Is it time to start thinking ECM-as-a-Service?


Guest post by Cheryl McKinnon

One of my predictions for 2011 is that the new opposing forces in enterprise content management are self-service and gate-keeper vendor models. Enterprises ready to adopt content management tools today have vendor and architectural choices very different from those of the last decade. More choice means buyers can select a vendor not only for product functionality, but by how those vendors engage customers and generate revenue.

Open vs. closed, hosted vs. on-premise, Java vs. .NET--these have been major competing visions for ECM for a couple of years. But as feature sets become less differentiated and an interoperability common ground emerges with CMIS, perhaps these distinctions become less critical. What is becoming critical is flexibility--meaning, fluid content, mobile integration and on-demand services.

AIIM, the ECM association, reported that over a third of surveyed organizations were either deploying a new system, or replacing a legacy system in its 2010 ECM market intelligence report. Organizations starting from scratch have the opportunity to optimize costs in new ways. There is choice beyond the first wave of ECM products, architected for the 1990s client-server era. 

Content fluidity

"The Cloud" is not just a place. It is an over-simplification to think of "cloud" applications as just storage locations on someone else's turf. Cloud service providers can be public (hosted by third parties) or private (hosted inside the enterprise). The essential characteristic is flexible, on-demand content repository services that expand or contract with business needs.

If we extrapolate the analogy of cloud, then content is the water. The need to move content from on-premise to cloud and even back again, can follow cyclical patterns. Companies can optimize their costs and storage by incorporating cloud services into an overall content management strategy, tied to business- or policy-driven rules. Identifying content that is sensitive or legally protected and thus inappropriate for some cloud services is part of the policy definition. 

Organizations can assess the flexibility of ECM products to accommodate this fluid nature of corporate content management needs. Self-service ECM vendor models don't lock enterprise content into their own cloud instance, nor to an on-premise only architecture. Gate-keeper models do. Content flowing through its natural business lifecycle should not be hobbled by a locked-in approach to repository services. 

More than just a mobile log-in

Gatekeeper ECM vendors have an interest in preserving the per-user license model; it's the bread and butter not only of initial sales but of ongoing annual maintenance fees. Organizations adopting mobile ECM must investigate the licensing models for mobile access. Is the cost part of the initial license? Or extra because of additional 'value' provided? How many times can a user be charged for access to the same content? 

Many newer content management vendors have architected their products to be mobile-accessible by default, not as an add-on. A critical distinction between vendors encouraging enterprise self-service vs. gate-keeper culture is the provision of APIs and architecture for mobile application design.

Design tools to build vertical or horizontal solutions for mobile devices, support for standards-driven multi-repository navigation, and app stores or exchanges to encourage a developer network are characteristics of self-service ECM vendors. 

Design and development services on demand

Enterprises know that information management technologies can encourage competitive edge and productivity. Whether email or office documents are used, getting the capture, search and distribution experience streamlined is key to adoption. Business analysts, developers and architects need to collaborate to tune ECM systems for specific use cases.

Large or distributed enterprises need configuration or customization tools on demand. Customization as a service fully integrated into a test and deployment cycle significantly reduces deployment time. Leveraging the cloud for administrative and app development activities relieves a burden from on-premise IT resources.

Gatekeeper ECM models limit customization capabilities with proprietary languages or SDKs, rarely assuring backwards compatibility across releases. Multi-year update cycles, hardware locks and limited tech support on customizations does not empower customers or save them money. The terms of service do not enable the customer. 

Self-service ECM vendor models celebrate APIs and encourage extension and customization. Technical documentation isn't hidden behind a pay wall, and community peer-to-peer idea and app exchange is encouraged. Reusable, future-proofed enhancements that can be shared across business units, even across a broad community of interest, means a more rapid ROI and protection of resource investments than closed-door, single-use customizations hobbled by vendor models of the last century.

Cheryl McKinnon has more than 17 years of experience in enterprise content management. Currently leading corporate marketing for Nuxeo - Open Source ECM, she has held senior positions with vendors such as Open Text and Hummingbird. Active in industry associations such as AIIM and ARMA, she blogs regularly for both Nuxeo and at her personal site Candy Strategies.

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