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CMSWire: Crossing the Chasm, Redux: What’s Your First Step for ECM in the Cloud?

ECM in the cloud is no longer cloud cuckoo-land. Some suggestions for where to start.

A version of this blog post originally appeared on CMSWire.

I remember two or three years ago, clients would be asking us about storing their content in the cloud in purely theoretical terms. There was no interest in actually doing anything about it. But it was a sexy conversation to have.

Now, the conversation is not about if clients could move their content to the cloud, but when they will move content to the cloud. And, if our clients are really honest, the conversation is about how they get control over all of the content they currently have in the cloud, regardless of whether the platform is official.

By 2020, every enterprise organization will be running cloud content management for a portion of their application needs. So the question becomes: Where do you start? How do you begin building a strategy, when we don’t know exactly what things will look like when we get to the end?

Building an Agile Content Strategy

Your strategy for moving content to the cloud will take on five distinct stages represented in the image below:

Lane 1 - Get-From-Here-To-There

The most important part of this process is that it must be focused on taking one step at a time. If you try to create a solution that’s going to solve more than one use case at a time, or if you bite off on a use case that’s too complicated, you’ve failed before you started.

The other important thing is that your process be very iterative. The sooner you can provide a prototype of your pilot to a pilot group and incorporate their feedback into the application, the better. In many cases you can block out half a day, or a day, and sit down with both the business users and the technical team in your pilot group and design the application in short, deliberative sessions. Everything you produce in these sessions will be mock-ups. But we’ve found the interaction between the internal customers and IT during these sessions to produce a better product more quickly than if the customer is kept in the dark until IT thinks they’ve got the application nailed.

What Type of Solution Should You Build?

Okay, now that we’ve decided that we aren’t going to know exactly where our cloud strategy will be in three years (much less five or ten), we need to decide what kind of application to deliver to the business. Obviously, soliciting feedback from your customers is an ideal way to go, but it’s important to understand the different buckets these solutions can fit into. The chart below offers one way to split up your possible applications types:

Lane 3 - Establish-Content-Use-Cases

I mentioned above that most organizations are fighting the use of what I’m calling “non-ECM” cloud solutions. These are simple file-sharing tools that are not enterprise-appropriate because they lack the security necessary for most organizations. I would advise looking at delivering capabilities that fit into the second or third bucket first, and then moving onto the more complicated capabilities offered in full cloud-based ECM suites.

Supplementing the Cloud Is a Best Practice

One thing we’ve learned from the way organizations manage content in SharePoint is that users don’t help with records management. Even if guidance is given that SharePoint is only supposed to be used for work in progress and all final copies should be stored in the system of record, users forget, get confused, or just ignore the guidance. Best-class organizations are now setting up applications in SharePoint and in cloud applications that automate the records-keeping by integrating the front-end system to the old ECM system in the background.

Lane 2 User-Experience-vs-Infrastructure-Reqs

It may be that in the next 3 to 5 years cloud vendors will be able to comply with the common Fortune 1000 records-keeping requirements. But it would be wise to build a system that can be managed appropriately in the meantime and can continue to provide that functionality, should the cloud community continue to ignore it.

Lane Severson
Lane Severson

I’m a Practice Leader, managing relationships with Doculabs’ West Coast clients to improve information management and security.