The Right Cloud Questions to Ask

By Bryant Duhon posted 12-19-2012 10:38

  

Alan Pelz-Sharpe is a Research Director for Content Management & Collaboration at 451 Research. He has more than 20 years of experience in the industry working with a wide variety of end user organizations and suppliers around the world

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Over the past year or so one of the most common questions I have been asked by organizations both in the public and the private sector is "What to do about the likes of Box & Dropbox?" It's a tough question to answer as it touches on a number of key issues, but in this short piece I am going to do my best to at least point you in the right direction.

Firstly, accept that your users have a real need that needs to be met. The need is to access corporate information on their own devices both at work, and when they are away from the office. It's a valid requirement and one that most organizations struggle to meet, and even when they do it’s via clunky VPNs. You have three key options:

  • Tell them tough luck – they can't have it
  • Work out a way to provide the service to them
  • Turn a blind eye and accept they are going to use these systems whatever you do

The last option is by far the worst, yet it is sadly the most common. I strongly advise you not to turn a blind eye. Far better to either make strong efforts to stop employees using third-party cloud file-sharing options (even if this proves ultimately to be very difficult to do), and far FAR better to figure out a way for your employees to have this need met.

When you move to cloud options, there are some basic business questions you need to answer before you do anything:

  • Who owns the data while it is in the cloud? Under the standard terms and conditions it may not be the client, and a law firm would need to consider whether this is appropriate very carefully.
  • What will happen to the data in the event of a dispute or in the event of the supplier going out of business or being bought or sold to another firm?
  • Does the supplier make any kind of use of the data while it is in the cloud? For example, does the supplier analyze it and sell that analysis to other firms?
  • Can the firm restrict movement of its data to a specific geographic location (for example, ensuring that it cannot leave the UK)?

You then need to ask some basic technical questions regarding the security of the data while it is in the cloud. Questions such as:

  • Is the data encrypted when it is in the cloud?
  • Is it encrypted both in transit and at rest (while it moves from the cloud to the device and while it sits dormant on the supplier’s cloud infrastructure)?
  • Who holds the keys to unencrypting the data?

Assuming you get satisfactory answers to these questions (and the answers will vary widely from provider to provider) then you can proceed. Be aware that you are not limited to the cloud-based file sharing service providers. Almost all the key ECM vendors such as EMC, OpenText, and Alfresco can also now provide you with secure cloud-based file sharing which enables mobile access to corporate files, etc. If you already have a legacy ECM system or two it will worth your while to look at the options available.

Allowing anywhere, anytime access to corporate information assets via the cloud can be liberating, and free up cumbersome IT resources in the process. But it’s a major step, and one that needs to be undertaken with thought and planning. Cloud-based document management and collaboration are not going away anytime soon, they are the future of this industry. Similarly some of the start ups in the sector have grand plans to build out content platforms in the style of Salesforce.com. There is much more on the horizon; and as a long-time industry watcher I can tell you that horizon looks very interesting indeed right now.

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