ECM vs Stand-alone Services for File Sharing and Sync

A couple of years back, the cloud-based file sharing and sync marketplace saw tremendous growth as these services became quite popular. Would they overtake Enterprise Content Management platforms?

You could see why they might. These services are easy to get up and running, have relatively simple interfaces, and provide quick benefits by enabling your employees to share files with colleagues and partners across different locations and devices. In contrast, traditional ways of managing documents (read: "ECM") often have complex interfaces and in some cases are not architecturally suitable for providing file sharing services beyond enterprise firewalls.


In reality, large enterprises continued to use mainstream ECM tools for complex BPM and Case Management-oriented use cases, while deploying separate file-sharing and sync services for simpler document services.

Changing World of ECM

This situation has changed quite a bit in last year or so. Most Document Management and ECM vendors have now built (or acquired) file-sharing and sync capabilities. So now you have a reasonable choice: should you employ your incumbent ECM platform or deploy a stand-alone solution for file-sharing and sync services?

When to use incumbent ECM for file-sharing and sync

This option is suitable when you have the same documents (or a subset of them) as part of your ECM use cases as well as file sharing use cases. For example, you might use ECM tool for collaboratively working on a document and then use a file-sharing service to share it with external users.

In most cases, file-sharing and sync capabilities even from the same vendor will come via a different product (meaning different from their core ECM product). But you still get several advantages. The two offerings are likely to prove better integrated so movement of files between ECM and file-sharing environments can become more seamless. Also, you will have one less vendor to worry about for licensing and support.

When to use stand-alone file-sharing and sync services (or products)?

Consider going best of breed when

  1. Your file sharing use cases are completely disconnected from your ECM use cases, or...
  2. When your "enterprise" use cases turn out to be fairly simple, since we've found that file sharing services can often match the basic capabilities of ECM platforms

For example, most ECM tools offer really simplistic (and i’d say very similar) file sharing capabilities. On the other hand, many stand-alone file sharing and sync services provide really sophisticated sync capabilities. So instead of having to move all your documents that you want to share to a dedicated folder, you can mark any folder and that will get synced irrespective of its location. This lets your users use their regular workflow without thinking about mobile files they want to share.

Another advantage is in terms of deployment models and ability to chose location or type of your storage. You can decide whether you want to use public cloud or use your own storage in a private cloud or use some other combination of storage. ECM vendors will also claim to do that but our research finds them less simple and flexible here.

In summary, if you are using an ECM tool and need file sharing services, consider your incumbent system first. But also remember you have many choices.

In our ECM and Cloud File Sharing evaluations, we evaluate several stand-alone file sharing and sync services as well as evaluate file sharing capabilities of other ECM vendors.


Other ECM & Cloud File Sharing posts

ECM Standards in Perspective

In real life I don't see ECM standards proving particularly meaningful, and you should see them as a relative benefit rather than absolute must-have.