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New for ECM: mobile, sync and offline access

This article appears in the issue June 2014 [Volume 23, Issue 6]
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Until recently, the enterprise content management (ECM) marketplace has been relatively stagnant. To be sure, we’ve seen improvements in infrastructure-related aspects such as storage management, virtualization and similar services, but not much changed in terms of functional features. In recent years, however, ECM vendors have had to adapt, particularly as BYOD (bring your own device) policies became prevalent and business users started expecting (and demanding) new features that would enable them to work on their documents from mobile devices.

Consequently, many ECM players now offer those capabilities as part of their offerings. In Real Story Group’s most recent ECM and cloud file sharing vendor evaluations (realstorygroup.com/Reports/ECM), we have expanded the scope of our reviews and have added more functional and technical capabilities that assess those key capabilities.

Here’s an overview of what has changed, and how you need to adapt your ECM strategy.

Mobile access

With mobile devices becoming increasingly powerful, colleagues want to access their documents while on the move. iPads and other tablets in particular have become game changers here. Increasingly, however, employers allow employees to bring mobile devices of their choice.

The first key differentiator is whether the vendor provides mobile applications for only a few devices or for a broader number of devices. Most tools provide specific native applications for Apple’s iPhone and iPad (based on iOS operating system) and Android-based phones and tablets. Some also differentiate between the iPhone and iPad and provide separate apps for those two devices. Some provide apps for other devices such as those based on Windows and BlackBerry.

Most tools provide a mobile Web-based application that allows you to access your files from your mobile’s Web browser. That is handy when you are using a device for which the tool provides no dedicated app.

The capabilities of vendor-supplied mobile apps will vary across different tools. In some cases, the mobile app is very basic, allowing you only to perform read-only operations. In some other cases, you can carry out more complex tasks such as triggering workflows, editing documents and adding permissions or comments.

File sync and offline capabilities

Most people use more than one device to get work done. They might use a laptop in the office, a desktop at home, and a tablet and phone while traveling. They need to access files from all of those devices, and it is important that any ECM tool can synchronize files across different devices.

A separate category of solutions has emerged that specializes in those capabilities. Popularized by consumer-oriented services like Dropbox, Google Drive and others, vendors such as Box.com and Syncplicity (acquired by EMC) provide services for cloud-based file sharing, sync, offline work and lightweight collaboration for enterprises.

However, there is considerable overlap of services between those cloud-based file sharing (CFS) vendors and traditional document management vendors. Indeed, those segments are increasingly converging now, as cloud-based file sharing vendors build better document management (DM) capabilities (such as library services), and DM vendors build (or acquire) cloud-based file sharing, sync and lightweight collaboration services.

Vendor activity

DM vendors actively trying to address that space now include Alfresco (via Alfresco Cloud), EMC, Microsoft, SkyDrive/Office 365), Nuxeo (Nuxeo Connect) and OpenText (via its Tempo Box offering). Meanwhile, collaboration/social vendors like Jive, Microsoft and Salesforce have also entered the enterprise file sharing market. Other large platform vendors are not far behind; for example, Citrix acquired ShareFile. Oracle is working on its own offering to be released in the near future, and IBM and HP are nibbling around the edges of this marketplace as well.

One of the consequences of all this activity is that the two marketplaces—cloud file sharing and document management—are seeing some convergence. Customers invested in DM tools frequently consider deploying their incumbent technology for cloud file sharing and sync scenarios. Similarly, many customers want to extend their usage of CFS platforms for basic document management services.

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