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Avoiding the hullabaloo surrounding cloud strategy

by Todd Barr, CMO at Alfresco, open source social ECM provider.

With all the hullabaloo about cloud floating around in the content management world, here’s a handy tool to help you evaluate your ECM vendor’s cloud strategy, to see if it fits what you are looking for.  So, without further adieu, here are the results of our extensive (web surfing) research:

The Check-The-Cloud-Box Strategy:
  This strategy is simply virtualization by another name.  The thinking behind this strategy goes like this:  oh fiddlesticks! We need a cloud strategy, because Gartner said so.  Let’s see if we can make this thing work on EC2.  No way?  Ok, how about a virtualized server or 16.  Yes?  Great… we’ll put it in a hosting center - heck, we’ll even host it ourselves for customers if they want us to.  Shazam!  Write the press release, Martha - We are in the cloud!

The DropBox-for-the-Enterprise Strategy:
  At first blush, this strategy seems rather useful and indeed generous.  ECM vendor develops a tool - such as a desktop sync tool - that makes it super simple for people to get content into the on-premise ECM system.  It turns your big ECM system into a corporate DropBox, because DropBox is evil and insecure and way too easy to use and must be banned.  We can’t have that type of productivity around here!  So here’s the rub:  with open standards, you could do that like 7 years ago (WebDAV & CIFS).  Another name for this strategy is:  replace useful user tools that everyone uses and finds easy with “corporate approved” tools that keeps everyone locked-in to the ECM system.  Now let me ask you - do you really want everyone’s My Documents and My Photos and My Music folders copied into your corporate document management system?  How much is that going to cost you next year?

The Red-Pill-or-Blue-Pill Strategy:
  Think of this as the market segmentation approach.  Here’s how the vendor thinks:  so, we’ve been selling on-premise ECM to big enterprises for years, and we’re not growing as fast as we want (or at all, or shrinking, actually).  So, let’s put a lightweight solution in the cloud, and sell it to SMBs!  We’ll position on-premise as the secure, safe choice, and we’ll position cloud as the lightweight, SMB choice.  We’ll get to market fast by buying someone or building completely new cloud technology, that has very little to do with the on-premise tech.  And, for the over-achiever customers who want to use both cloud and on-premise together, we’ll wave our hands and shuffle forward a few partners who can develop connectors and migrators and syncher-magigs, but we secretly bet you won’t actually try this.

The Ignore-It-and-Hope-it-Goes-Away Strategy:  Not much to say here. If your goal is to embrace the status quo with reckless abandon, then you should definitely find an ECM vendor with this strategy and have some high-level meetings in big leather chairs.

The Cloud-Extensions Strategy: 
Okay, I can’t make too much fun of this one, because it makes good sense.  In this strategy, ECM vendor provides complementary cloud services that make owning their ECM platform better.  Cloud back-up and archiving maybe?  Cloud indexing?  Cloud transformations?  Some or all of these might make good sense.  The problem is, nobody is actually doing this.  This is the trick answer in this multiple choice quiz.

Here’s what you don’t see out there:  choice and flexibility.  The common theme here is:  give the people a “cloud strategy”, so that we can buy time and continue to protect our on-premise power base.  Now, to be fair, all companies want to attract and keep customers, and most of these strategies are born out of good intentions - but legacy technology and proprietary lock-in creates frankenstein-style innovation.  If you want play a little game, check out Gartner’s 2011 ECM Magic Quadrant, and see if you can match the cloud strategy with the vendor.

There is a better ECM cloud strategy.  At Alfresco, we have actually put our ECM platform in the cloud, so companies can have a choice about where they use it:  on premise, in the cloud or both.  For the 80% of content you want to keep behind your firewall, Alfresco’s enterprise platform fits the bill.  For content you would like to use to collaborate with your business partners or agencies, Alfresco in the cloud is the perfect choice.  And with Alfresco’s upcoming enterprise-to-cloud sync, you can push and pull content from the cloud into your enterprise based on policies you set up.  Legacy, proprietary vendors either can’t (or won’t) deliver flexibility like that, because either their technology isn’t built for the cloud, or their business model is too threatened.

Here’s the bottom line:  Don’t settle for Frankenstein innovation or a reactionary cloud strategy, when you can have choice & flexibility.  Look for modern ECM platforms that work in the cloud or on premise, with business models that deliver consistent value to your organization.

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