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SAAS-Based ECM? Here's My Dilemma

I have no problem telling buyers that SaaS-based enterprise content management may be worth considering, but actually recommending it is still something of a stretch for me... To what degree do you need to integrate into legacy content stores? How much development work do you need to do? If standalone applications suffice for now, will they still make sense when you have five or 15 of them? How would you/could you consolidate them?...
At every talk or seminar I give on enterprise content management (ECM) technology, I stress to attendees that they have many different options -- including software as a service (SaaS). It's still early days for SaaS ECM, but the approach is now joining open source as a viable alternative to traditional software licensing models. So I have no problem telling buyers that SaaS may be worth considering, but actually recommending that they pursue a SaaS option is still something of a stretch for me.

There are some very strong selling points for SaaS, including the relative ease of deployment and potentially much lower operating costs, not to mention the obvious appeal of obviating IT burdens such as patch management. Although ECM SaaS providers remain few in number, the scope of their offerings is widening. For example Xythos sells a dedicated SaaS option that seems to be building out a decent customer base for its basic-but-proven document collaboration services. SaaS ECM market leader Spring CM has a quite full offering - the equivalent of many traditional ECM vendors - with a wide range of productized applications, ranging from mortgage processing to hospital bill reconciliation.My reluctance to recommend SaaS outright, then, is rather that vague buyers' requirements or short-term thinking can conceal whether SaaS limitations will ultimately cancel out the obvious benefits. Let's look at two seemingly cut-and-dried examples. If you are looking for a departmental solution to deal with documents related to Real Estate Deals or Lease Management for example, a pre-configured SasS package may well make good sense. If on the other hand you are looking for a development platform that is content centric - or to build a content layer into a Service Oriented Architecture - then SaaS options are unlikely to fit the bill.

These clearly represent two very different sets of requirements, but in fact most enterprises fall somewhere in-between: they want applications, but they want those applications to become unified at the back end. The decision regarding SaaS can then get complex quite fast. To what degree do you need to integrate into legacy content stores? How much development work do you need to undertake? If standalone applications suffice for now, will they still make sense when you have five or 15 of them? How would you/could you consolidate them?

The appeal of SaaS options comes in giving you 80% of what a traditional ECM vendor will provide, but at a lower upfront cost, with less hassle. But realistically, SasS approaches demand that you project your requirements farther out into the future before making a snap decision that you could later come to regret.

In short, I like SaaS. I think it's the right choice for many buyers, but it's not for everyone.

Alan Pelz-Sharpe is a principal analyst at CMS Watch. Write him at [email protected]I have no problem telling buyers that SaaS-based enterprise content management may be worth considering, but actually recommending it is still something of a stretch for me... To what degree do you need to integrate into legacy content stores? How much development work do you need to do? If standalone applications suffice for now, will they still make sense when you have five or 15 of them? How would you/could you consolidate them?...