The growth of cloud file sync and share (FSS) solutions is one of the success stories of the cloud industry. As consumer adoption of these tools races ahead, many businesses are wondering whether enterprise versions of these tools can deliver a cheap and easy alternative to enterprise content management (ECM) solutions.

When You Say Cloud, People Think File Sync & Share

For many people, file sync and share tools have become synonymous with the term "cloud." Tools like iCloud, Dropbox and so on are what a lot of consumers think of when they think cloud. From a usability and a functionality point of view, FSS is delivering exactly what many Internet and mobile enabled users are looking for: simple-to-use file and content storage that provides access across multiple devices.

Individual users are not typically storing sensitive information in these tools, nor do they want or need to do anything other than store and access the content. Can the same be said for the commercial world?

This is where enterprise content management (ECM) comes in. ECM provides all of the file storage and retrieval capabilities of FSS -- even across multiple and diverse devices -- but also delivers more in terms of "added value" items. These extras focus on the work of a businesses, as opposed to that of an individual: things like processing hundreds of invoices daily, approving content at particular stages of its lifecycle, ensuring documents are retained for specific periods of time, and then securely destroying those documents where required.

Consumers don't need or care about these capabilities, but they are essential for organizations.

Keep That Business Card

If it sounds as if ECM can deliver what organization's need to manage content, that's because it can. So why is ECM not the first IT solution deployed in every organization around the world?

There have traditionally been two main reasons: ECM is expensive, and is difficult to deploy. And this is where FSS tools have an advantage: they are (comparatively speaking) inexpensive and easy to deploy.

So is FSS set to conquer ECM?

From a business perspective, FSS tools can deliver significant benefits in certain areas. The ease of use and ability to collaborate on content quickly and across organizational boundaries is valuable on specific projects and content types. For example, easing collaboration for marketing teams with external designers, PR agencies and other consultancies -- FSS tools facilitate this well.

In addition, some ECM solutions cannot deliver content across multiple channels (such as web, mobile, tablet and cloud). FSS tools offer significant benefit -- at a much lower cost and without the need to manage the IT infrastructure.

Learning Opportunities

But don't throw out the ECM vendors contact details just yet.

Wait till Harvest

When it comes to confidential content, content that needs to be handled in a regulated manner or bulk processed content, FSS tools can't deliver. This is where ECM is definitely required.

This also fits well with the way ECM is typically deployed within organizations. Most deploy more than one ECM solution, so having FSS and ECM deployed side by side is not likely to cause problems. The key here is to ensure that the two solutions can talk to each other, because at some stage content from the FSS tool will need to post into the ECM solution and possibly vice versa. Integration between the two solutions just makes sense.

From a strategic perspective, the difficulties ECM has experienced gaining widespread adoption across parts of the business landscape can be mitigated by the adoption of FSS solutions.

ECM vendors that can afford to play the long game will see real benefit from the short-term adoption of FSS. Organizations using FSS will commit to the mentality and benefits of electronic content and processes, but they will hit a wall when they try to use FSS for things like workflow and bulk processing. At this stage, strategically aware ECM vendors will be ideally placed to pick up the pieces -- having let the FSS marketing engines identify, educate and pre-qualify their target markets.

So is file sync and share set to sound the death knell for enterprise content management? In my opinion, it is doing quite the opposite: It is seeding the ground beautifully for the ECM farmers to reap a huge harvest once the FSS crop has reached its maximum potential. 

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  atomoboy