Save, Sync, Share or Serve – Which Do You Really Need

The number of content management offerings in the cloud continues to expand and even for a “seasoned” ECM professional the ambiguous marketing and feature overlap can be confusing. I have been experimenting lately with several of them and have come to realize that while all of these applications at the most abstract level do exactly the same thing, make your content accessible from somewhere other than the device in front of you, they are not created equal,for the same people, or most importantly the same problem.

What is Your Problem

You can approach this by considering four general categories of features that individually are the launch points for most of the cloud content product market’s feature trajectory.

  • Save – Take the content off of the device that it originates from and store it, hopefully in a secure way, somewhere in the ether. Making sure that if the version I have in front of me goes away I can get it back. This ranges from online backup solutions to cloud drives. This is the most basic feature but the nuance and approach to how the products solve for it range from scheduled background backup services to explicit single file upload. Same result in the abstract but how you get there is wildly different.
  • Sync – Replicate the saved content to one or more devices so I can access it with the same or limited privilege depending on my needs.
  • Share – Explicitly make content available to one or more people with various levels of privilege ranging from read to delete.
  • Serve – Make my content available to large audiences for consumption.

Every content management system has these features at some level. These are capabilities that ECM vendors have developed and provided within companies for years but then added tangential features growing into complete but complex suites. Cloud based offerings are at the beginning of the expanding feature universe so we are observing the elements coalesce into new stars and burn bright or burn out. Confusion for you the buyer though comes in when  idiosyncrasies of market approaches make similar technical capabilities look and feel very different to the average person.

Understanding which of the these categories is most important to you has serious implications.The following is a sampling of a few I tried and are admittedly quick impressions. The purpose of the exercise was not to compare feature for feature but to identify the dominant gene from early impressions. Hopefully these illustrate the point that the center of feature gravity can greatly affect the experience and reaction of the user.

Simple Save

OxygenCloud (based on EMC Atmos by the way) had very much an infrastructure Save feel to it for me. I especially like the “unsync” feature  that leaves a stub of the file but lets me decide when to clear my device without loosing visibility. This to me demonstrates a  value proposition influenced by a single source of truth and undercurrent of IT operational management.

In the Sync

Dropbox was by far the simplest conceptual model but you have to understand that even though save is a core feature the value proposition here begins with Sync. With the best Mac integration and simplest ability to experience my content from multiple OS and devices. I had a harder time grasping their sharing concepts however and this model left me feeling as if I was never quite sure where the canonical form of the content was at any time. I realize this may be an antiquated concept of mine but when a file is pushed to a half a dozen devices that go on and off line at will I didn’t “feel” in control. Interestingly Steve Jobs is quoted as calling Dropbox a feature after they famously turned down his acquisition offer. I am sure it was intended as a slight and I won’t argue the point but isn’t every thing is a collection of features. That’s like insulting a tree by calling it a plant but I digress.

Work With Me Here

For Sharing (code for collaboration) I had previous experience with Box and have written before that the product to me embodies the concept of personal/employee content management rather than corporate perspective. For all of their emphasis on reaching in the enterprise, an individual – not a company, department or process sharing files is the basis for the experience. The problem is that people across an organization have many different potential and simultaneous profiles with different scope of content. When the rules for sharing are not from the user’s perspective it is less clear to me how effective it is. This is quite unlike solutions that carry with them concept of site, shared workspace or project where the same user that can experience multiple initial contexts. (FWIW – I like the way huddle does this)

Are You Served

Lastly the concept of Serve oriented cloud content is easily illustrated by the tool I am using right now. WordPress. Controlled creation with an assumpltion that a much larger community will be consuming it. Referring to WordPress as a CMS never fails to bring out the WCM zealots but virtually clearly the core feature is providing content for mass consumption rather than ubiquitous archive, collaborative creation or discreet distribution.

This was hardly a scientific study so I encourage you to do your own tests before committing your organization or team to one of these or any other. One of the huge advantages to these solutions is the ridiculously low barrier to entry. All were free to try and I honestly like many aspects of all of them. You should consider first though the primary reason (save, sync, share, serve) you  need – not want – your content to be in the cloud. Just picking one because you want to be where the cool kids are could force you into a much more difficult problem later. Getting all of your stuff back out of them and reconsolidating.

Lastly, for an enterprise decision you need to carefully consider a more hybrid cloud option like EMC OnDemand(reminder – they pay my mortgage). To me the decision criteria that drives a that approach is very different than for an individual or small group. More on that in a later post.

UPDATE: In the interest of full disclosure my employer, EMC acquired Syncplicity – a player in this space focused on the enterprise market. My post on the acquisition itself can be found here. A post on the the feature set and positioning of syncplicity is in the works.

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