How cloud is rendering traditional document management obsolete

Do cloud and document management co-exist? Many companies are finding ways to improve productivity by using cloud

It’s not hard to understand what people mean when they put the words "document" and "management" together. As a term, it’s self-explanatory. But if you put the word "cloud" anywhere near it, things start to get a little more hazy.

The first issue that needs to be addressed is whether you can actually place the word "cloud" next to "document management” without changing its meaning. David McLeman, managing director at SaaS security specialist and Google Apps for Business reseller Ancoris, is pretty clear you can’t.

"Traditional document management systems have largely followed the logic of the paper trail," he states. Their original function was to store, track and retrieve documents, but "cloud computing has changed this and the focus is shifting from storage to collaboration."

Products like Google Apps for Business enable real-time collaboration in multiple ways and provide tools which support team working, but they also mean documents can end up being organised in websites or shared across project teams.

Managing content in the cloud goes further than simply storing and tracking documents.

From McLeman’s point of view, there are a number of benefits in using Google Docs. It removes the need for version control, makes a single copy of a document simultaneously accessible by authorised contributors and can "turn static data into dynamic content to drive the business forward and bring innovation."

But this also means that managing content in the cloud "goes a lot further than simply storing and tracking documents."

Dr Graham Oakes, author of Project Reviews, Assurance and Governance, says workgroup collaboration and document sharing is one of the most obvious scenarios where organisations are adopting what could be termed as cloud-based document management. Whether workgroup collaboration and document sharing qualifies as document management is a moot point.

Oakes says people using products such as Google Docs or MS Office 365 are focused on issues such as "making sure everyone can access the latest version of a document without having dozens of duplicates floating around" in emails for example, which implies a level of document control.

But not only are these types of sharing systems creating new ways of creating and modifying documents, they are also raising questions over how and when those documents should be considered completed and stored as a final version. Oakes says that the information in cloud-based systems such as Google Docs, MS Office 365 or Dropbox "is rarely integrated with existing document management systems”.

In most cases, Google Docs, MS Office 365 or Dropbox are informal solutions "used to get around the limitations of the formal document management systems, or at least, to get around the limitations in the way that these systems have been implemented."

The problem is that while they solve the immediate headache of how to adopt workgroup collaboration, they do so "at the expense of creating a bigger strategic problem, information just gets even more widely scattered and hence harder to find and integrate."

McLeman agrees that Google Docs is not a document management system so if a company using the product has to move all documents into a document management system for legal or compliance reasons, “it would be necessary to download the document and upload it into the document management system."

This is a phenomenon that Oakes has previously observed. "People sometimes copy information from the informal stores into formal document management systems manually," he says. A team might collaborate on creating a design via Dropbox, for example, going through multiple versions and iterations. When a design is agreed, someone copies the final version into a more formal corporate repository.

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