We’ve all seen the headlines and read article after article on the shift to cloud computing for many different application types, including enterprise content management (ECM). No, it’s not just the latest overblown mega-trend, but a real change with real potential for firms to rapidly ramp up their “speed to solution.” Beyond cost, the speed and agility that cloud solutions can provide over traditional in-house environments is what has both business and IT leaders so interested.
Imagine cutting 3 to 6 months off the initial platform implementation. Yes, for large firms, the initial implementation of new software with servers and storage is a many-month process. For ECM projects in particular, this can be a real problem—or even a deal killer. When getting that first business project up and running takes more than 12 months, we’ve got a problem. Depending on the size and complexity of the project, this can be the case. Leadership just doesn’t have the patience for this anymore.
Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) models for ECM services have the potential to truly improve on the scenario above and shorten the ramp-up time to delivering solutions. Of course, this is dependent on a firm’s willingness to color within the lines and not insist on localized customizations. Given that prerequisite, multiple months can be saved. That’s great, but what’s likely to happen is that this will quickly become the new normal. Then what? From the vendor perspective, how are you going to differentiate your offering from the competition?
I believe the next wave of differentiation will come in the form of integrated vertical solutions, out of the box and hosted in public and private cloud infrastructures. Content- and process-integrated frameworks for commodity-type business functions will be the next layer of game changer. Imagine spinning up a claims, underwriting, or account opening process, configuring it to your firm’s special needs, and integrating it with your existing environment—and all this in just a couple months. Some ECM vendors will tell you that you can do this today, but I’m not convinced. Partners and VARs probably get you closer, but there still aren’t enough out-of-the-box solutions that I see clients getting really excited about.
Think about most of the processes within your business. Although each is critical to your processing, the process itself is probably not a provider of competitive advantage. Sure, you may have rating, pricing, and risk assessment routines and sub-processes which do provide competitive advantage, but the overall process, whether processing an accident claim or mortgage application, or opening a deposit account, is more likely a pretty standard or commoditized process. In many ways, the regulatory controls prevent you from getting too creative with the process. So why not leverage something off the shelf that aligns with 70 to 80 percent of your process or needs before you’ve written a line of code or mapped a single process. Now, that’s productivity and speed to solution. I’d really like to see both ECM vendors and VARs offering more of these vertical solutions.
Right now, the best-out-of-the-box solution ever created provides little value if it’s not easy to integrate with your existing line-of-business systems. Unfortunately, some of your legacy systems likely present more integration challenges than the newer platforms and ECM systems do. So, start thinking about what changes in your workforce will be needed in the future when some of your staff transition from being software installation gurus and administrators, to integration experts.
I believe the expansion of ECM in the cloud, particularly within the SaaS model, will drive an expansion of vertical solutions based on ECM platforms that combine content management and workflows. This will change the way we look at and evaluate ECM solutions in the future, and from where I sit, it’s all for the better.