The more we talk to businesses about the cloud, the more we're hearing about the limitations and frustrations customers are having with basic cloud file-sharing services. If all you need to do is access files from your mobile device or share some files with your team, there are quite a few services out there that might be able to help you.
But we know from experience that most mid-to-large organizations have requirements to do more than simply set up store files online – they need to do real work. In order to help guide you through this process, here are some of questions we think you should ask when you're evaluating a cloud content management and file-sharing service.
1. Can the service support my business processes? Can we use folder rules to do things like kick off workflows, transform content and automate process steps?
Folder rules can be really powerful for automating processes. Consider a folder for sales orders, which with rules, can be routed effectively within the business. Or a folder rule to enable document transformation to turn a brochure written in Microsoft Word into a PDF. Or maybe a rule that just publishes updated content to other teams every time you change the content - automatically, without lifting a finger.
IT managers should look for tools that can help you do all of the above – kick off workflows, transform content and automate business processes.
2. We don’t necessarily want all our data in the cloud. How do you support my data that lives on-premise?
Most organizations have tiers or classifications of content – some is public, some goes to the cloud to facilitate mobile access or external collaboration and some is going to stay on-premise due to confidentiality, compliance or back-end integration requirements. I’m not going to tell you that you have to move all your content to the cloud – that’s just not realistic for companies with extremely proprietary information. You decide what works best for your organization and your use cases.
Look for a solution that provides you with syncing capabilities that connect your on-premise platform to your cloud account to ensure you can work seamlessly across the two systems. Make sure your syncing capability also allows you to push the working content to the cloud to collaborate with external parties, and then bring it back in again as it moves through a business process or for long-term retention.
3. What if I need to make customizations to my app that you don't support in the cloud?
Cloud services are generally a one-size-fits-all world. But once you go beyond basic file sharing, content-intensive business processes tend to vary a lot by organization, and the apps that support them often require customization. Does your cloud platform offer the ability to extend the service using APIs? Can you add other business-critical functionality such as imaging?
Look for a platform that allows you to build a wide variety of solutions, utilizing a strong ecosystem that includes an on-premise platform. The key point is customization that fits the rules, standards or regulations of your industry/organizations.
4. Is there an API / SDK so I can build my own mobile app to access content in the cloud?
All cloud content providers work differently, so it’s important to figure out if your provider gives you the ability to customize your mobile app. A prime example of this is making custom metadata on files mandatory when uploaded to ensure it can be managed effectively. Typically cloud providers provide their app and you’re stuck with it.
5. Is there metadata so I can dynamically manage and sort my content?
Metadata is data about content, it tells us about format, author, created dates and more. When choosing a cloud supplier for your content management, consider future metadata needs. Do they allow tagging? Custom metadata? It may not be the coolest feature, but when you begin managing millions of records, it will save you days of time and headache.
Metadata is important because it creates context around content – including elements like contract dates, numbers, etc. This means when a user searches the document repository for specific files, they can search on specific details. Not to mention the powerful business process automation that you can trigger using metadata.
6. Am I limited to a folder-based structure? What if I set my folders up wrong and then want to re-org my content?
Something to consider when choosing your cloud supplier is how the files are stored. Is it an old-school file system structure, rather than dynamic structure? Also consider how easy it will be to restructure content should you decide it is best stored elsewhere. Rich metadata allows content to be reorganized easily based on a certain criteria. Consider a use-case example: All files tagged with ‘contract’ should be moved on-premise after 45 days of upload; this keeps out-of-date quotes off the system of engagement.
David Gildeh is an IT/Business Expert, formerly Founder & CEO of SambaStream, and now Director of Cloud Services at Alfresco, the world's largest open source software company specializing in Document Management and Online Collaboration.