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The changing face of ECM

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Enterprise content management (ECM) continues to thrive, as new features and markets develop. Improved options for sharing content as well as support for mobile devices are signature characteristics of a new breed of ECM solutions that is showing rapid adoption. "A wave of interest is being driven by users who want a set of basic, easy-to-use capabilities typical of those found in consumer-oriented content sharing tools," says Mark Gilbert, research VP at Gartner. "However, organizations want to enforce policies and governance, so they are now providing their employees with enterprise versions of lighter-weight content sharing solutions."

Hearthstone provides capital to private homebuilders. Since 1992, more than 120,000 homes have been built as a result of funding arranged through Hearthstone across 20 states. Its account representatives are often out in the field and need regular access to the company's information. That includes a large volume of current and historical information, some dating back 20 years, which is used for operational and analytical purposes. As new content is added by the representatives, it needs to be synchronized with headquarters, two remote offices and other account managers to ensure its consistency.

The existing content sharing solution required the use of a virtual private network (VPN) to synchronize data. However, the VPN was inconvenient; it also tended to drop connections in low-bandwidth areas. The result was that only 68 percent of the data was fully synchronized at any given moment. Hearthstone wanted to update its IT infrastructure and identify a more efficient way to share content. After downsizing during the housing slump, Hearthstone also wanted to be able to expand again quickly as the market rebounded.

The company began exploring cloud-based options for sharing information and identified Syncplicity by EMC relatively quickly. "Syncplicity stood out for several reasons," says Robert Meltz, CTO of Hearthstone. "We would not have to move any data manually into the application. We would just have to indicate which folders should be included, and Syncplicity would do the rest."

Compliance concerns

Compliance with auditing standards was another area of concern, and Meltz found that Syncplicity is compliant with the Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagement (SSAE) 16, which applies global accounting standards to service organizations, and requires a description of controls and a written statement of the organization's system. Syncplicity uses data centers that are audited to the requirements of the standards, including the mandated level of data resiliency.

Once Hearthstone had selected Syncplicity, activating it was straightforward. "We needed only an hour to set up the directories and users," Meltz says, "and then it was just a matter of sending out e-mail invites to users." When users clicked on the invitation, data was sent to their laptops. "No real learning curve was required," he explains. "Users can see a spinning icon that indicates a folder is being synchronized. Other than that, the process is transparent to users."

Meanwhile, VPN traffic has been cut by 40 percent. "Since users just need an Internet connection for data synchronization now," Meltz says, "they can avoid the VPN. Our synchronization rate with Syncplicity is 98 to 100 percent versus 68 percent under the previous method." A dozen external users are also authorized to access certain folders, which generally consist of files that need to be shared but are too large to be sent by e-mail. Data is encrypted both in motion and at rest.

Finally, the knowledge that Hearthstone's information is protected from disaster is reassuring. "We could lose all of our servers and still have immediate access to our data," Meltz says. "We are on the verge of an expansion, and we do not need to put servers in the new locations, because we are comfortable with the reliability of Syncplicity's servers."

The trends

Cloud access and mobile access are two of the megatrends in enterprise content management, according to Jeetu Patel, general manager of the Syncplicity business unit at EMC. (The other two megatrends he identifies are big data and social media.) "Users were beginning to set up cloud storage on their own using consumer tools, but organizations did not like losing control of their content," says Patel. "We wanted to provide a solution that was just as easy to use, but was also compliant with enterprise policies."

Increasingly, delivery to multiple mobile devices is a part of enterprise content management. "Users may want to access content on different devices, depending on what they are doing," Patel explains. "They need a way to access files across those devices, as well as with people both inside and outside the organization such as partners or contractors." Syncplicity also offers the other benefits associated with SaaS applications, such as having rapid feature updates without placing a burden on the IT staff.

Lightweight content management systems complement but will not replace full-fledged ECM systems. "They are two different systems for different purposes," Patel says. "A company would not use Syncplicity by itself for a clinical trial process, for example, but if the company is using EMC Documentum, Syncplicity can be embedded into the workflow so that appropriate content can be easily shared."

Mobile delivery

In the city of Wichita Falls, Texas, development of mobile access to content evolved from a records management application using Laserfiche. "We were transitioning from paper to electronic records throughout the city," says Patrick Gray, systems applications analyst for the city. "After seeing what a neighboring county was doing with Laserfiche, we believed that our records management requirements could be met by this product."

The first application was in the city clerk's office. "These documents were easy to get into electronic form, because they are standardized and no business process was involved," Gray says. The health department, which handles inspections of restaurants and other facilities, had a larger number of forms and was implemented next. Initially, a workflow was not included, but was later added.

Noticing that Laserfiche had an iPad app, Gray began considering ways in which a mobile device could be used in the Wichita Falls municipal court. "I ended up with a list of 18 possible actions," he recalls, "and then evaluated each one for feasibility and productivity, focusing first on ways in which the judge could use the iPad. For example, I asked the judge if he could render decisions from the bench." Fortunately, the city judge was a proficient computer user and was enthusiastic about working collaboratively to use mobile technology to support productivity.

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