Oracle Documents Cloud Service: Bringing collaboration yin to WebCenter Content’s yang

Oracle has responded to customers craving a lightweight but secure content sharing/collaboration platform by pairing WebCenter Content with its new Documents Cloud Service, delivering what it calls a “Hybrid ECM” platform. Designed to bring consumer-class public cloud sensibilities to enterprise-class business application environments, the offering leverages Oracle’s secure application integrations together with anytime, anywhere mobile access and desktop sync.

Top takeaways

Top-down IT, but served with a flavour of bottom-up user flexibility

Oracle’s new Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offering looks to loosen-up tightly-controlled content environments and facilitate mobile collaboration, but with all the appropriate enterprise checks and balances intact. Its challenge is to marry consumer-grade collaboration magic, with enterprise-grade security and integration assurance, without damaging the integrity and effectiveness of either.

Integration, integration, integration

Tight-knit integration with Oracle business applications promises ‘in-context collaboration’ advantages to users of Documents Cloud Service – and it’s a major differentiating factor in the company’s marketing. How much value this brings depends on the quality and relevance of this integration in reality, i.e. how quickly can it build out its coverage to embed the service wherever it’s needed and expected (on-premise and in cloud-based environments) beyond launch-day priorities.

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The recent launch of Oracle’s Documents Cloud Service marks the company’s long-awaited first foray into the Enterprise File Sync and Share (EFSS) market, albeit with plenty of the bells and whistles you’d come to expect from a serious enterprise vendor that’s able to haul a considerable slice of the content management stack to the table.

Its take on the enterprise content collaboration/management continuum aligns broadly with MWD’s evolving view of the market, namely that there are three main angles at which vendors typically approach from, and that customers too will tend to gravitate initially towards a solution in one or two of these areas (though an appetite to explore more of the opportunities on offer may come over time, depending on commitment to an existing IT estate, their industry context and organisational culture). These three approaches are:

  • Highly secure storage (and applications which offer secure mobile access to it) – Many have limited rich collaboration features baked into the native product, though this may be augmented through partnerships.
  • Mobile social collaboration – Generally focused on the workflow journey around content assets. Capabilities focus on the needs of both internal and external knowledge workers, tempered by the concerns of central IT. Typical use cases driving interest and early adoption tend to revolve around the sharing of, and collaboration on, less sensitive marketing collateral. However, these products still exhibit features that can permit more secure operations on the fringes, as additional uses are explored. Whilst lightweight capabilities may exist natively for some business processing and SaaS service integrations, these solutions will have limited rich integration appeal with on-premise enterprise business applications.
  • Holistic solution stacks – Designed for customers who’ve already invested heavily in Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and an integrated infrastructure for working with content-rich processes deep within their business applications (ERP, BPM, etc.), but who are looking for a way of opening up access (albeit on their own terms, and not at the risk of disrupting a stable system). These customers aren’t looking for Yet Another Platform; they already have that – what they want is for their platform to extend into the social collaboration space, but to do so securely and seamlessly.

Oracle’s product does desktop sync and share (amongst many other things), yes, but – as you might expect – its focus is very much the last of the three bullets listed above. It’s not being positioned as a direct competitor to sync and share vendors born out of consumer-focus and/or freemium business model heritage. Oracle’s base is the enterprise; its customers are organisations at least 300 people strong.

Technical capabilities

Oracle’s Enterprise Content Management portfolio’s watchwords are: “broad, deep, and integrated”. 2011’s re-branding of its Universal Content Management as WebCenter Content was part of a convergence of portal, content, social tools, and web experience management onto a single platform. Add to that integration with other Oracle business applications like BPM, and the overall offering stacks up technology for intranets, extranets, self-service portals, and mobile apps – all focused on delivering solutions for enterprises operating across industry sectors. Its ECM strategy is to focus on user experience, bound to ECM solutions, productised to specific verticals where there is value to be gained by doing so.

Documents Cloud Service is one of Oracle’s line-of-business services (alongside offerings for process management, business intelligence, big data and social) under the banner of its “enterprise class public cloud” PaaS portfolio. It’s designed to bring enterprise-grade secure document sharing and collaboration (inside and outside organisational boundaries) to files held in Oracle Cloud or on customers’ own on-premise systems.

Although a public multi-tenant environment, content held in Oracle’s global network of data centres is subject to strong encryption at rest and in transit, and schemas and identity domains are separated to isolate customers’ data. Oracle isn’t currently considering support for private cloud instances, but has said it will respond if it sees a demand.

It’s an attempt by Oracle to leverage its investment in WebCenter Content ECM to seamlessly bridge the gap between secure, top-down, IT-controlled on-premise systems of record (providing compliance, and consolidating information with wider enterprise systems), and lightweight cloud-based systems of collaboration (that enable mobile workforce connectivity, and easy document sharing/collaboration with partners, etc.). The company describes the offering as providing ‘Hybrid Enterprise Content Management’ (Hybrid ECM) across cloud and on-premise environments, with Oracle Applications integration (on-premise – soon; and in the Oracle Cloud – now) strengthening its play as the natural route for existing Oracle customers who’ve hitherto felt denied a secure means by which to share and collaborate externally on their unstructured content, whilst still being able to rely on the enterprise security and other features prevalent in their wider Oracle environment.

