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Integrating Collaboration and Document Management with the Cloud

For the past decade we've heard talk of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) services, the integration of information technology (enterprise software, hardware, middleware, storage and applications) and communication technology (mobile, broadband, voice). But where are these ICT services? Today, enterprises buy IT technology/services like Microsoft SharePoint for document management, or use cloud services like DropBox, and Mozy. And separately, they buy telecom services like conferencing and collaboration.

But aren't conferencing/collaboration and document management a core workflow in most businesses? Aren't we discussing documents (contracts, PowerPoint presentations, reports, project progress documents) on most of our conference calls?

This lack of integration is an impediment to workplace productivity. Examining a typical corporate process around document review: We do nothing on the documents until the conference call; take actions to make changes to the document in a separate document; forget or misinterpret half the changes after the call; and then in a subsequent review, we request changes--to change the previous changes back to the original. It's slow, inefficient, and has been the case for decades, so the behaviors are entrenched in corporate life.

Now imagine a scenario where document management and conferencing/collaboration are integrated, and potentially delivered as an ICT service. The best of conferencing and the best of document management are brought together. The technologies of cloud computing and APIs are fundamental to enabling this integration, and we'll explore this later in the article.

In this analysis, I'm assuming the sweet-spot for an ICT service from a provider is small and medium businesses (SMB). With respect to document management, large enterprises will be able to have their IT department set up and configure Microsoft SharePoint, a significant task, and at the other extreme, very small businesses and individuals will use freemium services like DropBox. There are several cloud-based document management services on the market targeting the SMB sweet-spot such as KnowledgeTree, SpringCM, WebEx, and recently Google Docs.

Below is a simple use case scenario for the ICT service of document management and collaboration in a small professional services business:

• Awareness: Jane (operations) needs the contract completed tomorrow, but it's going to take at least another week. While using the service provider's online reservation tool, she sees a free document management offer as she is setting up a conference call for tomorrow to discuss the document.

• Interest to Action: The offer includes 5GB of storage and an online document collaboration tool, all available for free. With one click, Jane's account is created (as she's already logged into the provider's site).

• Setup: Jane uploads the contract and invites Jim (legal), Sue (sales) and Fred (engineering) to the service to jointly work on the document. Jim downloads the tablet app, Sue downloads the smartphone app, while Fred works online from his laptop.

• Usage: Over the day, Jane, Sue, Jim and Fred realize the power of document management in being able to jointly edit, comment and share the document in near real-time. On the conference call they continue to use the tool and complete the contract using the provider's complete collaboration service, meeting Jane's goal.

The above scenario is idealistic, but isn't the value of such an integrated ICT service obvious? Why don't we have such offers today? Just examining the North American market, there are about 1.66 million small and medium businesses (less than 100 employees) where document management and collaboration are addressable services. Assuming on average 10 seats per business, and $10 per month per seat, that's $2 billion. Extending this analysis globally, using a rough metric for the IT industry that half the global market is in North America gives a TAM (Total Addressable Market) of at least $4 billion per year for this ICT service.

As I suggested at the beginning of this article, there are emerging integrated services, thanks to cloud computing and API technologies. WebEx does have WebOffice, which includes some document management features, but lacks the slick, integrated, multi-screen capabilities of dedicated document management products. Google Docs has moved document management into the cloud with "Google Cloud Connect." The plug-in enables the syncing of Microsoft Office files with Google Docs, essentially keeping both the cloud and local files the same. Features include: Simultaneous editing for Word, PowerPoint and Excel files when using Microsoft Office; Google Docs sharing URLs for each Microsoft Office file; revision history for Microsoft Office files, stored in Google Docs; offline editing with smart synchronization of offline changes; and no Microsoft Office upgrade or SharePoint deployment required.

There are many great case studies on the use of cloud based document management. I highlight one here from KnowledgeTree: Volunteers of America (VOA) has helped Americans in need. It is now one of the nation's largest human services organizations, supporting 2 million people year. VOA Chesapeake helps people in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Government grants play a key role in helping VOA Chesapeake meet the needs of its community. After grants are secured, funders require receipts before reimbursements are made. VOA Chesapeake's paper-intensive processes made the filing, archiving, and retrieval of invoices difficult to manage. This led to unnecessary costs in the process of recovering funding.

With KnowledgeTree, VOA Chesapeake can link receipt and invoice documentation stored in its secure document management vault. This led to 100% cost reimbursement from city and county governments. The team estimates that KnowledgeTree and the streamlined process led to $30,000 to $50,000 in additional recovered revenue per month.

This document management implementation provides enterprise-class, cloud-based management of documents with easy implementation and minimal training; secure access to documents from anywhere, at any time via a web browser; collaboration among geographically dispersed employees and document audit trails with version histories; and a familiar interface through close integration with the Microsoft Office suite that reduces users' learning curves and makes them productive faster.

Cloud-based document management services are growing rapidly. Another trend is the move to cloud-based communications in the enterprise, whether it be Twilio's APIs in, Cisco's Hosted Unified Communications Service, Voxeo's global communications cloud, Skype's cloud (which will soon be linked with Microsoft Lync), or Masergy Communications and its recently acquired Broadcore Communications cloud communication services.

Voice/conference has moved to the cloud for many enterprises. Hence, we're at a point where document management and conferencing / collaboration are now in the cloud. APIs enable these two cloud services to be easily integrated, as per the use cases described earlier. It remains to be seen if a one stop shop solution like WebEx or Google, or a best in class like solution such as KnowledgeTree, and a cloud-based vs. traditional communication service provider win the race for this emerging ICT service opportunity. But it's clear the technologies of cloud computing and APIs are about to create a new wave of ICT Services to help businesses save money and win more business.