While the benefits of cloud computing have been documented in many different studies and research papers, and many companies are looking to move to the cloud to solve IT problems related to cost, ease of deployment and scalability -- among others -- the question as to whether they actually should is still open to debate. Nowhere is this more relevant than in enterprise content management.
The use of cloud services is still small, but increasing, according to the recent AIIM State of the ECM Industry report, with less than 3% using externally supplied clouds for content, and 6% using internal corporate clouds.
The report adds that while internal corporate cloud usage is set to double, use of outsourced corporate clouds is set to triple, particularly for smaller organizations, but there is still resistance to the use of public clouds for content and records storage.
Source: AIIM State of the ECM Industry Report
However, there are also dark clouds on the horizon. Recently, while Axios Systems confirmed the AIIM findings, they also showed that over 50% of IT professionals do not think their IT Service Management (ITSM) processes are mature enough to manage cloud-based services.
According to the research, 26% thought their firms were ready, while the other 23% said that they felt “unsure.” In addition 31% said that their current ITSM tool would not support the management of cloud-based services.
In non-IT terms, ITIL is about how an organization and the people within it respond to planned and unexpected variations in the environment, from outages to changes to growth.
It is important to be clear about these things as management of the cloud environment will be one of the factors that decides whether an ECM fits into the cloud or not.
They also raise issues as to whether your enterprise can manage changes to its ECM, whether your company can manage the risk, resolve incidents, manage capacity and, in the end, financially justify it all.
The ECM Challenge
Using the most recent definition of enterprise content management as outlined by AIIM, this seems like a big challenge.
AIIM defines it as:
…the strategies, methods and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes.
Then add into the mix conversion of data between various digital and traditional forms, including paper and microfilm, and you’ve quite a task.
Given the number of vendors selling ECMs at the moment and the different elements that each of them offers, on the face of it, once the data has actually been ingested, there appears be no problem with finding vendors that can provide one, or several ECM components in the cloud. But that’s different than moving a whole enterprise content management system there.
Five Cloud-ECM Considerations
Last month in a blog posting on this issue, Daniel O’Leary, VP for Global Solutions at LincWare (news, site), outlined some of the commonest problems that are raised by enterprises based on discussions he has had with clients and colleagues around LincDoc, as well having addressed them internally.
In the majority of research we have looked at over the past few months, issues around security have been one of the dominant themes and one of the major reasons enterprises are reluctant to go this route.
O’ Leary says that to resolve this, enterprises must have an in-depth understanding of both cloud and internal security models. Issues like how enterprises handle information access, who has access to what files, and how groups and users are managed need to be resolved.
While the cost advantage of moving from an on-premise legacy system to the cloud is probably huge, and many enterprises could move to the cloud for the price of less than one year’s maintenance of legacy systems, there may be other costs that need to be considered.
These costs can mount over time and include things like conversion costs, user training and subscription costs, as despite the hype around the cloud, subscriptions are far from free.
This was one of the other dominant themes in recent research, and particularly current given the recent Amazon outage. Questions that need to be considered include whether your enterprise has a redundancy plan in the event of an outage, and, going back to costs, what will be the cost of having on-premise backup?
In the case of LincWare, O'Leary says, they are currently using Box.net (news, site) to maintain synced copies of all critical business information that can be used even if an outage occurs. With many cloud providers there is a guarantee of 99.9% up time, but that means 0.1% downtime. Can your enterprise afford that?
4. Information Access
Other things to be considered include who owns the information stored in the cloud? Where is it going to be stored and what regulations govern the geographical location of the providers’ storage facility, and how does that fit with your compliance obligations?
Then, on top of that, there is the question of what happens if you get locked out of the system and how access to data is enabled in the case where passwords have been forgotten. Not a likely scenario, you say, but how many times have you forgotten the password to get into a simple email account?
5. Legacy Systems
Taking the previous four points together, and looking at legacy systems that exist in the enterprise, maybe the way forward is a hybrid solution -- a mix between legacy and cloud computing systems. With SharePoint migrations we have already seen a number of these systems in operation, giving enterprises the chance to move at their own pace.
For enterprise content management, enterprises need to look at whether there are ways of moving to the cloud gradually. There are already a number of connectors that will connect software SharePoint, or Documentum, and it is worth researching this before making the jump.
The other issue that needs to be considered before making a decision is how your applications are going to perform in the cloud. What’s good on-premise may not necessarily work for you in the cloud.
There are a number of considerations here, whether your enterprise decides to use a public or private cloud.
For enterprises that are spread across the globe, access to applications will be quicker or slower depending on where they are accessed from and how well local networks operate.
During the busiest part of the day, it is often the case, particularly with public clouds, that your applications will be slower, while with private clouds access to it will often be determined by how geographically close the user is to the cloud-center itself. How will this impact enterprise performance?
While many CFOs will break out in an excited sweat over the savings to be made by moving to the cloud, the end user needs to be considered. This is particularly true of users in emerging markets, where it may not be possible to access the same level of application performance as it is in the US, for example.
ECM, the Cloud and CMIS
There is one further issue that needs to be mentioned here, and that’s CMIS (Content Management Interoperability Services).
As the components that make up the core of enterprise content management systems, both on-premise and in the cloud, are going to evolve, it is probably a good idea to look for ECM software and cloud infrastructures that support CMIS-compliant systems.
As enterprises are not static, the existence of CMIS standards will ease your problems when multiple ECM systems needed to be consolidated or integrated.
According to Adrian McGrath, principal solution architect specializing in information management at Logica, on a recent blog post, ECM solutions will increasingly be assembled from an ECM App library (utilizing the CMIS standard) built on top of a core ECM engine and accessed as a "black box."
He also argues :
…as more of the core ECM functionality is commoditized and the new CMIS standard starts to open up and simplify access to content held across multiple ECM repositories, ECM Platform as a Service (PaaS) implementations will become commonplace.
So, with all these issues to be taken into account, we come back again to planning as the key issue in deciding whether to make the cloud move or not.
The issues here are only some that need to be considered, but with good planning the cloud should be a help rather than a hindrance. Later on in the month we will see how different vendors approach this problem.