How cloud ECM can help reshape the digital workplace

Enterprises are using cloud ECM features to augment existing business practices -- but it's also important to re-evaluate the big picture in search of new efficiencies.

Cloud enterprise content management can alter how business is done within the digital workplace, and create both opportunities and challenges for enterprises.

Cloud-based ECM systems can bring companies closer to a truly digital workplace, which fully embraces the advantages of the cloud and other business applications to make traditional processes more seamless, automated and unhindered by geography. But identifying these improvements and implementing change are no small tasks.

Released from the tethers of on-premises networks, cloud ECM makes content available anywhere and anytime, providing better support for mobile devices and remote collaboration. The potential value lays in finding specific scenarios where those capabilities can benefit your organization.

Most businesses have taken their first steps in that process, typically to improve business processes and make them more efficient. For example, cloud file sharing can replace email as the primary vehicle for sharing documents, and it can also replace on-site servers for file storage.

This is a good start, but the real value of cloud-based ECM comes from taking a big-picture view of operations; examining prospects for digitizing and automating existing processes; and finding ways to take advantage of a ubiquitous digital workplace, instead of the traditional ways of doing business. Eliminating paper files in favor of a virtual, cloud-based environment is one example of how this trend could play out in many organizations.

The bad news is that each business is unique, and there are few one-size-fits-all answers for how cloud ECM and the digital workplace can make improvements. The good news is that there's room for improvement for most operations willing to take an innovative and practical approach to utilizing technology.

Just as Google search revised expectations for enterprise search functions, quick and user-friendly cloud services have driven ECM and collaboration vendors to follow suit or risk losing market share. This is a boon for long-suffering information governance professionals, who have historically gotten by with kludgy ECM systems.

There's no doubt that cloud-based ECM still faces hurdles. Security is a top concern, with enterprises reluctant to outsource storage of sensitive content -- or, in some cases, prohibited by law. But those concerns are starting to subside, as cloud technologies mature. Ironically, content-based controls -- designed to assure security of mobile content -- are increasingly being considered a desirable security measure for traditional data repositories, which have been beset by well-publicized data breaches.

Migrating enterprise processes and content to the cloud are also major hurdles, especially if information governance on-premises has been lacking. A hybrid deployment, which mixes cloud and on-premises tools, is a middle path that many companies opt for. Cloud vendors, at least in the short term, have recognized that not every company wants to bolt for the cloud, so the pitch is increasingly about using cloud to augment on-premises technology, instead of replacing it.

This is reflective of probably the most welcome shift that cloud ECM is bringing to the market: flexibility and interoperability, instead of reliance on monolithic deployments that are updated only periodically. While it's not an IT panacea, the cloud can help companies offload the technical aspects of ECM and put the focus on using functionality to solve business problems. And isn't that what it's all about in the first place?

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