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How the cloud will shape the future of ECM

6 September, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Information Technology as we know it is changing fast and these changes will have a direct influence on the future of ECM. There is a number of factors that is working together to change the way that individuals and organisations will consume software and services. The rapid adoption of cloud solutions and cloud based services, new levels in mobility and a big move to social anything work together to change the way that content will be managed and accessed. In this article I’m not going to touch on mobility or social interaction with content, I’m going to purely focus on the cloud influence. The reason for this is that the cloud infrastructure and services is providing new ways for content creation and consumption for individuals and organisations alike.

Enterprise content management (ECM) has not really changed since its inception. There are more types of content being catered for, and more ways of creating and consuming content, but the basic functionality has not changed. To cater for large organisations and to make best use of the market, the big vendors have massive solutions, managing everything from web content to collaboration and physical document management. ECM solutions is a big catch all solution that requires computing power and dedicated administrators to make sure the system is running optimally and that the users adhere to the content management guidelines in the organisation.

Depending on the solution deployed at an organisation, content management is also an expensive exercise, and there is no clear cut return on investment. ROI is calculated on space and time saving and by enabling new levels of efficiency in the organisation. The biggest stumbling block for any ECM deployment however is the cost associated with the initial deployment of the software and the high licensing cost associated with the software. Cloud based solutions and services however are based on a usage model, there is a minimum cost associated with the uptake of the solution, and a low monthly fee based on the usage of the solution.

This is a great solution for any CFO, they save on the cost of implementation, and the cost of the cloud service or solution is normally less than what the in-house IT department charge for the same service. A growing trend in the industry is for the CFO to make the decision about the software or services to be used within an organisation. This coupled with the current financial turmoil in the markets point to a future where cloud based services will become the norm rather than the exception.

ECM in the cloud

Not all solutions will be public cloud based; most large organisations will have a hybrid implementation making use of public and private cloud solutions. The reason for this is simple; it will be too expensive to move legacy repositories to the public cloud, the same way as it is too expensive and risky for big organisations to move away from key mainframe systems. I have a couple of customers with well over a terabyte of content. The storage space to store this might be cheaper in the public cloud, but the bandwidth cost to move this content will be astronomical. So for legacy and mission critical content, organisations will use a private cloud.

The big players in the ECM space will have to relook their licensing cost in order to be more competitive. When there is a high per-user cost associated with a cloud implementation, organisations will look for alternatives. This is leading to a scenario where the “service” will be the differentiating factor, and not the “software”. The service in this case will be the support available to the organisation as well as the functionality exposed in the solution. This will lead to organisations using different cloud based service providers for different types of content.

An organisation might choose to host their web content management system in the public cloud with company X, their content creation management in the public cloud with company Y, and their customer interaction documents in their private cloud. The implementation in the private cloud will then be smaller and more focused on a specific solution, and will not try to manage all kinds of content an organisation might have.

We might even see a scenario where big infrastructure vendors will play a secondary role, and cloud implementations will be done by the big public cloud companies, e.g. Google, Microsoft, Rackspace, Amazon etc. These companies already have large public cloud implementations with best of breed solutions, and can draw on this experience to enable private clouds for organisations. A further step then would be for the public cloud vendors to recommend customers use their “app” developers, companies that are making use of their public cloud infrastructure to sell specific services. This would then mean an even more diminishing role for the traditional big hardware and software vendors.

ECM as SaaS

Software as a Service (SaaS) does have the opportunity to change the software landscape going forward. When software becomes a service, the focus will not be on the software, but on the functionality available through the service. Services will eclipse software; they will become more focused and specialized, solving a specific organisational need. Most of these business services will include the content management capabilities, for example, a procurement service will include all the documentation that is needed to run and monitor the service. This documentation will be available through third party apps or web services, and will include all types of reporting around the service. The same applies to content management functionalities; they will be exposed as a service, focusing on one specific aspect of content management.

This will free the organisation of infrastructure, support and development cost. The service will be accessible through apps, and these apps will be platform neutral. The same app will be available to the desktop, smart phone and tablet. In the same way that different social media streams can be managed and monitored in one application, dashboards will exist to manage and monitor different business services. These services will be vendor neutral and will compete against one another on functionality, price and user experience. The software that the service is running on will play a very small part in the decision on whether the service will be used or not.

The traditional ECM vendors will have to change their view on the market and their pricing models so that these service providers will use their software in the background. It is not all doom and gloom for the traditional ECM vendors, on the contrary, a whole new market is opening up for them. Organisations and individuals that up to now were not able to afford content management solutions can now afford smaller and more focused services. Solution providers offering a business service with integrated content management will first look at traditional ECM vendor software before writing their own content management solution from scratch.

But the traditional ECM vendors will have to change their view on the market, and they will have to change their licensing models. They do have the advantage of having proven solutions, existing support structures and the best of breed processes and security structures. They must just change their mind set to be more competitive in the new way that business will procure their “software”.

ECM with BPaaS

I read a report from Gartner where BPaaS is seen as a very small slice of the overall cloud movement, I tend to disagree. I think BPaaS will mature around BPM and will be the binding factor in the SaaS market. It will enable organisations to use focused solutions for specific services, and BPaaS will bind them together. It will enable organisations to make use of a wide range of outsourcing models enabling even more savings for an organisation. For example, the claims process in a life insurance organisation can be completely managed as a service. Even the email and fax gateways for the content can originate in a cloud based company that focus on providing this specific service. The capturing of the data on the form can be outsourced to one company, the calculations of the data on the form to another, with only the exceptions to be managed internally by the insurance organisation. The binding between all this different providers will be managed by BPaaS, and more specific, todays Business Process Managers.

BPaaS will enable cloud based companies to provide specific specialised services to organisations, and it will enable organisations to monitor and manage these service providers. It will also enable the organisation to easily switch between providers. It will drive down organisational cost and will bridge the private and public cloud. In short, without a good BPaaS layer, hybrid clouds will not be a viable and sustainable model.

What about ECM?

ECM will become invisible, and will play a much bigger role in our daily lives. We will interact with content management a lot more, and it will be integrated into just about every business and personal service that we will buy or rent over the cloud. ECM vendors will be forced to move to a more open structure to enable the movement of data and system neutral classification of data. If an organisation or individual decide to change from one service to another, the backend data must be migrated seamlessly between service providers. The same scenario as with Google+ and Facebook, a person that wants to move from Facebook to Google+ must be able to move all their friends, photos, posts etc. from the one system to the other. I know that it is not possible at this stage, but that is where we are moving to, and this will be critical for the adoption of a cloud infrastructure for organisations and individuals.

ECM is going to grow even stronger and more critical in future. The question is whether the traditional vendors will be able to adapt in time and make use of the new opportunity, or will they fade into the background with a new breed of ECM providers taking centre stage.

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