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Blurred lines: Online file-sharing services vs. ECM software

Online file-sharing services are encroaching on the ECM software market. So let's get this straight: What's the difference between the two?

Over the past couple of years, the way people are working has changed dramatically.

Technology trends such as cloud computing and mobility are at the heart of these changes, where user preferences and consumerization are enabling employees to dictate how, when and where they interact with corporate content. Workers want to be able to work where they want, from the devices they want -- without cumbersome constraints.

With greater control over corporate data in the hands of users, the traditional enterprise content management (ECM) software market has been disrupted. Traditionally, ECM software has been costly and more complex, requiring user training and users logging into a corporate virtual private network (VPN) to access company files. While files are secure, ECM software hasn't been user-friendly or designed for mobility.

As Ron Miller noted in a recent piece on FierceContentManagement, users are hooked on the simplicity of Dropboxlike apps, and they want ECM software to mimic these interfaces. Users are "no longer content to accept whatever clunky enterprise software package" vendors deliver, he wrote recently.

Online file-sharing services have emerged to challenge conventional ECM software. With these services, employees can access, work on, then copy files into a cloud-based folder. The files are then available for access via a Web interface from any Internet-connected device. They support myriad mobile devices and are easy to use. And users prefer them over "heavier" ECM software. Indeed, according to a recent survey by Authento, a document management vendor in San Jose, Calif., 64% of respondents said that even if their organization introduced ECM software, they would continue using their existing file-sharing service, and only 7% would stop using these services.

Workers want to be able to work where they want, from the devices they want -- without cumbersome constraints.

So let's break down some of the differences between a file-sync-and-sharing service and ECM software.

Online file-sharing services. Offerings from SugarSync, Dropbox and Box.net fall into this category, and some are poised to disrupt the ECM market.

Consumer-style, cloud-based file-sync-and-sharing services offer several benefits, particularly on the user end. These services offer repositories for file storage as well as a central location for users -- particularly remote users -- to collaborate on documents. They also circumvent the hassle of logging into corporate applications through the VPN. They can also provide some of the features of an ECM without the cost, and they are more user-friendly.

These services also eliminate some of the IT maintenance and management hassle associated with ECM software. Maintaining the servers, managing updates and patches are no longer just for IT departments.

Here is a summary of online file-sharing services' features and drawbacks, though as file-sync-and-sharing vendors encroach on the ECM market, these features may overlap:

  • Cloud-based, easy-to-use interface
  • Centralized document repository for user collaboration
  • File sync
  • File sharing
  • File versioning and control
  • Lack of maintenance, patching, upgrades required by IT
  • Inconsistent system performance
  • Storage limits
  • Data security issues

Enterprise content management software. Players in this market include EMC's Documentum, Microsoft's SharePoint, Laserfiche's Rio and Alfresco's Afresco One. Here are some of the key features of ECM software, though capabilities vary:

  • Document management
  • Records management
  • Automated workflows
  • Document tracking and alerts
  • Document scanning
  • Enterprise search
  • E-discovery capabilities
  • Digital asset management
  • Solid performance of systems
  • Access rights and controls for security

The question is whether online file-sharing services will continue to encroach on the traditional ECM market and move further into its core arena. Companies like Box.net are moving in that direction, developing compliance and other capabilities. Others could hone traditional ECM capabilities, such as information governance and e-discovery features, as well as enterprise search and digital asset management.

At the same time, companies like Alfresco are working to create hybrid technologies that enable the ease-of-use and mobility aspects of an online file-sharing service while also providing the security of an on-premises system.

Stay tuned and keep your eyes on the market as the lines continue to blur.

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