The service provides access anywhere via iOS and Android mobile apps (with an image-based viewer), a web interface, and with desktop sync for Mac and Windows. Administrative controls include support for full information lifecycle management – automated versioning, access and usage reporting, file ownership restrictions (who can view, edit, download, etc), quotas and file-size limits, and permitted file types. Mobile security is provided by Oracle Mobile Security Suite, plus partnerships with Mobile Iron and Good Technologies. Access to Documents Cloud Service can be managed with a shared identity management system, with permissions inherited from parent folders on a per user basis to provide highly granular control (external collaborators can be granted access files via links, managed through their membership of user classes).

Web interfaces, desktop plug-ins, and mobile apps are supported in English (US and UK), Spanish, French, German, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, and Traditional and Simplified Chinese.

Documents Cloud Service is built on Fusion Middleware and will initially integrate tightly with the Oracle Sales Cloud and Marketing Cloud portfolio; on-premise ECM integration is described by the company as “coming soon” – and it’s the rich application-specific experiences the platform’s able to generate that brings what the company describes as “in-context collaboration” (which it’s banking on largely to differentiate the offering from other content sharing/collaboration alternatives). Accelerators are available that simplify integrations with much of WebCenter’s technology (for common processes like employee onboarding, complaints management, incident reporting) – negating the need to customise the core product.

Also available is a rich set of REST APIs that enable developers to extend other business applications and processes (where more tailoring is required). As well as there being integrations for Oracle’s own applications, its partners also provide integration with third-party applications (such as those which that deliver content migration and synchronisation services, mobile printing, and electronic signatures). It’s not just that Documents Cloud Service is tightly woven into the rest of a customer’s application environment, but that this position is exploited to expose content in the midst of business platforms like ERP, providing context (for the work done with, to, or using that content) within wider enterprise process workflow.

Oracle is particularly targeting Documents Cloud Service at customers who, whilst they may operate in a heavily regulated industry, nevertheless have a need to respond to shifting cultural expectations around the sharing of, and collaboration on, information – but need to do so in a managed way that respects their compliance obligations.

The service is available by subscription at $15 per named user per month. There’s also a storage pack add-on, but this doesn’t materially impact the price per user.

Future plans and suitability

An evolving roadmap based on customer response

It’s early days for Oracle Documents Cloud Service (it has only recently been made generally available) so the company’s initial focus is to drive adoption amongst its customer base and take soundings, which may influence priorities for future roadmap commitments.

It’s also set to build out that coverage of on-premise and SaaS application integrations (beyond Sales Cloud and Marketing Cloud) to further strengthen its Oracle enterprise appeal, plus with some feature enhancements (such as a planned move to an HTML5 pre-viewer for mobile during the first half of 2015, and document retention policies).

Right content at the right time, but is it right for you?

If you’re not already committed to (or considering) being an Oracle shop (or your use case falls more into one of the first couple of bullet points listed in the Background section), then this particular take on mobile enterprise content collaboration is unlikely to appeal. You won’t be looking to exploit WebCenter Content investments, and without all the Oracle business application integration promise you’re left with a sync and share product that has numerous competitors. However, if that description doesn’t count you out, then Oracle now has a product with the potential for killer integrations delivering “the right content at the right time”.

Its rationale in launching Documents Cloud Service is that its enterprise customers clearly now demand anytime, anywhere access to (and collaboration on) their content, and they’d prefer (in some industry use cases, require) a secure solution that integrates tightly with their application stack. But until recently there’s not been an Oracle offer, and so other (in some cases, what it terms “consumer-level”) file-sharing options have gained traction in the workplace. The company’s challenge (coming at the problem with an enterprise vendor perspective) is to keep enough of that ease-of-use that often makes consumer-focused products so readily adopted, whilst instilling enough enterprise-grade security and integration richness to keep IT happy (and to be able to evolve the platform solution into far more than simply mobile access to content).

Documents Cloud Service’s feature set at launch may not have all the consumer-grade bells and whistles yet, but many (like HTML5 previewing) are on the roadmap for release in early 2015 – and it’s the secure Oracle integration that’s the head-turner app here: the sync connector, accelerators, and APIs all provide the means by which Documents Cloud Service can (some are here now; others are promised “soon”) become embedded inside applications dedicated to specific workflow processes, so that the user is able to complete a task end-to-end (all-the-while seemingly remaining in-app as far as they experience). And with context-specific wrapping driving the execution of smarter rules-based processing etc. that can improve the experience still further.

By coming relatively late to this particular party, Oracle needs to keep its customers from looking at ways to incorporate an alternative that, albeit admittedly not with such seamless integration with its own applications, provides a ‘good enough’ pragmatic solution – especially if it’s one that’s already taken hold through pockets of viral adoption from the consumer side.