Friday, May 1, 2009

ECM in the Cloud - Data Still Under Your Control?

Let’s face it; there are still some documents we just don’t want to leave anywhere but in a fire-proof safe or a deposit box at the bank. The challenge only increases for businesses or larger organizations. Unfortunately, the status of some banks has become questionable lately and frequent natural disasters are a tough reminder that physical media storage can still be risky.

The advantages of electronic document storage have been well chronicled. The value of backed up and redundant document storage is undisputed and the benefit of accessing documents over the web has become well appreciated by many. However, many organizations unable to deploy their own document management, or ECM systems have not rushed to adopt hosted, or online document management services as an alternate method to improve document security.

Some businesses may simply be unwilling to permit vital content to be stored outside their domains. Organizations in some regulated industries for instance are prohibited from doing this at all. For many others businesses though there exists a need for secure, web-enabled document storage that most software as a service (SaaS) ECM solutions cannot address very easily.

These organizations are often larger than typical SaaS ECM customers. Many already support their own IT infrastructure including standard security and user authentication methods, email and other business-specific computing services. As these companies have grown they’ve experienced common challenges associated with managing arrays of networked servers, storage systems and the increased demands of a mobile workforce.

As these businesses investigate options to improve service delivery and streamline IT budgets, outsourcing content management and storage can appear attractive. However, requirements for system customization and integration can often exceed the capabilities of the best SaaS providers. For organizations with transient user communities, such as academic institutions this can be particularly challenging. Frequently changing user identities and roles can pose a significant risk to the institution and its content.

So, how can an organization leverage the benefits of a hosted ECM service without discarding its security and technology investments? As you might have guessed, the solution may consist of a hybrid approach commonly referred to as “managed hosting”. It offers a virtual private data cloud for clients which can be customized to integrate directly with their authentication and security standards, as well as other applications. While it may not offer the same shared economies as SaaS solutions it can still provide significant cost savings, even from individually managed instances of a hosted application.

Managed hosting ECM clients can enjoy a variety of cloud-like operational benefits, as well as a level of personalized service not typical of SaaS solutions. In addition to not having to hassle with owning and operating ECM systems themselves, managed hosting customers can expect a level of application expertise better suited to their own business. It’s not unusual for managed hosting providers to specialize in select vertical markets so that they gain performance efficiencies of their own. This focused service model contrasts with the more common one-to-many plan offered by most SaaS vendors.

Customized integration, on-demand system scalability and guaranteed service delivery agreements are each designed to help keep the ECM managed hosting customers in control of their business without having to continue to worry about how and where documents are stored. Some service providers even go a step further offering remote system monitoring applications and dedicated systems engineers to ensure that clients know exactly what’s happening with their data 24x7.

For growing businesses, managed hosting offers clients a unique opportunity to evolve their applications as their needs change. For example, if a client decides they want to integrate certain application plug-ins or 3rd party modules the services provider typically can help them do that. More often in the SaaS environment customers must wait until the SaaS vendor determines that new service features are appropriate for the majority of subscribers.

Don’t expect that hosted ECM solutions will cost as little as SaaS options though. That’s almost like comparing a well-tailored suit to a mass-produced alternative. However, for organizations which have become more complex and especially those concerned with maintaining the greatest degree of control over their data as possible, managed hosting may prove to be an attractive option. 

I wouldn’t forget about SaaS altogether. It can be a good way to experiment with ECM delivered as a service. It may also be well suited to meet the needs of specific departments within organizations not yet ready to begin a complete migration to a new ECM solution (whether it be hosted, or on premise).

Blackboard and Xythos recently introduced its of own set hosted ECM solutions intended to leverage Blackboard’s successful history of worldwide service delivery and the uniquely scalable and distributed capabilities of Xythos technology. This service could be particularly attractive to highly mobile and geographically distributed organizations. Of course, knowing that it’s delivered with 99.7 uptime guarantees including multiple and redundant daily backups will probably help comfort the control freaks as well.

You can learn more about it here.

1 comment:

Sandy said...

Thanks for this informative post about CSC managed hosting services. this is very useful.