Enterprises look to cloud content management for lots of reasons -- it’s easy to share, it reaches a large workforce, it’s inexpensive and it’s green.
But without a well-defined content management strategy and governance rules, it’s just as easy to lose track of cloud-based documents as it is to lose paper documents in the office.
“Cloud-based [enterprise content management (ECM)] vendors provide the ability to share with a broader, wider audience, like your partners or your mobile workers,” said Alan Weintraub, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. “One avenue [cloud-based ECM vendors] are breaking into is this broad sharing of business-focused content.”
While the sharing capabilities provided by the cloud may be compelling, Weintraub and others warn that some tools used to share content aren’t quite ready for enterprise-wide deployment, namely Google Docs and Dropbox.
“Google Docs and Dropbox are really shared drive replacements,” Weintraub said. “They’re meant to be used in order for people to easily share information while implementing some level of control over the information.”
Weintraub said these types of consumer-grade applications do not offer the full range of capabilities that a typical content management system provides, but they have become popular because they are free and easy to use.
But the consumer-grade content sharing applications weren’t created for the enterprise in the first place, added Barclay Blair, president of information governance consulting firm ViaLumina Group of New York.
“Most people think of Dropbox or Google Docs when they think of the cloud. Those services were never designed to provide enterprise-level security,” Blair said. “Frankly, [they weren’t] designed for a lot of these regulated or highly secured environments.”
Aside from opening enterprises up to potential regulatory violations regarding protected data, they can have other negative impacts, Weintraub said.
“The implications are people having access to information that they shouldn’t have,” Weintraub said. “The other implications are they don’t have the right management capabilities.”
Cloud content management best practices revealed
Identifying content management goals and understanding requirements is core to developing a sound content management strategy according to Steve Weissman, executive director of information management consulting firm Holly Group of Brookline, Mass.
“It’s incumbent upon organizations to understand what they need in terms of compliance and to make sure the vendor they choose qualifies,” Weissman said. “The security concerns are legitimate, if sometimes overblown, and the compliance concerns are legitimate, if sometimes overlooked. For me, the best practices start with that internal look, that introspection.” (See “Best practices for cloud content management at a glance.” below)
Weissman says that the real work isn’t in keeping up with the latest technology or following hot trends; it is in the strategic thinking that goes in to making content management decisions and identifying the enterprise’s goals.
Paying attention to content value is one aspect of the decision-making process that Weintraub identifies as being crucial to forming a viable cloud content management strategy.
Weintraub puts content’s importance on a value graph where the y-axis represents value and the x-axis represents organizational importance. He then groups content into several defined categories -- casual content, controlled content and regulated content.
“The first thing is to understand the value of your content -- where does the content fit in the value chain,” Weintraub said, adding that a key question for corporations to answer is whether certain content is a corporate asset. “It’s easy to use the cloud when the content has minimal or moderate value.”
Casual content is the one area where Weintraub sees a use for Google Docs, because the content isn’t of high value and is best used when made available to the larger workforce through an easy-to-use collaboration tool.
The other groups pose a more difficult problem, one that is not necessarily being solved in the cloud by most enterprises. Weintraub describes regulated content as information that is governed by a regulatory body and controlled content as information that needs to be kept secure by an enterprise. The ramifications for failing to correctly govern regulated and controlled content has been a primary hindrance in cloud CM adoption.
“[Enterprises are] all insecure that their information won’t be protected,” Weintraub said. “It’s all about content protection and their comfort level.”
He added that many enterprises are leery of extending high-value content outside of the firewall and into the cloud. Oftentimes, enterprises are extending lower-valued content outside the firewall and linking a cloud ECM to an on-premises one, where high-value content is kept.
Weintraub says that enterprises looking into cloud content management need to understand what functionality they need, and that the onus is on the enterprise to put controls in place to manage content in a way that ensures the integrity of the content.
Best practices for cloud content management at a glance
IT industry analysts say there are several best practices to follow when launching a cloud content management strategy. They are the following:
- Decide ahead of time what goals the organization is trying to achieve with a cloud content management system.
- Know the value of your content and what needs to be protected and what doesn’t.
- Understand compliance issues before you get a content management system.
- Educate employees about which programs are safe for content sharing and which ones are not.