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Clouds and rain in the ECM/BPM forecast

“There must be a cloud in my head – rain keeps falling from my eyes.” – Dee Clark, Raindrops

Users and investigators of today’s content and business process management technologies must be near tears as they endeavor to sort through their options and plot a course for the future.

Should I work with a single vendor or take a “best of breed” approach? Is open source a credible alternative? What happens if I do/don’t go the SharePoint route?

Every question being raised requires a great deal of operational analysis and organizational soul-searching to answer, and the pressure is on to come up with responses that are consistent with your company’s philosophy and culture. However, there is one that stands out as being especially important, for it speaks to longer-term strategy-setting and strikes directly at the most sensitive subject there is:

What about this ‘cloud computing’ thing I’m hearing so much about?

For those of you who’ve been out of town, the ‘cloud’ is broadly said to be where the servers of the future will live as they happily run your applications and connect to your users via the Internet. The big issue it raises is what the military calls “command and control,” or the setting of direction for, and the exertion of authority over, a given mission.

Imagine signing a ‘cloud company’ to manage, maintain, and upgrade your content and process automation servers: how nice it might be to shed all that responsibility and cost! But it will come at a price that many business executives and IT managers are loathe to pay: the loss of direct day-to-day control over, and future development of, this critical central resource.

Plenty of folks – including yours truly – already are feeling this sort of discomfort, even in the much less business-critical context of managing our personal calendars. In my case, it’s a function of wanting to synchronize my Thunderbird client (using the Lightning extension) with my iPhone, something that appears to be most efficiently accomplished only by syncing both with Google.

Does it make me nervous that my appointments are being housed on the Web where ‘anyone can see them,’ that there’s no real file I can copy locally and use as a backup as I used to, and that someone I don’t know and can’t reach can make changes at anytime that could cost me money or displace me altogether? Yes, yes, and yes – and I can only imagine what a wreck I’d be if my company’s content and process flows were subject to the same uncertainties.

Ironically, I remain convinced that we all eventually will procure computing power in the same way we now buy electricity: on a subscription basis via an outlet in the wall. Precisely how we get from here to there still is a question in my mind, but the emergence of the ‘cloud’ sure does seem like a step along the way. Just be sure you keep your eyes open as you progress down the path, for it’d be a crying shame to make an avoidable mistake.

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