While there’s no question that cloud computing is here to stay, the numbers suggest that the need to manage content in the cloud has a variety of business drivers. The challenge facing organizations is that these various drivers are not necessarily consistent or aligned with each other. 

Driving the Demand for Cloud Solutions

The needs and requirements of individual knowledge workers provide one driver, as reflected in "AIIM Trendscape: Content and the Cloud." Workers are struggling with assuring availability of their critical work content not only on their work-issued laptops, but also on a variety of personal devices and in countless locations. Many CIOs suddenly find themselves surrounded by hundreds of cloud-based sync and share downloads totally outside the purview or even awareness of the IT department.

Another driver for cloud content management in the enterprise is SaaS-based enterprise applications, although many executives don’t even realize that they are actually porting key content assets to the cloud. As organizations adopt applications like Salesforce.com, they face an increasing number of cloud-based content “silos” in which business-critical content is stored within the application itself, inaccessible to other applications.

Third, the economics of adopting cloud technology, especially because of its ability to handle the peaks and valleys of demand, is driving IT executives to look more seriously at the cloud. Even though the marketing hype behind the cloud has confused many executives as to what cloud technology really is, IT staffs continue to want private and hybrid public-private cloud solutions to help reduce the costs of cascading storage requirements.

Concerned About Security?

When it comes to handling mission-critical content assets, our research suggests that organizations are struggling with how and when to use the cloud and how to extend already questionable information governance practices from on-premises repositories into the cloud. For instance a pharmaceutical company will think long and hard about putting secret research content in a public cloud of any sort. The latest report from AIIM, “ECM at the Crossroads,” shows that fully 50 percent of those surveyed say their organizations are unlikely to ever put content applications in the cloud.

What about the other 50 percent? How are they viewing the cloud? We’re seeing that for most organizations a hybrid cloud/on-premises model is in their immediate future. Cloud for ECM is often considered an all or nothing decision, but the reality is that the move to ECM in the cloud will happen gradually over time and will drive a need for hybrid information governance approaches for the foreseeable future.

ECM Cloud Drivers

To understand this, we asked what the main driver for a hybrid cloud deployment would be. This time, content access and collaboration came slightly above IT resource savings -- 42 percent compared to 40 percent -- with mobile and third-party access at 24 percent. This confirms that for those organizations struggling with the security aspects of outside-the-firewall access, hybrid cloud offers a potential compromise.

ECM Cloud Obstacles

The primary concern for users and non-users is governance and security (35 percent), but also the fact that cloud ECM, and in particular SaaS systems, further fragment the available content repositories. Much as we saw earlier for on-premises enterprise systems, managing lifecycles and retention rules would be an issue for 24 percent. Integration with access portals and search is a concern for 21 percent, as is general back-up and long-term access. 

ECM Cloud Applications

The somewhat surprising result is that records management is the most popular cloud application, with 14 percent already doing it and 33 percent who would consider it. The next two may be highlighting already popular SaaS applications: receipt scanning for expense claims would come under forms scanning, and there are a number of SaaS recruitment and appraisement systems for HR. Two further applications set to grow for those who need them are bid or contract management, where collaboration is important and content analytics or big data.

Hybrid Cloud as an Option 

Half of our respondents would consider using cloud or SaaS for ECM applications, including roughly 12 percent who already do so. Seventeen percent are looking towards a hybrid cloud to improve access for mobile users and third parties, with varying proportions of their content placed in the cloud and synchronized to their on-premises ECM system.

As we know, there are many different styles of cloud provisioning, and the choice for a hybrid cloud may differ from a full cloud deployment due to the synchronization requirements with the on-premises system. Twelve percent would deal directly with a public cloud provider, but 21 percent would prefer their ECM vendor to manage this service and a further 21 percent would expect their vendor to host its own cloud (rising to 24 percent for SharePoint users). The remainder would use a private cloud.

Looking Ahead

Cloud technology is here to stay, but adoption in ECM companies is on a selective basis. It’s important that companies identify their greatest needs and move forward with an understanding of the benefits and risks of adopting cloud technology.

Here are a few recommendations for companies exploring cloud technology options:

  • Take a general view on fundamental desirability within your model of business operations. Consider IT departmental costs, equipment depreciation models, consolidation of subsidiary sites, mobile and remote activities, office costs and data center costs.
  • If security is an issue, undertake a risk analysis and compare service level agreements. If connection bandwidth and reliability are issues, monitor uptimes and capacity of existing links and existing servers. Check the current charges for higher bandwidth connections, and their service-level performance.
  • Take a view for each major area of application, e.g., CRM, web content management (WCM), collaboration, social, project management, enterprise transactions (ERP), HR, Finance and other lines of business. For each application, consider potential benefits of the cloud against security, availability and integration implications (be sure to include operational benefits as well as cost savings). This will help with decisions about potential suppliers and preferred hosting models (e.g., single versus multi-tenanted).
  • Moving a well-established system to the cloud merely to save on IT resources may not be a compelling proposition but consolidating multi-site systems around a single cloud installation can solve a number of access, process and ownership issues.
  • As an alternative, moving the most sharable or collaborative content to a hybrid cloud will make it much easier to connect remote, mobile and third-party users and may head off unoffical use of cloud file-sharing sites.

Editor's Note: Read more from John in his post Digital Chatter, Information Overload and How to Get it Under Control