Does the future of document management lie in the cloud?

A kaleidoscope of options has sprung up for “cloud” document management, where confusing terminology and disputed definitions abound. To help come to grips with the subject, IDM asked a range of EDRMS solutions providers and consultants to indicate which way is up.

Cloud document management promises the world. Get all the document organisation and retrieval features you need, without the burden of owning and managing the hardware and software associated with application-based solutions.
 
Cloud services have burst onto the marketplace with products suited to just about any DM need, from individual users handling their personal files to huge multinational organisations seeking compliance with document retention and discovery regulations.
 
But are you talking about a private cloud or  public cloud? Is this solution a hosted EDRMS or SaaS DM?
 
What are the differences between hosted SharePoint and Office 365?
 
Can I make do with the DM that comes integrated with my erp platform? 
 
Should you look at managing every document digitally or just look at specific business activities such as accounts payable? What about the new hosted options here from Esker,  ReadSoft and Basware?
 
Want to  do away with the headache of installing, maintaining and supporting your DM platform  completely? In that case you’ll want to talk to a business process outsourcer (BPO) such as a Computershare or Decipha. While your organisation may not have the volumes to make financial sense to use the heavy duty solutions the big BPOs offer, there are a range of different offerings available from other solutions providers.
 
So is the cloud the answer for document management, or is it just a document repository minus the management element? Will it provide the universal access and ease of use that will turn ordinary users from shirkers in eager adopters? Or will it become just another tangled web like the worldwide web (too much information but not enough context)?
 
Most IT managers find that their users demand more than the basics. They want version control, document sharing, revision mark-up, and advanced collaboration tools, such as discussion threads, whiteboards, and group editing.
 
 They also want secure remote access from anywhere, and not just via computers, either: smartphones, netbooks, and tablet computers must be full participants. Corporate management has its requirements as well: reliable backup and resilient business continuity, so that a localised outage doesn't leave information workers idle. And both groups never want to be told that storage has filled up.
 
Trevor Dykstra, Director of Australian EDRMS solutions provider infoXpert, said “Regardless of new technology, whether it is an EDRMS installed locally, or moving to a cloud solution, employees will always try and work outside the system to suits their individual needs- i.e. they will try and find a "work around" like Dropbox if they feel the system doesn't suit their needs. Technology doesn't solve the issue, although it can help minimise the issue of people working outside the EDRMS if it is easy to use and intuitive.
 
 “The only way to get all staff using the EDRMS is the get a 100% staff "buy -in". This could be by a) make them stakeholders in the corporate information with awareness of the "big picture" and/or b) mandate an enterprise policy where all employees are aware of both their responsibilities and the benefits that it will have to them if all their information is captured correctly.
 
 “In the end of the day if comes down to people power: employees understanding their responsibilities regarding information capture and organisations understanding their responsibilities by providing a EDRMS system that their staff can easily use that enhances their work and is not a barrier to working efficiently.”
 
David Eade, Product Manager and Technology Evangelist for Australia’s Objective Corporation, believes there are currently  some specific challenges in the government area around confidence in cloud technology.
 
“This is in a number of areas, from risk management to control of information, sovereignty of that information and things like security, audit-ability, accountability  and visibility,” said Eade.
 
“Ultimately, content management in the cloud comes down to classification for most CIOs. For some sets of information that government holds,  it might not matter if it’s held off-site in a cloud-based system, for example publicly available information like train timetables. Other data still needs to be stored behind a firewall and it’s a matter of classification to determine what could go to the cloud and what shouldn’t. However, it’s important to recognise that creating yet more silos of information is never a good idea.”
 
“This is where a hybrid architecture, combining on-premise EDRMS with cloud based applications becomes interesting.”
 
Objective has 200-odd customers in UK and around the world using its Objective Online cloud-based products for Collaborative Document Creation and Online Engagement, and is introducing a new cloud-based information sharing platform called “Objective Connect” to enable agencies to securely share information with other agencies or other organisations in the government ecosystem.
 
“We are seeing a number of the agencies where staff are using Web-based file sharing tools like Dropbox and Box.net but often CIOs and Information Managers have no visibility of what’s being shared outside of their organisations using these tools. They understand the business value of sharing externally using cloud-based technology but they still have to manage the risk associated  with it in line with their EDRMS strategy, that’s where Objective Connect comes in,”  said Eade.
 
