Content management has proved its worth as a way to control website information, organize workflow, and handle such important corporate documents as customer contracts and product specifications. Now, many organizations are discovering that content management applications can deliver still more value when they are delivered as cloud-based services.
"With the cloud, we get a multimillion-dollar infrastructure that's always on. It's scalable, and we can compete at a level that was unheard of before," said Daniel O'Leary, vice president for global solutions at LincWare LLC, a Rochester, N.Y., maker of electronic forms management software.
O'Leary has found that cloud-based content management services benefit from the same characteristics that are driving the cloud to become an alternative and in some cases primary platform for all applications: lower overall cost, no requirement to build and own IT infrastructure, and the ability to add and subtract capacity as needed.
Further, many cloud-based content management services providers are enabling integration with other cloud apps. In addition, advances in logistics are spurring the creation of new hybrid content management services that include paper document scanning. Lastly, the cloud is gaining credibility for security and reliability -- historically, two stumbling blocks to companies considering using the cloud.
At LincWare, content management services fit into a Box
LincWare faced a dilemma: It wanted to store its document creation applications and data on its network drives, but it also wanted to make this content (which included large attachments, such as training videos) available to its own workers wherever they might be. Although its headquarters are in the U.S., LincWare has a global network of developers and partners.
"Low cost and work anywhere were requirements. We wanted the same interface, no matter the location," O'Leary said. The company discovered that Box.net Inc., a Palo Alto, Calif., provider of content management services on the Web, could meet those needs.
"We started using it internally, then decided our customers could benefit and we would not have to build a massive content management system. We really like the value, the flexibility and the speed," O'Leary said. "We create a project folder in Box.net and store all the content there. Then we invite customers -- they could be in Australia -- to participate in the Box folder," he said.
From the Box.net application, LincWare connects to other cloud-based applications including Basecamp for project management and Highrise for customer relationship management (CRM), both of which are provided by Chicago-based 37signals LLC.
Stratus manages contract lifecycles in the cloud
Similarly, integration with another cloud-based application was a critical requirement for Stratus Technologies Inc. The Maynard, Mass., vendor of fault-tolerant servers and software relied heavily on Salesforce.com Inc. and its Software-as-a-Service CRM application. It needed a new contract management system, for which integration with Salesforce.com was key. As a $260 million company, Stratus couldn't justify purchasing a high-end contract management system, but a bare-bones, retail cloud offering wouldn't suffice either. SpringCM Inc., a cloud-based content management provider in Chicago, was willing to provide a custom integration to Stratus.
Stratus now has a streamlined contract management system that has replaced an unwieldy paper-based system. Contracts can be tracked and managed by all interested parties, from their offices or on the road. "When people know the status of a deal, they don't have to pick up the phone. It's making everybody more productive," said Steve Parker, business development manager at Stratus.
Thanks to the integration, Stratus employees log into Salesforce.com to access the SpringCM system, which performs contract lifecycle management tasks. "It's very tightly coupled with Salesforce," Parker said.
The SpringCM application also streamlines Stratus' compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The law's requirements for accurate revenue accounting make a precise and reliable contract management system essential. "The system lets the management team know where a particular deal is at a moment's notice," Parker said.
Content management service underpins Edmonton's public website
Even though it has an IT staff of 340 people, the city of Edmonton, Alberta, faced a build-versus-buy decision when it came to managing the content for its public website. When the city overhauled that website four years ago, a cloud-based content management service was part of the mix, for many of the reasons that cloud computing became popular to begin with.
"Time-to-market was important. If we hosted it ourselves, it would have taken a while to build. Cost was a factor; but more important, we wanted to stay away from the capital [expense] side and turn it into an operating expense," said Chris Moore, the city's CIO.
Time-to-market was important. If we hosted [the content management service] ourselves, it would have taken a while to build. Cost was a factor; but more important, we wanted to stay away from the capital expense side and turn it into an operating expense.
Chris Moore, CIO, city of Edmonton, Alberta
Edmonton handed over much of the work to Yellow Pencil Inc., an Edmonton-based integrator. The new service relies on Hummingbird Ltd.'s Red Dot content management system, which was acquired in 2006 by Open Text Corp. in Waterloo, Ontario.
The persistence of paper in content management services
Many businesses need paper documents: That fact is spurring new cloud-based content management services. Janitorial services provider Unique Cleaning Service Inc. in Marietta, Ga., needed a system to handle travel expense receipts for its mobile quality-control managers. Staff who travel now send their receipts daily to Cambridge, Mass.-based OfficeDrop, which scans them and stores them as searchable PDF files. Information can be viewed by expense category or by manager's name.
"The managers send in their expense receipts to OfficeDrop. Accountants get immediate access to the information and put it into a central depository," said Wayne Goodman, vice president of administration at Unique Cleaning. "And quality managers don't have to sort through a pile of receipts at the end of the week." If they choose, they can photograph a receipt with a corporate-issued Apple iPhone and email the image to OfficeDrop.
Content management service no longer a nonstarter
Just a few years ago, the idea of placing critical documents off-premises and putting one's business at the mercy of an Internet connection would have made a cloud-based content management service a nonstarter, even at smaller companies, which tend to be most attracted to cloud-based services. But a solid overall track record is convincing IT professionals at these firms that the cloud is a safe bet.
At Stratus, the legal department initially was concerned about the security of the company's customer contract data. The CIO, however, convinced the company's general counsel the risk was minimal, Stratus's Parker said.
The city of Edmonton also had security questions, which ultimately were satisfied. "The legal people understand and embrace the opportunity," CIO Moore said. "People need to become involved and educated as to the perceived risk. People who are trying to sell other things try to convince people the cloud is a dangerous place," he said, adding, "But you do your due diligence like anything else."
Stan Gibson is a Boston-based contributing writer.