“The cloud” is often an undefined concept used in various descriptions. Software applications running on the cloud can be running as a SaaS, a PaaS, on IaaS, in DMZs, in managed hosted environments and in many other ways. But for our discussion we use the cloud to mean a computing environment outside of the corporate LAN/WAN, sometimes maintained by a third party. Using a document management solution based in the cloud has many benefits and is likely to become the solution of choice by organizations in the coming years. Here’s why.
Access for users wherever they are
Work is no longer constrained to that which you can do in your office. Accessing information while at home, on the production floor, at the worksite, at customer locations and even in your car is now commonplace, though getting relevant information and files has been harder than it needs to be, if available at all. Attaining the information you need typically means logging into the internet and, if your company allows, logging into a virtual private network (VPN) to get to the corporate network, then logging into your domain account and/or the needed application. All assuming the internet connection you have is fast enough to permit all these actions.
For organizations with multiple locations, even with a WAN, the ability to find and access files stored at other locations is not easy, and usually there are substantial security obstacles to overcome. This makes sense, since many of the IT environments are in different locations and have been set up by different individuals to meet different locational needs. It has just been within the last few years that IT departments have started to “rationalize” their disparate environments and force more consistency in how files are stored and retrieved.
Forget about buying and maintaining IT infrastructure
Utilizing third-party infrastructure is not new, but it certainly has become more accepted within the evolution of IT policy and security requirements. The ability to obtain access to computing assets to store files and run applications without substantial IT involvement makes implementing and maintaining your document management solution so much easier. If you go with a SaaS application you not only get the benefit of a third party managing the infrastructure, but the benefits of economies of scale, lowering total cost of ownership over the application’s lifetime. Maintenance of IT equipment and operating systems is taken care of by the managing host, who is motivated to keep the infrastructure up to speed to not only stay competitive but to ensure vulnerabilities are quickly addressed as well.
Gain greater security over files
The major third-party infrastructure providers like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure offer an extremely high level of infrastructure security, likely superior to that maintained by a corporate data center. Moving an organization’s files to this type of secure infrastructure can be done easily at very little cost. Bandwidth constraints still exist but can be addressed through compression of files and/or streaming of files.
Utilizing a contemporary cloud application to manage the files also ensures greater security than with older corporate legacy systems or older nonweb applications. Although there is a trade-off between providing greater access to files from devices the organization may not have control over — and the associated securitization issues — versus the benefits of having the right information at the right time in the right place, the benefits clearly outweigh the risks. Do ensure, however, that your document management system encrypts all its at-rest files as well as those in transit.
Easier access and collaboration with third parties
The days of sending unsecure email attachments to vendors, contractors and customers is nearing an end. Not just because of size restrictions, which many email systems have, but because of the lack of security and control once the files are distributed. Rather, an easier method of access is to provide a web link to a file or files in a cloud application, letting the recipient simply click to open the file or the system. Logins can even be embedded in the links to reduce the hassle of a login.
Collaboration is now happening more and more in real time. So the old “send file, make a phone call” days are gone. It’s all about getting access, reviewing the information or drawing it together — although not necessarily from the same location — and making a decision or approval. This has, and is, helping to speed up the velocity of our workflows (see next section).
Collaboration through standard markups and red lines becomes easier and faster. Tablets now facilitate the ability to annotate documents and drawings while employees view the same document/drawing. Waiting for markups to get submitted and trying to decipher handwritten notations is no longer necessary. Electronic text and symbology show up instantly and are clear.
Speed up workflows and approvals
Information and data are critical elements of many of an organization’s workflows. Including the right information in the conversation at the right time can make a huge difference, both in terms of the speed of decisionmaking and the accuracy. Historically, getting access to needed information and data meant being in the office and/or printing out documents for review. For larger documents, like engineering drawings, printing and plotting took time and cost money. And when conversations needed more data, it often took additional time to find the needed files on the organization’s share or in associated applications.
Digitalization and use of the cloud now presents the next plateau in workflow processing. Individuals no longer have to be in the office, in the same location or maintain printouts of relevant documents. Review and approval can be done in real time through online access to needed files, even with electronic signatures. The number of participants in conversations can be broadened and even include customers and vendors. Again, no longer do we need to give the customer VPN access and a login to let them see documents, and we certainly should no longer be sending email attachments to customers. Impress your customers and vendors by shooting them a link — either email or text message — and let them view native files in the cloud anyway, at any time.
Gain the benefits of a virtual wide area network (WAN)
Especially for smaller companies, the idea of setting up a wide area network is usually beyond their capabilities and needs. But getting access to files and systems from any location is now easily implemented by going to the cloud. Files and applications residing in the cloud are accessible from anywhere by anyone, assuming requisite security protocols are established, providing a virtual wide area network. And many of the third-party providers of public and private cloud environments have faster and more secure networks than many organizations would be able to maintain themselves.
This virtual WAN solves the problem when multiple offices maintain files locally and they are not visible to other offices or to third-parties. Even larger files can be kept locally and synced to the cloud to promote visibility while reducing download times.
So, if you’re putting in a document management solution or looking to get more value out of your existing system, consider moving to the cloud. The ease of implementation, benefits in access and collaboration, and increased security make it a no-brainer for your company.
is president and CEO of eQuorum, a leader in cloud document management technology.