Blue skies and fluffy white clouds stimulate the imagination of both children and adults. Looking up, we see cloud formations and identify them, not by their scientific names of cirrus, cumulus, and nimbus, but more fancifully as horses, spaceships, unicorns, maps of various locations, castles, puppies, palm trees, or something equally ingenious.
Those of you with a scientific bent can check out NOAA’s explanation of “Ten types of clouds”. Those with a more whimsical turn of mind will be interested in The Cloud Appreciation Society, whose mission is to unite cloud lovers around the world. The society posts photographs of interesting and gorgeous cloud formations and will email you, daily, images of cloud formations its members have found interesting. The society is also on Twitter (@CloudAppSoc) and Facebook, should you prefer to get your cloud fix through social media.
But what do we make of the knowledge managers who turn their gaze skyward and see the cloud formations as file cabinets, stacks of old floppy disks, or giant vaults? Perhaps they have become obsessed with cloud computing, cloud storage, cloud platforms, cloud solutions, and cloud repositories. Their cloud is unrelated to either astronomy or the creative imagination; it’s all about business. It’s data management in the cloud. It’s the clout of clouds.
Clouds as a Metaphor
As a metaphor, the cloud image is problematic. The Cloud Appreciation Society’s founder, Gavin Pretor-Pinney, calls them the “underdog of the skies.” We say people who have their heads in the clouds are a bit out of touch with reality. Not a good metaphor to use when you’re trying to convince your management that storing data in the cloud is cost-effective and perfectly safe. The notion of people with a cloud hanging over them, as opposed to their head in the clouds, describes someone who is unhappy and worried. Again, not the best of metaphors for the information manager.
What about song lyrics? Do they present clouds in a more positive fashion? The Temptations, in “My Girl,” sing about “sunshine on a cloudy day.” It’s the sunshine they celebrate, not the clouds. And when Carly Simon sings about “clouds in my coffee,” it’s about confusion and obfuscation. For Joni Mitchell, singing about “both clouds now,” the clouds got in her way and were illusions. Clearly not an ode to permanent storage.
When embracing cloud technologies, we don’t want clouded vision, we want clarity. But, like real clouds, our perception of “the cloud” varies depending upon our situation. What are we really trying to achieve when we talk about putting our data “in the cloud,” and how can we do it well?
Digital Asset Management
Mike Urbonas, from Nuxeo, challenges the claims of digital asset management (DAM) companies when they brag about their products running on cloud platforms. He doesn’t think they are either cloud-based or platforms. For him, cloud-native is the only way to go. He defines cloud-native solutions as being “designed from the ground up for the cloud. They are hosted in a cloud deployment infrastructure, such as Amazon web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure.”
Nuxeo integrates content from a variety of platforms, making it seem to end users as if it was all in one local repository. That encourages collaboration, particularly in an increasingly digital workplace. The goal is to have content within the enterprise so consistently presented and accessed so coherently that knowledge workers don’t get bogged down in antiquated information retrieval systems that require them to jump through hoops to get what they need to do their jobs.
The abundance of formats is another hallmark of the digital workplace. It’s not just text people work with, it’s images as well. Versioning, keeping track of where in the updating process a piece of content is and saving it centrally, is another important component.
Enterprise Content Management
Enterprise content management (ECM) is a hot topic these days. According to
Accusoft’s Steve Wilson, the ECM market “is growing 19% faster than the overall software market.” In a sense, that’s not surprising, since moving ECM to the cloud should enable employees to stop wasting time trying to find elusive documents.
The benefits, thinks Wilson, are many, and it’s not just about productivity. Everybody wants to increase productivity; that’s pretty much a given. But moving enterprise content to the cloud also has the advantage of increasing reliability. Make sure that the information available to knowledge workers is the most current—making decisions based on data from 3 years ago when the updated data from this year is actually in an enterprise repository can have disastrous consequences. Scalability and elasticity are other advantages.
Then there’s cost. When you’ve got servers scattered around your buildings, there’s a constant need to upgrade them or buy new ones—and that costs money. The economics of cloud storage are considerably different and much more favorable to the bottom line.
ECM is also on the mind of Tori Woods Ballantine. At Hyland, she says, the company realizes that, although the cloud brings benefits, it’s most effective when you consider cloud storage as part of the entire information lifecycle. Paper has some enduring, if not necessarily endearing, qualities. However, continuing to store paper as paper rather than putting it into electronic form and storing it in the cloud is asking for trouble. She likens it to storing money in your mattress.
