I recently copied my music library from a server sitting in my garage to Google Play in the cloud. Well, most of it anyway. After a week of round the clock uploading, I still had a few thousand tracks left on my hard drive when I hit Google’s quota limit. I didn’t go through this exercise because I was too cheap to buy more storage for my home server. I migrated my media to the cloud because I wanted easy access to my music from anywhere, at any time, from any device. As I talk with organizations about what to do with their content management infrastructure, I find the same dynamic at work. Sure they would love to save some money in the data center, but the real driver is the need for people to access the content they depend on to do their jobs from outside the firewall.
The dynamic is similar to the early days of business social computing. IT departments were terrified of it and execs didn’t get it, so they just said “no”. Of course that didn’t stop people from using the tools to get their jobs done. They just turned to consumer oriented solutions like Facebook and Twitter. As a result, the tools the enterprise was trying to keep out found their way in anyway, just in an ungoverned, unmanaged and insecure way. The same thing is happening now as staff turn to dropbox, senduit or some other file sharing service so they can get their content from home or on the road without jumping through IT department hoops. This is not a good dynamic for enterprise content management.
I am still not convinced that full blown content management belongs in the cloud (with the possible exception of some SMBs). Security isn’t the issue, it’s integration with other on-premise enterprise applications. Any deep integration is going to be trickier with a cloud solution and is going to eat up most savings realized by moving to a SaaS or PaaS solution. Consider also that all of your content will still need to be migrated to the cloud if you go that route. This is an expensive and error prone process. Metadata often gets lost or garbled along the way. I received a text from my daughter this morning informing me that an album tagged as David Bowie now consists of various tracks by Duran Duran and Tchaikovsky. The effort of getting your content into the cloud and cleaned up once its there should not be underestimated or under budgeted. And remember, I still have a few gigabytes of music on my home server so I’m effectively paying for and supporting a hybrid solution. At times I long for the simple old days of cassette mix tapes.
I’m working on a new research document that will detail out these and other issues, but for now its enough to note that money should not be the primary driver to the cloud. Ubiquitous, yet managed access to content should be the real goal. In most cases a hybrid solution that has one foot in the cloud and one foot in the data center is the best approach. This is not the clean slam dunk on ECM savings IT execs want to hear. Getting content to your staff when and where they need it might even cost a little extra, but its worth it.