“Often we hear that the cloud is the answer to all problems known to mankind but the reality is that the cloud enables new and innovative solutions. It is these solutions to real business challenges that we should be focussed on, not the technology itself.
 
“For example, the cloud has provided a fabulous transport mechanism which means we can now easily share info between agencies, but underpinning it is the need to have an on-premise system that lets me know what I can share and what I can’t and providing visibility of who is sharing what with who.”
 
All of Objective’s EDRMS customers are on-premise.
 
 “We are not seeing too many government CIOs seeking to move all information in their organisation to the cloud. We are, however, seeing them seek real solutions to pressing business problems that are enabled by the cloud and that’s almost always within the context of a hybrid architecture.” 
 
Leon O'Reilly, Fuji Xerox Australia’s Office Innovation Manager, wonders if the marketing hype has got ahead of  delivery.
 
“Have the rules and practices and governance caught up?
 
“We have seen strong uptake in areas such as Salesforce CRM, but Office in the cloud seems to be a reluctance. People are worried about their data, there is still fear of off-shoring and emotional ties to business data.
 
Fuji Xerox Australia offers a full spectrum of document management solutions, from simple scan to email or SharePoint up to a SaaS ECM platform.
 
“The cloud conversation is growing,” said O’Reilly.
 
“More and more clients are educated about asking the question, however one of the stumbling blocks to massive cloud adoption is that it is folly to consider  that all of your internal business systems can suddenly be replaced in the cloud. 
 
“At the big end of town it’s generally a virtual private cloud so it’s all self-contained. 
“For the SMEs,  a lot of people are still buying on-premise solutions. There are some fast-growing cloud services specifically designed for tasks such as AP automation. Niche cloud solutions seem to be getting some traction as opposed to putting my whole business in the cloud. 
 
“Around 30-40% of our clients are having these conversations and about 20% end up doing something with the cloud for specific business processes, while the other 80% are adopting on-premise solutions to streamline existing processes.”
 
Robert Fraser, Director of IT consultants Trinogy Systems, said, “ One side of me has a view that ‘cloud’ computing (2000’s version of what I knew as computer bureau back in the 80s) is just a cynical exercise by software vendors to get more revenue by charging sites for software that they could ‘own’ with a perpetual licence, to an annual income stream that lasts for years. 
 
“The winners are ultimately the software vendors, end-users see little change or benefit.
 
“One thing many people fail to recognise, is that almost all firms have heavily modified versions of Microsoft Word (templates, VBA code etc) for style sheets, time recording and so on, and any cloud based version of Word (Office 365) is a long way from providing this in a cloud environment. Until Microsoft decide how to not affect their revenue stream for Office, nothing will be available to help law firms in particular move to a cloud solution.
 
“Another key ‘bug point’ of mine with cloud computing is application level integration, e.g. how do I in a cloud world where all my applications/content is hosted, deliver integration between applications so users don’t have to hop from one browser screen to another. 
 
“If I run my apps internally, and I want to share data between my billing (practice management system) with say my document system, I can do this because I can get direct access to the database, install triggers etc or easily import/export data between my core apps. 
 
“How do I do this in the cloud?  Web2.0/web services may offer this, but then I am possibly moving loads of data between different cloud locations and then what about security, who will do this, who will maintain it, what if I am not allowed by the cloud provider to enable this?
“I see the subject of application integration in the ‘cloud’ world as a topic little discussed but of major importance.”
 
Siller Systems Administration is a consultancy that works with primarily with government clients.
 
Principal consultant  Joy Siller has observed a push from some IT managers to pursue cloud computing.  
 
“It’s seen as particularly beneficial for managing their ever-growing digital storage requirements.  Of course the business information/records managers are concerned about the cloud, perhaps with good reason.  The rigours of protecting information from security breaches (including potential non-compliance with Privacy laws) are possibly more-ingrained in information/records managers than some IT managers.  
 
“Public-facing cloud options are out of the question because there are too many instances of such breaches.  From a government client perspective, they are probably more inclined to trust a cloud service that is (Australian) government run with all the necessary controls and safeguards.  
 
