To the Cloud or Not to the Cloud: That is the Question for Document Management Systems


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Moving your document management to a cloud-based solution is not a straight-forward decision, there are benefits and disadvantages. We look at the current state of document management software and how to think through the process of moving to the cloud.

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To the Cloud or Not to the Cloud: That is the Question for Document Management Systems

  1. 1. Moving your document management to a cloud-based solution is not a straight-forward decision, there are benefits and disadvantages. We look at the current state of document management software and how to think through the process of moving to the cloud. To The Cloud or Not To The Cloud That is the question, for document management systems
  2. 2. 1 Provided by eQuorum | Redux Companies are at a key time in the evolution of document/contents management for their companies, a time similar to the early 2000’s when came on the scene. (For the sake of this paper, we will refer to all file types as documents, so for expediency sake this includes digital files from CAD programs, MS Office programs, web-based content, emails, video, audio, etc.). Around the beginning of this century, many senior executives and IT professionals were questioning the prudence of placing some or all of their client relationship information on a system not residing in the company’s managed data center, outside their firewall. All sorts of predications were made of the possible bad consequences that could transpire. Of course, more than 10 years later we now know using a cloud provider (SaaS or not) not only makes sense but provides considerably more value to companies than implementing an on- premise solution for their CRM application. Similarly, companies are looking at moving some or all of their document management solution to the cloud. And yet again, senior executives and IT professionals are questioning the correctness of taking this route. What Exactly Is The Cloud The definition of a cloud solution has become very muddy over the years as various implementations and services have used the term. For our purposes, the cloud shall mean any application that is being run outside the corporate data center and requires access through the Internet. (There are, of course, some cloud oriented systems being run by corporations in their own data centers, but these are the same old systems using a different conduit.) So the cloud-based application can be hosted by a third party, by the application provider, or even the corporation in a data center outside the normal four walls of the organization. The key is the software is accessed using the Internet and is being executed outside of the corporate firewall. was one of the first true watershed applications that proved utilizing an Internet- based SaaS (Software-as-a- Service) application for mission critical functions was not only possible but highly efficient and effective. The evolution of has mimicked the level of comfort large corporations have with this new technology. Large companies, like Merrill Lynch, initially were reluctant to use SaaS technology without the ability to control and customize their applications. responded by providing a PaaS solution (Platform-as-a-Service) whereby Merrill could leverage’s platform yet maintain control over the application and custom requirements they believed to be unique to their organization. Platform flexibility gives cloud providers the agility to meet various corporate needs with cost effective operations that are highly scalable. was not the only cloud provider of the day, others like Amazon, Workday, and Intuit also contributed to the momentum of cloud based applications, typically as a SaaS. The decision to move the corporation’s document management application to the cloud is not a straight-forward decision for many organizations due to a number of factors.
  3. 3. 2 Provided by eQuorum | Benefits and Disadvantages of The Cloud As in most decisions, there are often pros and cons to making a change. Though, in general, we know the world is moving towards more “cloud-based” solutions, it still may not be the right move for every company, especially for overall document management. The biggest benefit is also the biggest disadvantage; the cloud-based document management solution is managed outside the routine IT infrastructure. Benefits of being outside the corporate IT four walls:  Improved document and database security  Reduced involvement needed of corporate IT departments  Enhanced access to documents from non-traditional locations  Greater scalability  Lower total operating costs (usually). Improved document and database security: This is often not intuitive for many users. The expectation is the corporate environment is locked down and highly protected. The reality is internal IT infrastructure is frequently way behind in industry standard system protection, is often managed by understaffed IT departments, and involves legacy systems and networks built years before the sophisticated security intrusions we see today. By their very nature, cloud-based providers must be highly secure, using focused operations groups with nothing but security on their minds. Think about your business, and the critical elements you manage, and the issues that would arise with customers if you weren’t fully focused. Reduced involvement needed of corporate IT departments: As much as IT departments would like to think they have everything in control, the actuality is technology is just moving too fast and staffing has not kept up. Supporting users and user applications, though very high on the list, is just one of a long list of mission items. All too often the IT group is slowing down user access and installation of new and highly beneficial applications. Cloud- based solutions, while not totally excluding IT, certainly reduce their management and operating burdens. Enhanced access to documents from non- traditional locations: With today’s mobility and access to websites anywhere, it is curious that corporate America is still living with walled-off legacy systems that can only be accessed and utilized while in the office. So much additional functionality can be derived from employing operational and support systems from outside the office, at other office locations, and through mobile devices. Documents in the cloud allow for access and collaboration from almost anywhere, using almost any device. THE BIGGEST BENEFIT IS ALSO THE BIGGEST DISADVANTAGE; THE SOLUTION IS MANAGED OUTSIDE THE ROUTINE IT INFRASTRUCTURE
