Document management systems have historically played an important role within enterprise architectures. An insurance company's quote and bind process, a bank's loan origination system, a telecom provider's billing system -- all contain huge amounts of files, document management platforms become an integral backbone for many enterprises, ideally in a services-oriented architecture.
Today, I believe that as enterprises transition more to SaaS-based tools for many processes, this role will be increasingly played by cloud-based file-sharing (CFS) tools. In a cloud-connected enterprise, file-sharing platforms will become comparatively easier to integrate and potentially serve as a repository for a variety of other, SaaS-based tools.
For example, if your firm licenses Salesforce.com, you can find several CFS platforms that at least attempt to integrate with Salesforce. You can use these file sharing services to store and manage white papers or other collateral that you send to prospects in your CRM. There are many other similar scenarios, but you get the idea: file-sharing as an enterprise backbone service, irrespective of application.
Of course, traditional document management tools would like to play this role and offer additional features to boot. In fact, some like Alfresco are already trying. Alfresco Cloud is their SaaS-based offering and provides many features already available in their in-premise version.
Our evaluation research suggests, however, that before CFS platforms become an enterprise backbone service, they will need to improve in a number of areas, most notably integration and customization capabilities.
Today, with few exceptions most CFS tools offer only rudimentary application programming interfaces (APIs) and customization capabilities. Sure, you can modify the default look and feel with your own logo, or perform really basic file operations via APIs. But complex integration scenarios require better and more sophisticated APIs, support for integrated development environments, code samples, sand-boxes, developer support, and support for (reasonable) standards. (Whether a standard like CMIS is reasonable for CFS vendors to target is the subject of another blog post...)
For the inside scoop on which vendors can support which types of integration, consult our just-released Cloud File-Sharing & Collaboration evaluation report.