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The more we talk to customers about Alfresco in the cloud, the more we’re hearing about the limitations and frustrations customers are having with basic cloud file sharing services. If all you need to do is access files from your mobile device or share some files with your team, there are quite a few services out there that might be able to help you (though we think Alfresco’s a pretty good one – and we’ll give you 10 GB free to get started).

But we know from experience that most mid-to-large organizations have requirements to do more than simply set-up store files online – they need to do real work. In order to help guide you through this process, here are some of questions we think you should ask when you’re evaluating a cloud content management and file sharing service –

1. Can the service support my business processes? Can we use folder rules to do things like kick off workflows, transform content and automate process steps?

Folder rules can be really powerful for automating processes. Consider a folder for sales orders, which with rules, can be routed effectively within the business. Or a folder rule to enable document transformation to turn a brochure written in Microsoft Word into a PDF. Or maybe a rule that just publishes updated content to other teams every time you change the content – automatically, without lifting a finger.

Alfresco’s folder rules can help you do all of the above – kick off workflows, transform content and automate business processes. And designing folder rules is easy, simply design your folder rule, enable it and it’s live. Check out this video –

Folder Rules

2. We don’t necessarily want all our data in the cloud. How do you support my data that lives on-premise?

Most organizations have tiers or classifications of content – some is public, some goes to the cloud to facilitate mobile access or external collaboration and some is going to stay on-premise due to confidentiality, compliance or back-end integration requirements. At Alfresco, we support the cloud, but we’re not going to tell you that you have to move all your content to the cloud – that’s just not realistic. You decide what works best for your organization and your use cases.

Alfresco provides you with a hybrid content management solution that allows you to connect your on-premise platform to your cloud account to ensure you can work seamlessly across the two systems. The unique syncing capability also means that you can push the working content to the cloud to collaborate with external parties and then bring it back in again as it moves through a business process or for long-term retention.

3. If I change my mind, how do I get my data out?

It’s your data, so you need to be in control. The ability to get your data out when you want it is key – how do you find out if you’re in control? Ensuring you’re not locked into a vendor’s platform may help you when you need more advanced functionality or even if the vendor isn’t working for you any longer.

Alfresco has been built from the start as an open-source technology, which means the platform gives administrators the ability to export the content from the platform without any hassle. If, for whatever reason, you needed to export your data from Alfresco in the cloud, you utilize WebDAV functionality to simply export the data. If you’re looking to export meta data you could also just sync to an on-premise platform and export. Soon, you’ll also be able to use the Alfresco in the cloud API, which will allow you to export all the data to any other platform that supports CMIS.

4. What if I need to make customizations to my app that you don’t support in the cloud?

Cloud services are generally a one-size-fits-all world. But once you go beyond basic file sharing, content-intensive business processes tend to vary a lot by organization and the apps that support them often require customization. Does your cloud platform offer the ability to extend the service using APIs? Can you add other business-critical functionality such as an imaging?

Alfresco allows you to build an infinite number of solutions using the Alfresco platform as a solid foundation, utilizing the strong ecosystem of our on-premise platform.

5. Is there an API / SDK so I can build my own mobile app to access content in the cloud?

We all work differently; does your cloud content management provider give you the ability to customize your mobile app? It could be something like making custom meta data on files mandatory when uploaded. To ensure it can be managed effectively.

Typically cloud providers provide their app and you’re stuck with it. Alfresco allows you to build your own mobile application, so your users can have a custom experience, which follows your designed process and is branded Alfresco.

6. Is there metadata so I can dynamically manage and sort my content?

Metadata is data about content, it tells us what format, author, created dates and more. When choosing a cloud supplier for your content management consider future metadata needs, do they allow tagging? Custom metadata? It may not be the coolest feature, but when you begin managing millions of records it will safe you days of time and headache.

Alfresco is very strong in metadata, allowing you to add custom meta data, such as contract dates, numbers etc. Meaning when you’re searching the document repository for specific files you can search on specific details. Not to mention the powerful automation that you can trigger using metadata.

7. Am I limited to a folder-based structure? What if I set my folders up wrong and then want to re-org my content?

Something to consider when choosing your cloud supplier, is how the files are stored. Is it an old-school file system structure, rather than dynamic? Also consider how easy it will be to restructure content should you decide it is best stored elsewhere.

Due to Alfresco being so rich in metadata, this allows data to be reorganized easily based on a certain criteria for example all files tagged with ‘contract’ should be moved on-premise after 45 days of upload – this keeps out of date quotes off the system of engagement. Alfresco is used by over 2,500 organizations that are managing over 3 billion files, it certainly wouldn’t be possible if Alfresco was a clunky folder-based structure.

Have I missed anything? I’d be interested to know if you’re asking your cloud content management providers anything else.

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