A Reality Check On Cloud Content Management

There’s been a lot of hype recently about moving enterprise content to the cloud. There’s no doubt that the cloud has the potential to truly disrupt the way enterprise software is delivered, but the reality is still a long way off.

While it is true that some enterprises are investing in cloud services, most of these services only store a fraction of the content enterprises hold today. The vast majority of their content is stored behind the firewall. This is partially down to legacy investments, but it is also due to the complex security and regulatory concerns that prevent them from using the cloud for all of their content.

Financial services institutions, for example, have been known to fire someone simply for emailing a regulated document to themselves as an attachment (as happened recently to someone I know). In this situation the idea of allowing staff to freely access this kind of content from the Cloud is a long way off. Another barrier to Cloud adoption is regulation that stipulates companies outside the US can’t put certain content with US-based cloud service operators due to the US Patriot Act.

In reality, even when organisations have contracts with some of the new cloud-only vendors, they still have to keep highly confidential and regulated content in their own data centres. Most cloud services are only used for day-to-day file sharing instead of proper content management and storage.

Consumer impact

In consequence, end-users often have to use two separate products to access their content. On the one hand they get an easy-to-use, consumer-like service through the Cloud with their mobile devices, but are forced to continue with a ‘system that sucks’ for confidential and regulated content that remains behind the firewall.

Frustrated by the situation, end users end up copying all the content they need to the Cloud, in total contravention of the enterprise’s rules and regulations. This results in multiple copies of the same content being stored with all the associated versioning problems. Employees are doing this because the workplace has changed and IT has been slow to meet the demands of today’s worker.

Today’s worker wants to collaborate with people both inside and outside their organisation. They want to work remotely without becoming experts in setting up and using VPN. They want to be able to access their content on all their devices. But most of all they want it to be as simple and rich to use like the consumer services they have been exposed to online.

Hybrid cloud

It’s obvious that the Cloud has many benefits for end-users. It gives them the freedom to do anything with their content outside the firewall. But vendors of cloud services can only provide a fraction of the enterprise content management (ECM) capability needed to enable workers to enjoy greater productivity while on the move.

What is needed is a fully compliant, secure platform on both sides of the firewall that meets the needs of today’s worker. Regardless of whether the user is accessing a document in the Cloud or behind the firewall, they should be able to access the same version using the same simple, easy-to-use interface across all of their devices.

It’s a power struggle. CIOs want to retain control of what can go into the Cloud and what should stay behind the firewall. At the same time users want a great and consistent experience for all the content they need regardless of where it’s stored.

The only way to truly provide this level of simplicity and integration on both sides of the firewall is if both services are the same.

For the CIOs, that means having the same data models so you don’t lose critical information when synchronising changes between the cloud and on-premise, the same permission models so you don’t end up losing security when sharing content in the cloud and the same APIs so your developers can create solutions that work for all your content on both sides of the firewall. This is what makes the ECM features invisible to end-users who want to simply work with their content between the services without disruption.

Until enterprises move all their content into the cloud, a hybrid solution is the only way to meet both the needs of the CIO and today’s modern worker.

The evolving vendor landscape

Legacy ECM systems are so outdated and behind the needs of today’s modern worker, they are actually driving users to turn increasingly to the Cloud. New cloud vendors address the needs of today’s end-user but don’t offer any solution to the complex regulatory requirements. This forces enterprises to maintain their legacy solutions for the majority of their content.

At best, they can maybe hack together a hybrid solution. But connecting two completely different systems with fundamentally different architectures, data, security models and UIs is messy and complex. To deliver the hybrid vision, cloud, mobile and on-premise, applications need to work together seamlessly and in sync. Only then will organisations be able to manage content consistently, regardless of where they need to store it.

David Gildeh is Director of Cloud Services at Alfresco, in charge of launching Alfresco's new Cloud service. Previously David was Founder & CEO of Cloud Collaboration start-up SambaStream, before it was acquired by Alfresco in 2011. He has extensive experience in launching Enterprise & Cloud services, and is passionate about building collaboration tools users actually use to do great work together online.

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