Saturday, November 15, 2014

Enterprise Content Management and Mobile Devices

With mobile devices becoming increasingly powerful, users want to access their documents while on the move. iPads and other tablets in particular have become very popular. Increasingly, employers allow employees to bring mobile devices of their choice to work.

"Bring Your Own Device" (BYOD) policy became wide spread in organizations and users started expecting and demanding new features that would enable them to work on their documents from mobile devices. Therefore, the necessity to have mobile access to content has greatly increased in recent years.

As with most technology, mobile and cloud applications are driving the next generation of capabilities in ECM tools. The key capabilities in ECM tools are the ability to access documents via mobile devices, ability to sync documents across multiple devices, and the ability to work on documents offline.

Most tools provide a mobile Web-based application that allows users to access documents from a mobile’s Web browser. That is handy when users use a device for which the tool provides no dedicated application.

The capabilities of mobile applications vary across different tools. In some cases, the mobile application is very basic, allowing users to perform only read-only operations. In other cases, users can perform more complex tasks such as creating workflows, editing documents, changing permissions or adding comments.

Solutions and Vendors

Solutions emerged that specialize in cloud based file sharing capabilities (CFS). Dropbox, Google Drive,, and Syncplicity (acquired by EMC) provide services for cloud-based file sharing, sync, offline work, and some collaboration for enterprises.

There is considerable overlap of services between these CFS vendors and traditional document management (DM) vendors. CFS vendors build better document management capabilities (such as library services), and DM vendors build (or acquire) cloud-based file sharing, sync, and collaboration services. Customers invested in DM tools frequently consider deploying relevant technology for cloud file sharing and sync scenarios. Similarly, many customers want to extend their usage of CFS platforms for basic document management services.

DM vendors which actively trying to address these needs include Alfresco (via Alfresco Cloud), EMC, Microsoft (via SkyDrive/ Office 365), Nuxeo (via Nuxeo Connect), and OpenText (via Tempo Box). Collaboration/social vendors like Jive, Microsoft, and Salesforce have also entered the enterprise file sharing market. Other large platform vendors include Citrix which acquired ShareFile. Oracle, IBM, and HP are about to enter this market as well.

Key Features

Number of Devices - Number of devices that the ECM vendor provides mobile applications for is very important. 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 applications for those two devices. Some provide applications for other devices such as those based on Windows and BlackBerry.

File sync and offline capabilities - Many users 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 a phone while traveling. They need to access files from all of those devices, and it is important that an ECM tool can synchronize files across different devices.

Users increasingly expect capabilities for advanced file sharing, including cloud and hybrid cloud-based services. Most tools do that by providing a sync app for your desktop/laptop, which then syncs your files from the cloud-based storage to your local machine.

Most tools require users to create a dedicated folder and move files to that dedicated folder, which is then synced. A few tools like Syncplicity allow users to sync from any existing folder on your machine.

A dedicated folder can be better managed and seems to be a cleaner solution. However, it means that users need to move files around which can cause duplication. The other approach of using any folder as a sync folder allows users to keep working on files in their usual location. That is convenient, but if users reach a stage when they have too many folders scattered around on their laptop and other synced machines, they might have some manageability issues.

Some tools allow users to selectively sync. Rather than syncing the entire cloud drive, users can decide which folders to sync. That is useful when users are in a slow speed area or they have other bandwidth-related constraints. In some cases, they can also decide whether they want a one-way sync or a bi-directional sync. Once they have the files synced up and available locally, they typically can work offline as well. When they go online, their changes are synced back to the cloud.

Most tools that provide a dedicated mobile applications can also sync files on mobile devices. However, mobile syncing is usually tricky due to the closed nature of mobile device file systems.

While most ECM and DM vendors provide some varying capabilities for mobile access, not all of them can effectively offer file sync across multiple devices.

Your options should be based on your users' requirements. Access them very carefully before deciding on a suitable solution for your organization.

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