Analyst SoundOff: What the cloud means for content management

Their answers may surprise you

Cloud computing has had a huge impact on enterprise software in recent years and content management is no exception. The move to the cloud has been accelerated by consumerization and an increasingly-mobile workforce with ever more sophisticated mobile devices. They want access to their content from any device regardless of where they are.

They're also increasingly social and have a strong desire to share content and other information, which ties into the cloud. Yet, for all these monumental shifts in the way we view enterprise software, IT has not abdicated its responsibilities when it comes to security and governance.

We wanted to know just how much of an impact cloud computing has had on content management. We asked several industry experts one question:

How has cloud computing altered content management and what customers are looking for in solutions?

The answers may surprise you. Here's what they had to say:

Tony Byrne, president, Real Story Group

Cloud--more specifically SaaS--has had a big impact on Document Management and document-oriented collaboration, but not so much for Web Content and Experience Management (WCXM).

First, the rise of cloud file-sharing vendors is "out-SharePointing" Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) SharePoint: spreading virally within organizations outside of IT control in ways that are forcing enterprises to address some simple (but ubiquitous) file management use cases that SharePoint 2010 does not do well.

For WCXM, the native SaaS vendors have largely failed to live up their initial hype, but more and more large enterprises are turning to cloud-based delivery environments. The key here is whether the native WCXM software is readily "cloudable." Few vendor offerings do this seamlessly today.

Geoffrey Bock, principal, Bock & Company

The answer to your question depends on what you mean by 'cloud computing.' Certainly cloud-based file sharing and synchronization products are very useful in the short term. While Dropbox has the greatest name recognition within the consumer and SMB market, many other products from start-ups and established vendors alike are vying for attention. But like Windows file shares designed for last century's LAN computing era, these solutions make file sharing within the cloud easy--and content management hard.

I believe business customers are looking for something more sophisticated and intuitive--something where you don't have to remember cryptic folders and file names, where relationships are self-evident, where knowledge builds, and where team members can still find the important stuff many months later.

We've learned a lot about managing content over the past decade: the importance of content types, formal categories, ad hoc tagging, systematic security and loosely coupled services. 

Over the next year, I expect that we will begin to see cloud-based content management solutions that link content to work tasks, that leverage the incredible link structure of the web, and that are designed for mobile first. We're not there yet. But, just as Justice Potter Stewart once said about pornography, we'll know it when we see it.

Laurence Hart, chief information officer, AIIM

The Cloud is forcing vendors to innovate in areas that they had previously ignored. Prior to the Cloud, established vendors had focused on creating deeper feature sets. With the advent of Cloud providers like Dropbox and Box, users are reaching for the power of simplicity. CIOs and vendors are seeing users move to these cloud-based solutions and are moving to provide solutions that can be sufficiently governed by the organization. Governance is the challenge that is beginning to be faced as the move to the cloud doesn't relieve organizations of their obligations.

Cheryl McKinnon, principal, Candy Strategies

Cloud computing has not altered content management, but it has served to accelerate some key trends in the overall information management market. 

The first trend is the "consumerization of IT" (perhaps better described as the "personalization" of IT). Cloud-based content sharing tools can be easily acquired by even moderately tech-savvy information workers. Confidence from using cutting edge tools for personal computing purposes translates into skunk works computing for productivity purposes at work. 

Second, cloud computing accelerates the disruption of the traditional per-user license model as the only way of acquiring business software. As open source began to challenge this license model years ago, cloud-based applications add even more pressure to IT and procurement managers to think differently. 

The third trend is the rise of a more "governance" minded approach to records management. Cloud is fast-tracking the demise of the paper-based paradigm for capture and filing of business records. It is no longer realistic to expect that all business documents reside inside a single repository or even within the enterprise's server room.  

This third point leads to what customers are looking for in a cloud solution for content management. In one word? Trust. Off-loading the control of corporate content means systems must be trusted to be available, secure and transparent. Cloud providers addressing the enterprise market must outline how content can be discovered, disposed of, migrated and protected in line with service level agreements.

Dan Keldsen, president and principal consultant, Information Architected

Cloud content management is an obvious solution, but runs into two common complications, when it comes to choosing whether to go "to the cloud!" or stick with the tried and true owned, on-premise solutions. Choosing cloud or not cloud doesn't really come down to whether the cloud is ready, but whether the company is ready. What customers want, but often don't focus on, is infrastructure that supports their business, ala the phrase I constantly ask...'What is your Information Architected FOR?'

For example, your business is probably not in business to own a glorious data center, in most cases. But rather to create goods/services and solve various problems for your clients. Anything else is a distraction.

The two complications that cause concern and delay cloud adoption are whether the cloud solution integrates into other cloud offerings (easily, inexpensively, manageably), and how "hybrid" integration into the rest of their infrastructure (particularly security, search, ERP and accounting solutions). The good news is that both the cloud content management providers themselves, and the "cloud middleware" providers have solutions for many of these situations--so it's really a matter of the internal battles for ownership and control, more than the cloud by itself. And for that to be addressed, it's time for a strategy talk, and getting business and technical teams together to really address [the issues that matter to them].

Lawrence Hawes, principal, Dow Brook Advisory Services

Cloud computing is the great enabler of networked business--collaboration across internal corporate silos and external firewalls. People using consumer-grade, cloud-based content management services (e.g. Google Docs, Dropbox) are now expecting to create, edit and share content in their business networks with the same ease. Corporate IT staff are seeking to supply that experience while still maintaining control over content security, versioning and findability.