The advantages of the cloud include not being at the mercy of the weather, when hurricanes, flooding, and similar natural disasters can destroy paper and concomitant power outages can make onsite servers inoperable and inaccessible. Cloud storage avoids such catastrophes. I confess that Ballantine’s example of a customer affected by Hurricane Sandy particularly resonated with me. As I was writing this, a torrential storm was bending the trees outside my office window and the rain was coming down hard. According to the rain gauge outside my house, we received almost seven inches of rain and the streets were flooded, adding an extra half hour to my commute home.
Any business with on-site storage should take such storms as a clear warning to stop doing that and move to a cloud solution. Clouds may bring rain, but they don’t become flooded. They add security that simply can’t be achieved any other way. With the cloud, your content is integrated. It’s not fragmented, so that people using content know they have the most current version, that errors have not been introduced somewhere along the line, and that they are not overlooking something important.
Ballantine is nothing if not realistic. Before you can put content in the cloud, you must capture it. Data extraction and classification might sound boring, but an automated data entry system cuts through the fog of data management.
Clouds Add Agility
Agility has almost become a buzzword applied to many different aspects of the business world. Agile programming is but one iteration of how the term is used. Agility’s buzzword status does not diminish the real value it brings to the workplace. Kelly Koelliker, Verint, identifies five key aspects of agility that are important to cloud-based knowledge management.
Rapid deployment brings instant gratification and allows for changes and enhancements to be tested quickly before rollout. Flexible growth allows companies to adjust quickly to the peaks and valleys of their business and to pivot adroitly when an unexpected event occurs. The training of new employees is also facilitated in an agile way thanks to cloud-based knowledge management. They can acquire needed information in real time, which brings them up to speed in minutes rather than months.
When complex business environments make a change in a product or process, communicating that effectively and efficiently to employees and customers is expected. Koelliker writes, “Knowledge management provides an elegant solution to this challenge. Because articles in the cloud can be updated instantly, each employee can always have real-time access to the latest version.” Her fifth point about agility concerns omnichannel interactions. Customers contact you not just by phone but also by live chat, social media, and mobile devices. A central knowledge base is essential to good customer service.
OpenText’s Lynn Elwood concurs with Koelliker’s emphasis on the importance of agility. “The cloud is all about speed,” she writes. Solving business problems should not be a long, drawn-out process. The expectation is that it happens almost instantaneously. The cloud enables this kind of agility. With the cloud, all customers receive the same updates at the same time. This brings a competitive advantage to companies.
Agility is only one benefit of the cloud, in Elwood’s opinion. Choice and flexibility are also high on her list. Making decisions with information sensitivity, regulatory compliance, and business priorities as criteria has made some organizations shy away from the public cloud. They worry about the safety of their data. A hybrid implementation, with some information in the cloud and other information kept on-site, is the solution.
Insight is another advantage of the cloud. SaaS applications built specifically for the cloud bring new insights from existing information. You can see what customers are actually doing with the application. This leads you to recognize where the expected behavior affects your business and, perhaps more important, where unexpected behavior happens and what that implies about your business. Further investigation into the unexpected behavior can lead to new engagement and sales. It can also foster powerful relationships with your customer base.
Data analytics provide another avenue to insights. With data in the cloud, the opportunities for obtaining meaningful analytical information increases. The cloud, thinks Elwood, is not limited to “just another deployment option.” Benefits of the cloud extend well beyond that and surpass anything a company could achieve with non-cloud, on-premises systems.
Importance of Information Governance
Security is always a concern when organizations contemplate putting information in the cloud. GlassIG’s James Fieger understands this, but sees a change in perceptions and actions. Just think how many individuals now use Google Drive and Dropbox on a regular basis. Once people accept cloud storage for their personal information, it’s a much easier sell inside the organization for corporate information.
In Fieger’s view, the simplicity of cloud storage provides a strong rationale for adopting the technology. It’s device agnostic and can be securely accessed from just about anywhere. There’s a bit of a downside, however. As employees store personal information on these cloud repositories, they are also tempted to put corporate data there as well. Plus, individual departments may have separate cloud drives and boxes, given the low to nonexistent cost structure.
Information governance, therefore, must play a major role in securing internal information. Regardless of whether you’re migrating to the cloud or starting in the cloud without ever having an on-the-ground presence, you need corporate policies regarding information storage. That policy needs to be simple to understand and to follow, otherwise non-compliance will become a problem. You need to be able to enforce information governance for all cloud solutions.
Clouds Are the Way
These white papers should bring clarity to your cloudy vision and help you see through the dark clouds to sunshine ahead. They don’t look at clouds from “both sides now,” since there are many more than two sides to cloud storage, cloud-based knowledge management, enterprise content management in the cloud, and digital information management. As you gaze at cloud formations in the sky, using your imagination to see them as puppies, castles, spaceships, or some other familiar object, remember there’s an analog to the cloud we use in the workplace. Its usefulness to the success of your organization takes many forms and the benefits are limited only by your imagination.
