Is it Time to Archive in the Cloud?

Most people don’t think twice about the document archive in their organization. It’s like water and electricity to your home – it’s just there and it works. So why consider changing it?  Doculabs clients have been making concerted efforts to reduce their data center footprints and move their core applications to the cloud. As some of these core applications and primary Line of Business (LOB) systems are getting moved, they naturally start to look to the next level of supporting applications, which may include their document and communications archiving platform.

It’s time to look at both the functional and financial profile of your document archive and determine if a move to the cloud is an optimal direction. Can you potentially save money while simultaneously achieving other enterprise objectives? Let’s investigate.

The Current State of Archiving

For many, the process and technology used to archive their communications and regulatory documents hasn’t changed much in the last 20+ years. Print streams (often AFP) are indexed and stored as is, and only upon request to retrieve and present the document is it converted to a presentation format (often PDF) for viewing. This process has been rock solid for years, with roots back to the days when storage was expensive, processing time was limited and online presentation was emerging.

But is this process still optimal or necessary? As you look to the cloud for this service and design to leverage the inherent scalability, should you still be storing the print stream? Wouldn’t it be cleaner and easier to just index and store the presentation rendition of the document? What value does that archive software provide in a cloud environment? And could you just as easily and cost effectively design and build your own archive?

The core objective for the archive solutions has historically been two-fold:

  • Meet regulatory demands by ensuring retention (usually on WORM storage) so that any required document can be precisely reproduced on demand.
  • Meet customer-servicing demands for web presentation of bills, statements, correspondence, etc.

Overall, the solutions are designed for extremely high volumes of intake or storage, with relatively low levels (by comparison) of retrieval and presentation.

Future State Options for Archiving

As you consider the future solution for your firm, there are two key decisions to be made:

  1. Build vs. buy
  2. Store print streams or PDF

Build vs. Buy

Consideration for the build vs. buy option is mostly straightforward. It often has more to do with your IT strategy than a detailed pros and cons list of tradeoffs. Those who are open to the build option have likely already invested in building the internal skillsets and certifications for the chosen cloud provider. Maybe you can build a microservices-based archive solution that’s more efficient than legacy technologies ported over to the cloud. With a seemingly simple set of archive and retention requirements, how hard can it be to spin up an archive solution on a platform that’s already in place for you? If that’s your preference, fine — just make sure that your business case includes both the short-term and long-term costs and opportunities of the option.

On the buy side, you’ve got a potential speed-to-implementation advantage, and you don’t need the depth of skills required if you build the solution. However, you do need to consider the service model. Are you entering into a fully managed service agreement, or will you be responsible for operations? Finally, consider how you’re using the software and what you’re paying for. Do you need the full depth and breadth of the solution, or is something simpler the better option? Has your vendor made significant changes to their solution or just migrated to leverage the platform in the cloud?

Absent the cloud infrastructure providers (Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google), the key vendors in the archive space remain the same: OpenText InfoArchive, IBM CMOD, and ASG Mobius. If leveraging a vended solution, determine the pros and cons of your current provider vs. the offerings of one of their key competitors.

Ultimately, this decision comes down to strategic preference and risk vs. reward.

Store Print Streams or PDF

Although more and more communications are being delivered digitally, most still begin their lives as part of a traditional print stream. Thus, many archive systems simply index and store the print stream, rendering the presentation-formatted version only for those requested by users. Note, this often requires another piece of software to perform the conversion.

Longer term, many Doculabs clients have expressed desire to store documents in presentation format (PDF). Cloud platforms’ inherent scalability makes this a much more viable option as the full volume of documents within the print streams may need to be rendered as PDF prior to index and storage. Of course, this conversion operation can be mitigated by generating PDFs from your composition system/CCM platform.

The reality is that most firms will take time to migrate to full PDF archiving, and thus will live in both worlds for some time to come. Make sure your target solution is prepared to handle both scenarios.

Don’t Short-Change Your Planning for the Future State

If you’re a client of one of the big three archive vendors (ASG Mobius, IBM CMOD, or OpenText InfoArchive), you’ll likely be considering a move to the cloud soon. More options and opportunities exist to substantively change this process now than in the past 20 years. You may be able to simultaneously simplify operations, deliver better service and save significant money long term. Just make sure you do a thorough analysis, determine the value add of your software vendor, create an accurate cloud cost model and include a prototype on your chosen cloud platform. Your document archive isn’t one of the high profile, flashy systems in your firm, but like utilities in your home, it does need to be rock solid and perform at consistently high levels.

How to Select Enterprise Software

Rich Medina
Tom Roberts
I’m a Principal Consultant for Doculabs with more than 25 years experience, focused on delivering strategies that improve clients’ enterprise content management capabilities, with an emphasis on customer communications management strategies.