Capture: The ideal application for Cloud
As I was brainstorming on a topic to write for this blog, I was inspired by Bob Larrivee's latest AIIM community blog entitled "It Came From The Cloud” (http://www.aiim.org/community/blogs/expert/It-Came-From-The-Cloud) where he asked some simple, yet thought-provoking questions. So this begs the question why anyone would resist such obvious benefits of “cloud” (http://www.aiim.org/community/blogs/expert/A-cloudy-future-for-document-capture)? I’m sure there are many legitimate concerns and issues but I would like to focus on the concern of security for the purpose of this blog post.
These days the term "cloud" as it relates to usage in corporate enterprise typically engenders strong feelings one way or the other. Benefits such as quicker application deployment, reduced IT costs and the ability to offer a more feature-rich experience to workers is not often debated. What is debated, and is a reasonable discussion, is the viability of "the cloud" from a security standpoint.
Security: Technology versus Trust
These concerns are well founded and should be addressed but we should definitely draw a major distinction between the technology itself and whether a provider is trusted with data. Therefore, when we understand this distinction between technology and trust, the cloud should not be discounted as a legitimate option for enterprise simply due to fear alone from a technology perspective.
Below is a short list of various security items that should be considered when contemplating a cloud strategy. This short list is not by any means an extensive list of security items to consider, however, please ask yourself this, for each one of these items is an individual business or a mass data center more equipped to handle capabilities? For those who would really consider the question of whether on-premise or cloud is more secure then the conclusion to me is clear.
Private clouds - Dedicated servers and databases to only one organization
Physical access - Limit access to only those that might need to physically touch equipment
Data encryption - Encrypt data in motion and data at rest
Device authentication - Trust devices in addition to users
System updates and patches - Apply security updates as soon as possible
Secure disk wiping - Securely erase temporary data from disk drives
Network architecture - Databases beyond firewalls and web data on front-end servers
Logging - Track all activity to detect intrusions
Policy/Governance - Consistently review policies and procedures for improvement
Conservative cloud adoption by Enterprise
While I certainly would not expect major enterprise organizations to jump in head-first and move all their data and applications to the cloud, what does make logical sense is for them to move transactional applications (versus storage applications) to the cloud. Specifically, moving "Capture" to the cloud makes complete sense. Why? Capture processes images only temporarily then stores the data wherever you'd like, including in the security-hardened ECM system. In other words, the capture application does not store images or metadata in a database. Capture is a processing activity, not storage and retrieval.
One other observations about Cloud for the Enterprise; I can absolutely see a trend towards building massive infrastructure now in preparation for delivering robust applications eventually. Having attended Cloud Connect 2012 (Santa Clara) http://www.cloudconnectevent.com/santaclara/, it was remarkable to see the level of interest among major IT providers and well-known Enterprise organizations. Without a doubt, the infrastructure is being implemented now for what will be an onslaught of cloud services in the not-too-distant future.
Major adoption by Small and Medium-Sized Businesses (SMB’s)
In contrary to Enterprise, Small and Medium-Sized Businesses (SMB’s) have to make a decision on how to improve efficiency with no or limited IT resources. For SMB, the cloud offers opportunities like never seen before. Why? Because a shared resource makes sophisticated technology available to a greater audience. Why? Because costs to the vendors are decreased through mass-consumption by users and this allows vendors to make these advanced technologies available to the masses. Also, and from a security perspective, using cloud storage and capture as a rented service from providers allows SMB organizations to focus on their businesses instead of burdened by maintaining technology. When the choice is to not utilize any technology and continue to process paperwork manually, or to utilize cloud technology to capture, store and retrieve with a little, yet limited, risk, it’s clear that SMB’s have chosen limited risk with great efficiency improvements.
Like never seen before, SMB’s are empowered to create a mash-up of useful business applications without the high cost associated with doing-so. Clearly there is an undeniable trend towards Cloud Storage from providers such as Box, Evernote, Catch, Google Docs, Dropbox, etc. and Cloud Capture is a logical complementary technology to further improve efficiencies and decrease operational costs.
Next steps: Being indecisive is inefficient
With such overwhelming evidence that adopting cloud services makes sense then the next logical question is “what now?”. Clearly security is, and should be, a major concern for enterprise as well as SMB, but with enterprise the stakes are much greater. SMB inherently has this element of risk/reward that drives them to make business decisions quicker. The topic of “access vs. security” balance is often discussed within the ECM industry and the truth is that you have to find a balance of making information available to users, yet also making sure the data is protected in a responsible manner. SMB that does not have dedicated IT resources can utilize “the cloud” to improve business efficiency at minimal costs and trust that security is taken care of by their storage provider.
There are many wonderful solutions available right now for businesses of all sizes to benefit from “the cloud”. For example, for an organization to migrate e-mail, CRM, expense management, document management, corporate web site and an accounting system to 100% cloud today is do-able. With known monthly operating expense costs and no IT burden. Also, these cloud applications are not cheesy, cheap applications; these are robust, Enterprise-ready applications that are now made available to everyone which are easy to use and secure.
What do you think about “the cloud”? Is it a fad? Will it be embraced by Enterprise? Is it secure?