Embrace a Cloud Architecture
The IT Strategist’s Guide to Transforming ECM
Organizations of all sizes and industries have embraced content management in the cloud. That’s because IT can innovate faster, more cheaply, and with greater agility using a cloud-native content services platform. The benefits of delivering ECM in the cloud include:
Reduced TCO: Save big with elastic, low-cost compute and storage resources; eliminate the upfront infrastructure investment and pay only for the capacity you use.
Accelarated Time to Value: Implement in weeks, not months; avoid provisioning delays and quickly roll out new use cases with shared content services that scale on the fly.
Modernization: Innovate in ways never before possible with cloud-first content platforms that use modern architectures and approaches; advance digital transformation initiatives.
More Value from Content: Make enterprise content available to more people and more applications; use machine learning technologies and other AI services against a central, curated content store.
Better Collaboration: Support a mobile, distributed workforce that shares and co-creates content with internal and external partners; improve information flow and decision making.
Stronger Information Governance: Leverage the considerable security and compliance investments made by leading cloud providers; regain content control by fending off shadow IT solutions.
Content Services in a Virtual Private Cloud
The other, often better, strategy is to deploy your own cloud-ready content services platform in a virtual private cloud (VPC) on Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud Platform.
This “platform as a service” approach makes ECM capabilities available to any enterprise application through open APIs. IT teams can call discrete content services “on the fly” to meet the needs of diverse users and lines of business, today and into the future. It’s fast, flexible, and takes full advantage of the cloud’s elasticity and economies of scale. If you’ve already moved applications to the cloud, this approach extends your investment in cloud infrastructure and skills.
Deploying content services in a VPC typically requires these foundational cloud services:
There is no one-size-fits-all deployment. How you approach your implementation depends on many factors, including performance requirements, cost, availability, networking, security, compliance, and user distribution.
Cloud providers offer compute resources to fit a variety of use cases. Memory-optimized instances are recommended for the content services application. You’ll want a performance-optimized instance (high IOPS) for indexing.
Your choice of storage has a huge impact on TCO. It’s a trade-off that boils down to cost vs. frequency of access and speed of retrieval. Some storage services are optimized for frequently used or “hot” data. They’re more expensive, but are the best choice for content that users need immediately and often. Storage services that are optimized for infrequently used or “cold” data are better for archiving and backup. They offer durable, extremely low-cost storage with slower retrieval times.
Databases are notoriously hard to scale, administer, and upgrade. A managed database service lets you offload this time-consuming headache. Services based on new cloud-native databases enable sub-second access to billions of documents and are well-suited to modern ECM use cases.
Once you’ve set up a scalable, performant content services platform, you can further enhance its functionality with value-added cloud services. For example, you can use artificial intelligence (AI)/ machine learning services to update content metadata or conduct image analysis. The cloud’s elastic infrastructure simplifies content analytics for large data sets and complex queries. For more on using cloud-based AI services in your content solution, see the Leverage the Data in Content habit.
Enterprise architects are often asked to quantify the financial benefits of a cloud migration. To do this, you’ll need to compare the cost of managing content in the cloud vs. in the data center, typically over a three to five year period. When calculating the savings, consider that cloud-based ECM allows you to:
The total savings can amount to millions of dollars annually. In one deployment, the first year’s storage savings effectively “paid for” the cost of migration. Plus, the shift from a CAPEX to an OPEX budget can mean it’s easier to get a cloud project approved.
Beyond Financial Gains
In addition to cost savings, an important consideration is how content services in the cloud will benefit business operations. Will employee productivity or process efficiency increase? Metrics like cycle time, accuracy rate, and output/employee can also quantify the value of your cloud project to the business.
Of course, cloud-based ECM delivers many benefits that aren’t as easy to measure, like agility and control. Content is made more available and valuable, enhancing business decisions and outcomes. IT can make more strategic contributions because less time is spent “keeping the lights on.” Ultimately, it’s about creating opportunities for innovation and competitive advantage.
There is no set path to ECM in the cloud. Some companies start small with a low-risk project that quickly demonstrates the benefits of migrating. Others jump in with a digital transformation initiative to achieve a high-stakes business goal. Often an application refresh or workload move is a catalyst for re-evaluating content management strategy and systems.
Whatever your approach or timeline, it’s important to begin planning for the cloud now. Start thinking about the technical implications of delivering content services in the cloud and readying your team with the necessary training. The decisions you make today can ensure a smoother migration in the future.
Optimizing Cloud Migration
Moving content to the cloud requires thoughtful planning and coordination. Here are a few lessons learned from organizations that have undertaken successful cloud migrations.
Consider your migration a chance to “clean house.” Inventory your content to determine what moves to the cloud, what stays behind, and why. Ask: What is the value of this content to the business? And: Is it subject to any compliance requirements? There are a variety of analytic approaches, automated tools, and specialist firms to help with this evaluation process. Any ROT—Redundant, Obsolete, or Trivial content—should be disposed of in a legally defensible manner.
Use the information gathered in the content analysis to bring as much value as possible to your cloud ECM solution. Enrich your content with the right metadata (and drop any metadata that’s redundant or unused). This will make files more “findable.” You can also use metadata to control content access, move content through a process, and automate records management. Cost and time considerations will determine whether you do this processing before or after content is moved to the cloud.
How much content do you need to move and by when? Streaming data over a high-speed Internet connection works for smaller content migrations. For large (petabyte-scale) migrations, your best bet is an appliance like AWS Snowball. Transferring data on a “massive USB stick” avoids issues like high network costs, bandwidth constraints, security concerns, and long transfer times. (It takes more than 100 days to transfer 100TBs of data over a dedicated 100 Mbps connection!) You can also do one big upfront transfer using an appliance followed by several smaller online transfers.