The clout of the cloud can be very real. Having your head in the clouds, if thought about from a knowledge and information management perspective, is not pejorative at all. It’s actually where you want to be. Clouds are not in the way, they are the way.
Content in the Cloud with Feet on the Ground
Does your organization handle content?
Of course it does. All businesses handle content in some form or another. Managing that content is a critical business function that can make or break operations—and an effective enterprise content management (ECM) solution directly drives that success. But there is an opportunity to take this even further by using a cloud-based ECM software solution, which truly helps your content soar.
Many fundamental elements of ECM—including ensuring an organization’s documents, business processes and mission-critical data are available to all stakeholders at any time—are uniquely powerful when deployed in the cloud. Keeping content in the cloud is strategically strong, and it’s even stronger when your system keeps its feet on the ground by considering the whole information lifecycle.
Realistically, even if your organization stores all of its content in the cloud, there will still be elements of your business that take place on the ground. Pieces of paper will arrive in the mail, and someone has to open the envelopes and scan the contents using a tangible scanner. For a cloud-based ECM solution to be practical and all-encompassing, it must account for the fact that paper still exists. It should smoothly incorporate data extraction from physical documents into the cloud alongside its digital data capture that takes place online.
Similarly, an ECM solution has to play nicely with your other business systems. There are legacy applications, some in the cloud and some not, that an ECM solution must integrate seamlessly with to be effective. Systems like your CRM, ERP, HRIS, email and payroll will need to work with your ECM solution from the ground up.
The best cloud solutions also rely on solid ground, using their “feet” to climb hitherto impossible inclines. One foot is an inclusive capture solution that leads to seamless influx and governance of paper and digital assets, and the other foot is a robust integration capability that extends the abilities of an ECM solution beyond its own boundaries.
When you store items in a secure, reputable private cloud, you know your data is safe. Really safe. Think of your data like money. You have to put it somewhere. Is it safer in a box under your mattress? What happens if you are burgled or your house burns down? Or, is it safer in a bank, where keeping it secure is someone else’s full-time job? The same goes for your data.
Entrusting your data to a managed cloud that operates accredited and certified servers is an excellent way to keep it secure. With a reliable vendor, your data is backed up in multiple locations, meaning that a power outage, weather incident or catastrophic event won’t keep your data from being available to you when you need it.
Stories abound about organizations whose premises were incapacitated, and all systems and channels were down except for their cloud solutions. Consider the case of ROM Reinsurance, located in downtown Manhattan.
When Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on her way across the Eastern seaboard three years ago, ROM lost electricity, connectivity to its IT systems and access to its essential business functions. At that time, the company used an on-premises installation of OnBase by Hyland for its ECM needs.
ROM reached out to Hyland and rapidly switched its on-premises solution to the
OnBase Cloud. This enabled ROM to access its critical data and documents, even while its other IT services remained unavailable. Digital file storage—a huge benefit of cloud ECM—also protected ROM’s records, which were previously paper-based. With three feet of standing water in the lobby, this would have been catastrophic.
“Without the assistance of Hyland’s cloud solution experts, we wouldn’t have been able to function and I truly don’t know what we would have done,” says Marianne Petillo, president and CEO of ROM.
Somewhere Over the Content
Effective ECM isn’t a silo. It can’t be. Managing content inherently means integrating with other systems. Content has to come from somewhere, and it often has to be routed somewhere. And it will need to be stored somewhere. In the cloud, ECM makes sense of all of these “somewheres” by seamlessly connecting with existing solutions and staying up-to-date through included product refreshes and updates. This ensures the solution will be future-proofed. It will be able to integrate with systems that might not even exist today.
When your data is fragmented across several disconnected systems, it is vulnerable to corruption, errors and losses—as well as being overlooked. The best systems allow for full, real-time integrations with existing core applications. Often, integrations can occur at such a fundamental level that users might not even know when they are and are not working in an ECM solution. Proper implementation ensures smooth connection to a variety of different applications.
Capture the (Content) Flag
When included as an element of a cloud ECM deployment, capture technology speeds up the entire process of the content lifecycle, from classification and extraction to delivery and retention.
When content is coming from somewhere, that can mean digital files, paper records, or a combination of the two. Capture systems must extract data from a variety of content, and automating this process speeds up the entire cycle significantly. Automated data entry accelerates the classifying of all kinds of documents—structured, semi-structured and free form.
These documents, once processed, must be stored somewhere. And where better than the cloud? Rather than taking up an entire room of filing cabinets or even several hulking servers in your break room, all of your data can be safely stored remotely. Your IT team doesn’t have to worry about protecting it from attacks and losses. Your facilities team doesn’t have to worry about storing, transporting and figuring out where to put paper documents. Even your cleaning crew doesn’t have to worry about dusting it.
