if there isn’t already an ECM system in place, IT managers and content management professionals first need to evaluate the strategic business reasons for investing in one.

“Then you need to look at how you want to architect your content management system and see if the cloud model is suitable to your needs,” said Steve Weissman, executive director of ECM and enterprise information management consulting firm Holly Group.

For example, one issue that a cloud ECM approach can help address is having an overflow of information that’s reaching the processing and storage limits of your existing hardware -- particularly if you don’t have space to house additional systems internally. Acquiring new businesses is another: Using the cloud could make it easier to integrate them into your ECM system.

Cloud ECM: Like hand and glove with IT?

Another question to ask is whether a cloud content management system fits in with your organization’s IT strategy and direction. “If you could write your own solution,” Weissman said, “what would it look like?” Companies should figure out what’s best for them up front, before looking at specific technologies, he added. “If you start with the vendors, they might shape your vision to suit their products,” Weissman said.

In addition, it’s important to consider what your ECM system is used for and how dependent your organization is on it. For example, if the ECM system drives a corporate intranet as “your go-to place for user collaboration,” creating a content management cloud could make sense, said Ashish Nadkarni, a practice leader at Framingham, Mass.-based consulting firm GlassHouse Technologies Inc.

Moving an ECM system into the cloud frees it from the limitations of your internal IT infrastructure, Nadkarni said, noting that a cloud environment could make the system “highly available in a disaster recovery situation, where you can easily communicate with users.”

Nadkarni also suggested factoring whether your ECM system is heavily customized into a cloud ECM assessment. “Many companies do a lot of programming as an overlay on top of a standard suite or create their own ECM suite from scratch,” he said. That potentially could make it more difficult to have the system hosted externally because ECM cloud computing vendors might not want to support customizations or guarantee the same user experience that you have now, according to Nadkarni.

Size matters in a cloud ECM assessment

The size and breadth of an ECM system should be taken into account as well, he said. That will help determine how much time and effort a cloud migration will require. If it would involve moving, say, several hundred applications to the cloud, the migration project could be long and complicated.

Security issues are another key component of a cloud ECM assessment, which should include a look at user authentication and whether moving your data to a cloud service would create new security risks. Building a private cloud might mitigate some of the potential risks and allow for more customization of the system than using an external cloud would, Nadkarni said -- but it’s a bigger undertaking.

Chris Riley, senior ECM and document capture architect at consulting firm ShareSquared Inc. in Pasadena, Calif., said that a cloud ECM approach could also benefit organizations with distributed operations, where business users spread across many locations need access to the ECM system. The network infrastructure required to support that kind of access “is hard to establish internally but something the cloud has inherently,” Riley said.

In addition, using the cloud could relieve some of the pressure on resource-strapped IT departments, primarily from a hardware installation standpoint. But expecting a cloud deployment to significantly reduce the demands on an organization’s IT and content management teams is a “misconception,” Riley cautioned.

Putting ECM in the cloud “doesn’t change the amount of time required to plan for and configure the system, nor does it really impact the requirements on maintenance of the system,” he said.

About the author:
Catherine LaCroix is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore. She covers technology used in business, education and health care.

Next Steps

Learn about the potential benefits and pitfalls of ECM projects

Get tips on developing an ECM business case for your organization

Read about key issues you should focus on as part of ECM implementation efforts

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