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An Alternative Approach to Mobile Content Management:
Moving Beyond the Limitations of EMM and ECM Platforms.

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Why is it that most enterprises still struggle with user adoption of their collaboration tools? A case in point is Microsoft SharePoint. The adoption numbers are low as demonstrated by a recent AIIM study. In its 2015 survey titled “Connecting and Optimizing SharePoint”, only 25% of respondents agreed with the statement “We have a good level of adoption and users like it”. One could argue that mobile access plays a part in this.

 Accommodating mobile users on a SharePoint, Office 365 or other enterprise platforms is much more complicated than dealing with in-office desktop scenarios; and  let’s face it, in today’s work environment, “mobile” applies to the majority of employees. Now, enterprises have to contend with integrating multiple content services with multiple devices on multiple OS platforms.

For content services alone, Gartner analysts report the average corporate device will synchronize with at least five different Enterprise File Sync and Share (EFSS) services. The technical complexity of supporting commercially available apps across the multitude of content services, devices and OS platforms often results in an overwhelming amount of options for users; and too many choices degrades the user experience and lowers adoption of sanctioned systems.

The crux is that, although there are many vendors in the Enterprise Mobile Management (EMM), Enterprise Content Management/Enterprise File Sync and Share (ECM/EFSS) space, the majority still don’t resolve the mobile user adoption issue. EMM vendors have traditionally focused on managing mobile devices and applications, while EFSS vendors focused on making it easy to store and share files on mobile devices. Emerging is a new software category called Mobile Content Management, and vendors in that space are taking a stab at solving the mobility conundrum.

Let’s take a closer look.

Architecturally, the solutions from EMM, ECM/EFSS and MCM vendor categories look surprisingly similar despite their different heritages. Typical MCM vendor solutions have three primary components: content hub, admin console, and mobile apps. (Download Chart 1)

The content hub provides a secure place to store data. EMM vendors have typically been very strong on security and governance features, but the serious EFSS vendors are quickly catching up. The admin console provides the capability to configure the system, deploy governance policies, and manage information. Typically the admin console provides reports on system performance and user adoption. MCM vendors all provide a mobile content app which securely synchronizes data in the content hub for access on the mobile device.

What about the need to support multiple cloud services? MCM vendors have a solution for this by synchronizing these external services with the content hub, making a copy of the information then sending it to the mobile device. Is it truly the best architecture to ensure high user adoption and governance on mobile devices?

  1. The need to use the content hub to deploy data to mobile devices adds another repository to the mix, and another copy of the information. Enterprises already have to manage multiple services and the addition of yet another place to store and manage content is an increased support burden at best, and a security risk at worst. A content hub also means there is a two-step process for synchronization – one to the server and one to the mobile device, which is inefficient.
  2. Synchronizing data from multiple content services into a single content hub strips unique features from the different services and presents the lowest common denominator to the user. An example of this is SharePoint. Most MCM solutions sync only the files in SharePoint – no metadata, or lists. That limits the capabilities of the apps on the mobile device, making traditional MCM solutions far less useful for applications such as records management or workflow.
  3. The content hub architecture often limits what can be done on the mobile device. Modern mobile apps are focused on doing a few things really well. A term used to describe this is “purposeful”. However, typical MCM applications are “swiss army knives” that skim the surface but don’t go very deep.

By design, typical MCM apps don’t support moving files between content repositories and email systems; a capability essential for mobile email management. With few exceptions, the MCM apps from the EMM vendors don’t even cache data, making them impossible to use offline, which is a big limitation for mobile workers. Only a few of the EMM vendors have an API that supports development of custom mobile apps. All of this translates into a limited user experience that doesn’t address the core objectives of change management and increasing user adoption.

There is an alternative approach – one where there is no content hub. An approach where all data from multiple services is synchronized directly to the mobile device.

This approach eliminates the need to support a new server to house corporate information, and is more efficient because it does not require a two-step synchronization process.

It is potentially more secure because data is only shared between the service and users’ mobile devices. In addition, direct device sync can support a variety of features and capabilities unique to each service. Metadata is no problem with this approach, for example, so records management and workflow applications can easily be supported on mobile devices. (Download Chart 2)

Administration is achieved through a console service that connects directly to mobile devices, providing configuration and policies which can be set on an individual or group basis right on the device. The “click stream” from apps can be collected by the console and aggregated into reports that can provide very granular insights into what users are actually doing with the data on the devices. That means specific behaviours within the apps can be monitored with aggregated results showing the degree of user adoption, or adherence to certain governance policies or workflows.

One of the big impediments to this approach in the past has been the complexities of developing a sophisticated sync engine that can run on multiple mobile operating systems. Recently, however, a number of cross-OS frameworks have been released that enable the development of a single piece of code that runs on multiple device types. In addition, an API can be provided that enables organizations to rapidly build custom apps to solve different scenarios. These apps can synchronize with multiple content services, but all apps are administered centrally.

Based on this architecture, user adoption is achieved through specialized, “purposeful” apps that run on any device. Deployment is simple, yet effective. Through the use of an administrative console, governance can be maintained as tightly as needed. And there is a wealth of information that can be gleaned from reports generated on the behaviour of users.

But best of all, this architecture is clean, efficient, with low overhead.

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