“Cloud computing is being promoted heavily in our field as one of the next great business enablers, and as a result there are a number of service providers and possible fly-by-nighters emerging. Some writers have suggested that accrediting providers may provide some peace of mind but I would see this as questionable (accreditation in other areas of information management does not necessarily mean reliability!)  
 
“Cloud computing can’t be stopped (nor should it be) and the issues that have been associated since the concept began (including cross-border data privacy and protection problems) are not being obviously resolved.  It presents yet another technology-driven challenge for organisations.
 
“It’s ironic that cloud computing is a little ‘back-to-the-future’ insofar as many years ago we moved away from central data processing service providers to in-house client-server systems. Now we’re moving it out to service providers again.”
 
SharePoint consultancy company Seers encountered some issues when using the cloud BPOS services as an EDRMS.
 
Stephen Maclean, Joint Managing Director at Seers, said,  “We did some consulting work for a large start-up government entity.  Their decision was to use BPOS as an EDRMS solution for storing documents and enabling internet/external users to access these documents.
 
“However they realised that there was an issue where the data centre was located since it was political and also against the regulation.  So there was a quick decision to move all these internal documents into an on-premise SharePoint platform and enable an extranet access for users.
 
“However migrating from the cloud to on-premise was a nightmare. The first issue was that all audit details on records such as versioning, modified by and dates were lost.
“Office 365 is a great solution and we are noticing a great uptake of businesses with less than 50 users are starting to adopt this platform. 
 
“The advantages of using SharePoint on line is the ability to move all your documents off your server and hard-drives and work in the cloud.  The enterprise search feature has a great index for you to filter and sort your results since it generates this dynamically.
 
“The only catch is that Microsoft solutions can appear so easy to use which all people in the business unit tend to adopt and take ownership of their site in SharePoint online.  
“And in a few months you notice that if no proper governance has been put in place it can end up a mess and cause issues such as too many subfolders, long URLs, and lack of information structure.
 
“So the recommendation is a solution architect to plan and design the Information Architecture and manage user permissions before users get their hands on the platform to ensure a solid organic growth of content.”
 
Nigel Carruthers-Taylor ,  a Principal at Canberra-based EDRMS consultancy iCognition, believes  cloud has the potential to really change the landscape of EDRMS as we know it. 
 
“There are good cost savings to be achieved and it removes the headaches of managing your own application in house, as well as providing ‘EDRMS anywhere’ and on any device. However, there are still policy, provenance, technology and transition challenges that need to be overcome,” he said.
 
“On the policy and provenance side it is important that organisations assess that the solution selected can guarantee the authenticity, accuracy and reliability of the records. 
 
“Some of the solutions I see being offered don’t necessarily claim to be ISO or US DoD compliant, but you have to look carefully under the covers to find this out. System selection needs to be as careful as you would for an in-house system, and the selection of solutions underpinned by worlds best practice systems is key.
 
“The issue of provenance gets bigger if your information is stored in jurisdictions that do not guarantee you the same protection for information as your own, and the issue of the US Patriot Act or similar laws of the country where the information is stored needs to be assessed.
“On the technology side of things there are a number of headaches; how will your cloud solution integrate and capture digital records from the point of creation, which is usually in the organisation’s private domain? 
 
“How will records created from desktop apps and line of business systems that are not in the cloud be captured? There are technological answers, but they usually involve desktop download and installations, or server based integrations that the organisation may not be comfortable with.
 
“Finally, the big one: transition. You can’t just turn off your existing systems and jump straight to the cloud, particularly if a large volume of documents and emails are involved. How will the organisation migrate their existing records and documents into the cloud solution? 
“How will users now access them? There must be a planned and managed transition strategy. The cost and difficulty of this transition has put a number of organisations off.”
 
Lee Bourke, Chief Executive Officer, FileBound Australia, loves the fact that document management in the cloud makes DM and workflow automation available to the SME market. 
 
“Historically only the large enterprise could afford advanced DM and workflow tools. 
  
“The one issue Australia faces with cloud is that your cloud infrastructure is only as reliable as your telco.  How many people are truly happy with the performance of their telco and can our telcos deal with numerous documents (not data) being sent down the pipes.  
 
“NBN will hopefully assist with this although given the large growth in mobility I’d like to see a much faster roll-out of 4G and other high speed wireless services.”
 
 

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