Cloud-Based ECM: Driving Down Costs and Increasing Profits
21/7/14 - Written by Shaun McDowall, Technical Consultant, Integritie
Shaun is a customer-centric technologist with a deep understanding of document-based business processes which has been developed over several years. He is passionate about using technology to reduce costs whilst improving the user experience. Shaun has helped many individuals and organisations to overcome their technical and human challenges in the quest for streamlined document processes.
"Documents drive business processes". It's an oft-repeated fact which is true, regardless of the size of the business. Processing documents is not generally considered to be the most "sexy" IT discipline, especially when compared to the advances we see in fields such as robotics, 3D-printing and 'wearable' technologies.
There has been a quiet revolution taking place in the back-office however, and what was just "dark and dusty document management" has become an interesting mix of form and function which can deliver real value and measurable savings on the bottom line. ECM systems are not just the guardians of their organisations' content, but also vehicles of process which provide real intelligence in the capture, routing and storage of content together with the possibility of new insights from the analysis of that content.
"The Cloud" has been the subject of many discussions, usually with the conclusion that it somehow heralds a "brave new world" of which every organisation should be a part. The concept of "ECM in the cloud" is very powerful and there are compelling reasons to consider this.
Why "The Cloud"?
Electronic content has often been created in desktop applications and in many organisations this is still stored locally, often on people's local hard disks or network shares. Individuals (sometimes whole departments) store their material inside their own folder structure. If a user needs to access some content in a location other than where it was originally stored, they often resort to sending it via email, copying it to an external disk, memory stick or laptop which they then take with them, notwithstanding the rules which often surround that kind of activity. There have been many stories of laptops containing sensitive data being left in cars or forgotten in railway stations. Clearly, data security is an issue although not necessarily one which is uppermost in users' minds.
The availability of always-on internet connections and cloud-based storage services has changed that. These services have revolutionised people's access to information by making it possible to store that information in the Cloud. Sharing "our stuff" with others and accessing it from remote corners of the globe has never been easier. There's no longer any need to cart mini repositories around with us and risk them being lost, having coffee spilt on them, flushed down toilets or worse. It's a neat idea: just store everything in one secure place and allow access to it from anywhere.
Online cloud services have been criticised for their attitude towards the data that they are being entrusted with. Questions have been asked about who actually owns the data once it is uploaded to such a service and how secure such data can be. If (as in the case of one well-known service provider) a single login to their services makes all data stored under that login available, what would prevent such data falling into wrong hands by accident, for example if someone logged into the service and then walked away from their device, leaving their browser logged in? What about the geo-location of data? Should we be concerned if our data is held "offshore", potentially in countries where storage and labour might be cheap but where political stability can be called into question or is not guaranteed? If documents and information are held in some indeterminate location, how can their owners be sure that they are held securely, or that their contents are not being used maliciously?
These are some of the questions which have effectively hampered Cloud implementations of ECM solutions with organisations understandably opting for the "on-premise" option which gives them control of their data – they know where it is and who can access it. Integritie has worked to overcome these objections and our world-class KCOnline cloud service, which is powered by proven software such as IBM's FileNet P8, is available with enterprise-grade security and cast-iron assurances concerning data geo-location which satisfy the most demanding requirements for security and compliance.
According to AIIM (the Association for Information and Image Management) Enterprise Content Management is defined as, "The strategies, methods and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes. ECM tools and strategies allow the management of an organization's unstructured information, wherever that information exists".
While operating systems such as Windows revolutionised access to content-creation technology for many, they presented organisations with a huge problem: how best to categorise, store and retrieve all this data? Early Document Management Systems provided a solution to these problems. Integration between repositories and the document-creating applications encouraged users to place their documents into a repository at the point of creation rather than saving them to some localised file store.