Such Great Heights
Documents and business data that are stored via ECM in the cloud are safe, secure and instantly available to approved users. This isn’t a far-off dream, but reality today. Cloud-based ECM that is rooted in extensive and far-reaching integrations and inclusive document and data capture capacities offers the opportunity for organizations to scale new heights: to reach somewhere entirely new.
Why Enterprise Digital Asset Management Must Be Cloud-Native
A survey by Real Story Group found 60% of participants who reported their current digital asset management (DAM) system is on-premises said they plan to migrate their DAM to the cloud in the near future. Success depends on accurately evaluating cloud-related claims from DAM vendors.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Many DAM vendors often refer to their software as a “cloud-based platform,” when in reality it is neither “cloud-based,” nor a “platform.” Both terms are often used indiscriminately, which confuses and frustrates customers.
This article identifies the key characteristics of a truly cloud-native platform for enterprise digital asset management that provides a complete development environment to build, test, deploy and maintain content-critical business applications.
Cloud-Native Means Built for the Cloud
Some DAM vendors offer a cloud-hosted option, which is really just their legacy application that was originally engineered as on-premises software, now retrofitted to run on virtual machines (VMs). They don’t offer the infrastructure, integration, agility, high availability, scalability and built-in security essential for realizing the benefits of cloud computing.
Cloud-native solutions are designed from the ground up for the cloud. They are hosted in a cloud deployment infrastructure, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure.
Vendors such as Nuxeo support deep integrations with AWS and Azure that go well beyond simply functioning on VMs. The Nuxeo Platform:
Natively stores files in AWS S3 or Azure Blobs
Supports data persistence in AWS RDS and Azure SQL DB
Supports dynamic auto-scaling of all subsystems independently: front-end, query engine, background processing
Automates deployment with CloudFormation or Ansible
Accelerates content download securely with AWS CloudFront or Azure CDN
Securely Integrate Content from Any Source
Whether cloud-hosted or still on-premises, legacy DAM tools are falling behind cloud-native platforms. They lack the collaborative tools essential for agile operations and projects spanning geographical boundaries. Many do not integrate with cloud file-sharing platforms such as Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive, typically requiring content to be copied and converted to a compatible file type for storage in the legacy file system.
A true cloud-native DAM platform merges local and cloud-based content within a single addressable framework with ease. For example, Nuxeo integrates content from Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and Microsoft OneDrive/OneDrive for Business, managing those files in place as if they resided within the local repository. Developers can build application logic and workflows using these files, while users access and share these files alongside other related content.
Enabling a True Digital Workplace Experience
Leading organizations are rapidly transforming their enterprise application strategies and toolkits away from the “centralized command and control” approach in favor of the digital workplace concept, which encompasses the ways in which workers and teams access and share content and collaboratively enhance its value.
A true digital workplace will provide seamless access to enterprise content and digital assets without requiring increasingly obsolete web plugins or frameworks, or requiring tedious file downloads and toggling between a DAM session and a client application in order to work with files.
Instead, users can now open and update content in the native application such as Adobe Illustrator or Microsoft Word and work with the content without leaving their DAM application. For example, if a designer wants to work with an image file in the content repository, she clicks on the Nuxeo Drive icon to open the image file within the associated cloud-based or local application of choice (e.g., Pixlr, Adobe Photoshop), which launches automatically.
The file is automatically locked down in the repository during use; upon closing the client application, the file is saved back to the repository, respecting content versioning rules. The user is then returned to their Nuxeo Platform session. The result is a truly seamless, highly productive digital workplace experience.
Integrate DAM with Other Enterprise Applications
Only a true cloud-native platform can bring the power of DAM directly within other applications. If the vendor’s API does not expose all functionality for developer use, then the DAM system is not a platform. A true platform is “API first”—built from the start to provide a comprehensive API to maximize integration capabilities. Of course, this is not an option for legacy content management systems, originally developed to be on-premises content repositories and archiving applications. As a stopgap effort, some partial functionality might be exposed through an API, but it is recommended to fully investigate a DAM vendor’s integration capabilities during the evaluation process.
A true DAM platform should also be able to design, code, test, implement and maintain the entire lifecycle around the content-critical applications that businesses need. The Nuxeo Platform meets these criteria, serving as a true “building block” application development platform with a developer-friendly REST API that is completely dynamic, pluggable, composable and comprehensive, making it an ideal foundation on which to build your digital workplace.
Organizations must look closely at vendor claims around “cloud-based platforms.” Utilizing the above-described attributes of a truly cloud-native DAM platform is a great start. From there, seek out DAM vendors that offer a free trial/evaluation period to ensure their technology lives up to its promises and meets your needs.