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No Black and White in the Cloud

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By David Jones, Cloud Solution Marketing Manager, Hyland Software

Successful ECM (enterprise content management) will always be a balance between security and accessibility, according to David Jones of Hyland Software. But to get the ideal balance between the two, perhaps the cloud is the best option?

The analyst firm, IDC, calls it the Third Platform – the huge technology shift brought about by mobile solutions, social media, big data and the cloud. It compares the changes we are currently experiencing to the move from mainframes to client/server computing.

Certainly, mobile technologies and the cloud are disrupting the status quo in the ECM world. But it’s not a quick and easy revolution; while early adopters are already maximising the competitive advantages these bring, many are still reluctant to store corporate documents outside their firewall.

There’s still a view that cloud solutions are fine for start-ups and small companies, but not for large corporations. In many ways this caution is understandable, especially if a business is considering an application run in a public cloud with data stored the other side of the world.

There are other fears, too. Potential users are concerned about flexibility (Once I’ve migrated to the cloud, how easy is it to reverse this move?), and cost (Are there hidden charges which will cancel out the savings?).

At the same time, few businesses can afford to get left behind. Many are currently struggling with cumbersome and mismatched legacy systems, platforms and outdated server rooms. Yet, even the UK government is encouraging the use of cloud, claiming that it could cut IT costs in the public sector by an estimated 75%.

Access to documents via mobile applications, such as mobile enterprise content management (ECM), can transform an organisation from an administrative black hole to a competitive, fast-action operation offering superior customer service and user satisfaction. For example, insurance claims adjusters can now quickly enter reports, photographs and video or audio interviews into the system so that teams in the office can begin processing with no delay. In South Africa, the OnBase mobile ECM is replacing paper files, capturing data and giving healthcare workers real-time access to information on their mobile phones to help prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Weighing the benefits of easy and fast access to information with the need for security will always involve some compromise, however small the risk. Today’s ECM works best when data can be accessed quickly from any location. Users must also be able to upload and download large files without encountering delays.

But in many ways content may actually be safer in the cloud than on-premise. For a start, look at the random nature of most security leaks. For example, some of the most high-profile lapses over the past few years have been surprisingly low-tech, involving laptops left on a tube carriage and sensitive documents photographed in a government minister’s hand. It could be argued that data is safer when stored centrally and accessed from multiple locations, rather than being physically transported from point A to point B.

Besides, most cloud providers recognise that their reputation and livelihood depend on data being held securely; usually their SLAs are more demanding than traditional agreements. Also, when content is easily accessed there is no need for employees to find it by a more circuitous and less secure route. File syncing and sharing services can increase the risk of leaks and many downloaded by individual employees are not sanctioned or supported by the IT department. By providing “anywhere, anytime, any device” access to content, ECM in the cloud is perhaps a safer option.

In reality, some ECM providers, including Hyland, were hosting solutions for their clients long before the cloud was ever defined as such. They may have a decade or so of experience in delivering ECM in this way and will have ironed out any glitches.
So how can businesses get the access/security balance right? Considering these issues will help minimise the risk:

•    Those wary of multi-tenant solutions should opt for a private cloud. This will allow complete customisation of the solution and integration with other enterprise business applications in a way simply not possible in a multi-tenant SaaS solution. Private cloud ECM will be just the same as on-premise versions.

•    The location of data should be completely transparent and often kept as close to home as possible. There’s no doubt that businesses have more trust in cloud computing when their assets are held close by, and as a minimum they need to know exactly where their corporate assets (including backups) are being held.

•    The best choice is a solution built specifically for ECM rather than a generic cloud-platform for popular applications from global brands such as Amazon, Google or Microsoft. These are designed to be all things to all people and not for the complex needs of most businesses.

•    Solutions should be flexible enough to enable customers to change their mind. Once they are in the cloud, can they come out of it and back to an on-premise solution or can they migrate an existing on-premise solution to the cloud? Multi-location organisations should be able to standardise on the one ECM provider, but make their own choices on the nature of their deployment. It’s no good getting on the ride, if you can’t get off.

•    An ECM provider who can offer both on-premise and cloud solutions will be best placed to provide advice and guidance on best practices to ensure success.

Most IT commentators agree that the Third Platform revolution has only just begun and in time, most of the enterprise computing infrastructures will move to some form of the cloud. Until then, individual businesses will have to decide where on the security vs accessibility sliding scale they need to be according to the type of information they hold, and their individual corporate need for information access. However, a tailored solution in a private cloud, hosted by a trusted provider in a data centre location that best suits the individual organisation, can help allay most fears relating to moving to the cloud. And once in the cloud, the organization can begin to realise the significant cost and operational benefits that the Third Platform can deliver.


David Jones, Cloud Solution Marketing Manager, Hyland Software

About the author:

David Jones, Cloud Solution Marketing Manager, is Hyland Software’s cloud marketing expert, delivering product and solution marketing for their comprehensive cloud-based enterprise content management (ECM) solution, OnBase Cloud.  David brings nearly 20 years’ experience of working with users and vendors across a wide range of vertical markets, focusing on taking complex technologies, such as data mining and document management, and developing them into commercial solutions.

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