These early repositories were traditionally large silos of documents with little in-built intelligence. In time, it became possible to use the content of documents as a means of search and retrieval, rather than more traditional metadata. This was something of a "holy grail" in document management terms and was often used to good effect. One particular solution was deployed in the mid-90s and its content-search capability used very effectively in General Election campaigns by major political parties on both sides of the Atlantic. Due to clever branding and marketing, it wasn't general knowledge at the time that the solution in question was actually a document management system.
ECM systems have evolved since then and, in their latest incarnations, are more capable than ever before. The preference for the use of web-browsers over traditional "thick clients" has reduced the amount of software that needs to be deployed and maintained on the client side and the latest user-interfaces make collaboration easier.
The use of content has evolved again and today it's possible to gain insights into data which would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. For example, Integritie's award-winning SMC4 solution harnesses the power of IBM's Content Analytics and FileNet P8 to provide organisations with the ability to observe and control their social media presence. And it does this in the Cloud.
ECM – in "The Cloud" or On-premise?
On-premise ECM solutions are often subject to a license agreement between the software publisher and the end-user organisation which can be very costly. The software is hosted on in-house computers and the organisation itself remains responsible for the infrastructure and platforms, together with all hardware and software maintenance. It absorbs the costs of maintaining the servers and the space they require and takes care of disaster recovery. Organisations' own IT departments can struggle because staff members are responsible for maintaining a variety of systems. Although they may be accomplished generalists, they often lack the specialised knowledge and experience necessary to be fully effective when it comes to supporting or maintaining the in-house ECM system.
A cloud-based ECM system, on the other hand, is offered as a service to an organisation by a dedicated provider such as Integritie, who is responsible for the hosting of the physical servers. The cloud provider will typically have access to large, efficient server farms which host ECM solutions for several clients, often in a multi-tenanted environment. If an organisation needs to prove its commitment to environmental causes, this use of shared resources provides a little extra with which this can be done.
The benefits of adopting a cloud-based ECM solution are manifold. Most organisations, understandably, take steps to control the cost of providing their IT services. If they opt to purchase their own ECM system licenses, there is often an annual maintenance charge to be paid as well as the initial implementation cost. The cloud-based offering has clear advantages over the on-premise solution because the costs associated with maintaining an ECM system infrastructure (e.g. replacing hardware when it becomes obsolete or fails, software when it reaches end-of-life, annual maintenance etc.) can all add up over time. The fact that, for a nominal monthly fee – often on a per-user basis – all of this is taken care of makes the cloud-based ECM system a compelling innovation.
ECM systems safeguard the content with which organisations conduct their day-to-day business. If a natural disaster were to occur – or even an act of terrorism – which directly affected an organisation's assets, that organisation's content should in theory continue to be available regardless of the severity of the event. The ultimate responsibility for contingency planning like this for an on-premise ECM system would normally rest with the organisation which owned the system. Within a cloud-based ECM implementation, however, the client might reasonably expect the cloud provider to have its own disaster recovery arrangements so that if an incident occurred within a data-centre, its clients would not be adversely affected. This "comfort blanket" is one headache less for some organisations; they can outsource their DR arrangements safe in the knowledge that expert assistance is at hand should the worse happen.
Which Way Now?
A properly implemented Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solution such as IBM FileNet P8 from a reputable provider such as Integritie can unlock the value in your content by replacing manual, error-prone and costly paper-based activities with modern workflow and secure storage. A new breed of platform-independent browser-based interfaces, which can even be used on mobile devices, make access easier than ever before without compromising security. Add "Cloud" to the mix and take away the initial license costs, the annual maintenance payments and the fact that high-quality DR can be included for one monthly payment and cloud-based ECM becomes very compelling. The Cloud isn't going away any time soon – it's here to stay and like all disruptive technologies, it will evolve and become even more capable. The current generation of ECM systems are more user-friendly than their predecessors. As this evolution continues, service providers will add new features, extending their value and cloud-based customers will be able to take advantage of these quickly and easily.
For more Information on Integrities KC Online solution, please email sales@Integritie or click here.
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