ECM 2.0: Moving to the Cloud - 4 Options

If you’ve decided to begin the planning process for moving to the cloud, what’s out there to choose from? For this post, we review four different options:

  1. Current Vendor — One option is to leverage your current ECM vendor and system, and migrate to the vendor’s offering in the cloud.
  2. New ECM Vendor — In moving from a current ECM vendor, alternative vendors and their cloud solutions could be considered.
  3. Build Your Own — Depending on the application needs, many customers are considering building basic content management applications with Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure or Google.
  4. A Hybrid Approach — Finally, you can consider a hybrid approach, keeping the existing system for historical materials and using a cloud-based system for new content by either building or leveraging new vendors.

Below, we’ll review all of these options and share some of the pros and cons of each approach.

1. Stick with your current system and vendor — but as a hosted or managed service.

For most of our customers, this solution would apply to IBM, OpenText, or Hyland and their respective cloud-based solutions. Depending on the vendor’s cloud offering, this process could be made much more difficult based on how much the applications have been customized or modified and differ from the standard vendor cloud offering. Also, if your system does not have a current release supported in the cloud (as is often the case for legacy ECM systems), the migration could be even more complicated. While this might seem like the least risky of the choices, not all legacy ECM vendor cloud solutions are as good as strategic cloud solutions based on AWS or Azure. See a cautionary tale from ECM integrator TSG on their experience with Documentum.

Pros

  • Many components can be automatically converted and migrated (database tables, application logic, etc.) — it’s the “lift and shift” approach.
  • Customers have existing purchase agreements, terms, etc., that are already vetted.
  • Existing suppliers’ professional services organizations often have a better understanding or can quickly understand the nuances of an installation.

Cons

  • For most legacy clients, the move to the cloud does not actually improve the system for the end users and — depending on network latency — could actually make the system perform worse.
  • While these migrations are “like for like” for the most part, beware of the hidden customizations that may not reveal themselves until migration. This will add complexity, time and cost to your transition.
  • When the code from traditional ECM systems is moved to the cloud, the code often does not natively have the capability to leverage some of the advanced cloud-based capabilities, such as dynamic scaling and containerization.

2. Go with a new system and supplier.

New system/supplier examples include starting fresh with SaaS solutions like Box, Microsoft (O365) or Veeva (in life sciences), or consider leveraging one of the large cloud vendors like AWS or Azure plus a vendor like Alfresco that can run within a client’s own cloud space. This effort is more complex as content and metadata need to be converted from the old ECM system, but it’s often well overdue for some very dated systems. Today’s SaaS or IaaS systems can offer more “turn-key” solutions and can get you up and running quickly for new content. The biggest challenge will be migrating over the old content and having users either let go of modifications or attempt to migrate/update them in the new system.

Pros

  • Systems are easily configured, rather than customized with many pre-configured integrations (Salesforce for example).
  • New systems are generally architected for the cloud from the ground up and will be able to more directly leverage the inherent value the platform provides. These systems also have updated UIs that address today’s user experience expectations.

Cons

  • Often, because of historical record keeping systems, there is a mix of on-premises and cloud-based applications that can make security and access controls more problematic in certain environments.
  • You’ll need to make sure your IT security group has created policies and standards for data and content ownership that align with this solution type.

3. Build an AWS or Azure native application.

For those clients who use the very minimum capabilities within their content applications — like simple file storage and access — a native AWS application may be appropriate. And while some clients worry about performance concerns, benchmark data from TSG indicates the scalability is there. Leading suppliers like AWS are also addressing compliance requirements (like SEC 17a-4) with immutable storage options.

Pros

  • For simple store and retrieve imaging applications, the cost and scalability of an AWS or Azure native application is very attractive. You build exactly what you need, nothing more, nothing less.
  • Time to implement can often be cut substantially.

Cons

  • It is a build solution! After years of experience, many firms would rather buy than build.
  • Both IT and business partners have proven that they’re not great at defining real requirements and controlling runaway “nice to haves.”
  • The more you over-build, the more you can increase long-term maintenance burden and costs.

4. Take a hybrid approach.

Another approach to consider is to leave historical content in place, manage day-forward content in the cloud, and leverage a combined index for both systems (probably in the cloud also). M-Files and Nuxeo are examples of these approaches.

Pros

  • There’s less deconstruction and no need to migrate or move content.
  • Legacy systems are exposed to less disruption.
  • New capabilities can be more easily exposed across applications.
  • Legacy content can be aged off and systems eventually retired.

Cons

  • Your content remains federated or distributed (also known as scattered) across multiple systems.
  • You are responsible for the combined indexing solution and all the maintenance over time.
  • Some legacy content has extremely long, even permanent retention, limiting roll-off system sun setting, which means you’ll have to keep the system running, take upgrades and pay vendors for a long time.
  • This is the least mature alternative.

Conclusion

Clients moving to the cloud have several options today, with nearly all of the suppliers offering solutions. Consider the cost, user-impact and fit within your overall application portfolio to find the best fit. If you have questions about this topic, or need assistance, we're always happy to schedule a call.

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Rich Medina
James Watson
I’m President and co-founder of Doculabs, serving as executive sponsor on consulting engagements for financial services clients.