  4. 4. 3 Provided by eQuorum | Employee Consumerization Use of tablets and smartphones has exploded, and employees expect to be able to use these devices to connect and work with their daily applications, just as they would at their desk. Unfortunately, legacy systems are not prepared to interface to many of these devices, either because they don’t recognize the web browser or have screens designed for much larger viewing areas. Moving to the cloud often addresses this as cloud-based systems are typically built with mobile access in mind. Greater scalability: Cloud providers are all about versatility and effective use of server assets, so they are acutely ready to scale up and down quickly, as needed by the client and application. This means adding data, new databases, high resource delivery methods (e.g., required for HD video and gigabit files), or just plain processing power, it is more likely that you’ll get quicker response at less expense in the cloud. Lower total operating costs: The costs to provision and manage infrastructure are frequently lower in cloud applications. Some of this is due to scale (many cloud providers are very large), some due to application of fixed assets over many clients, and some due to better management of IT resources. For third party managed solutions, these savings are weighed against the margins the organizations must get, but are usually more than sufficient to provide lower costs to the users. The Disadvantages The disadvantages of moving to the cloud for document management include:  Need to migrate large datasets  Important intellectual property residing outside the corporation  Additional time required to download large documents. Need to migrate large datasets: Corporate documents have grown substantially in the last few years and continue to increase at a mind boggling rate, partly generating the need for formal document management systems. Ironically, it is the sheer number of these files that presents the largest obstacle to moving to the cloud. These large datasets take significant time to copy and migrate to cloud-based applications. One way to mitigate this obstacle is to employ a hybrid system (discussed further below). Important intellectual property residing outside the corporation: All of a company’s intellectual property (IP) is represented within its documents. Some of this IP is considered highly confidential and mission critical. For years, the notion that any of this IP could reside outside the corporate firewall was heresy. Much of this culture lingers and senior executives and IT departments still feel uncomfortable allowing any of these documents outside the corporate network. Given the security improvement in the cloud, much of this is unwarranted perception. But as it is said, perception is often reality.
  5. 5. 4 Provided by eQuorum | Additional time required to download large documents: As technology speeds ahead there will be increasing bandwidth for file movement and cloud connectivity. Unfortunately, many companies are still stuck with existing provider relationships, some even in DSL arrangements. Moving 30 or 50 Megabyte files from the cloud to the desktop or mobile device can still take some time, upwards of 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the corporate connection to the Internet. High speed, even Gigabit networks, will significantly reduce this negative in the coming few years. So How to Decide if The Cloud is the Right Way to Go? The first premise one must accept is that at some time in the not so distant future, all documents and IP will reside in the cloud. We can’t predict how soon, but like the replacement of landlines with cell phones, the impending cost savings and viability of cloud- based storage will make the use of local storage antiquated. The second premise one must accept is the world of mobile access is here to stay and is clearly better supported by organizations focused on providing content to these devices, not by corporations producing widgets or providing professional services. So the train is coming and if you’re not already on it you need to be prepared to jump on. There are, however, some transitional steps companies can take, including:  Employing a hybrid solution of in- network and cloud document management  Use of multiple servers on a WAN providing file transfers, as needed, to users  Co-locating servers in hosting facilities supplying high-speed Internet connections. Employing a hybrid solution of in-network and cloud document management: Much of what is kept on corporate servers is not highly valuable IP and some documents really do need to be distributed to third parties, including vendors, contractors, and customers. A hybrid cloud approach maintains important, valuable files on internal corporate servers and permits other files to be stored and accessible in the cloud. This hybrid solution gains the basic advantages of cloud document management while helping to address some of the concerns about cloud storage. A key requirement, however, of a hybrid arrangement is to ensure documents and folders are synched, so users are always accessing the most current versions of documents; locally or from the cloud. Use of multiple servers on a WAN providing file transfers, as needed, to users: A quasi- cloud environment can be simulated by using multiple servers on a Wide Area Network (WAN), whereby one, or several, of the servers acts as a file server, transferring large files to users as they need them. So files are still being maintained entirely by the corporation, on corporate owned assets, but files are Can’t we use one of the name cloud storage providers like Dropbox? These solutions are terrific for personal or non-corporate documents but they lack the security features and versioning capabilities corporations need to manage their organization’s files.
  6. 6. 5 Provided by eQuorum | distributed, allowing access from anywhere in the company, similar to the situation delivered by a cloud-based eco-system. Co-locating servers in hosting facilities supplying high-speed Internet connections: By locating corporate managed servers within third party hosting facilities companies can start to make the move to the cloud while still maintaining full control over all IP and other documents. Users connect to servers over high- speed networks simulating internal networks. This configuration allows organizations easier transition to a cloud environment but still relies on heavy IT management and does not take full advantage of what the cloud has to offer. Summary The decision to move the corporation’s document management application to the cloud is not a straight-forward decision for many organizations due to a number of factors, including:  Continued use of legacy systems demanding IT oversight and maintenance  Hesitancy on behalf of senior management to allow highly valuable and mission critical documents outside the corporate network  Insufficient Internet bandwidth to provide adequate access to needed files, especially large files  Cost and time needed to relocate files to the cloud. As was the case in the early 2000’s with CRM datasets, the viability, cost savings, and productivity elevation of cloud-based applications will eventually be seen to far exceed the disadvantages. Benefits include:  Security and access beyond that which corporate IT infrastructure currently provides  Increased collaboration and document sharing between groups, locations, vendors, customers, and other entities that is not currently available  The ability to scale and accommodate growing data needs more rapidly and at less total cost  Overall improvements in corporate productivity due to the quicker access to more and important documents needed in the decision making process  Reductions in the staff requirements for IT departments; allowing focus on mission critical functions applicable to the company and output performance. eQuorum is an engineering document management software provider offering cloud, on-premise, and hybrid solutions for companies with a large number of files, files types, or locations. It’s solutions have been utilized over the last 15 years by some of the country’s best known manufacturing, engineering services, and utilities companies, as well as major universities and government agencies.