“The challenge of managing the intersection of people, processes, and information is not a new one,” wrote AIIM’s President, John Mancini in his 2015 whitepaper, “Content Management 2020: Thinking Beyond ECM.” Mancini explains that the business challenges of managing this intersection do not change, but the technology and timeframes businesses use to manage it do.

In the white paper he also says, “We are currently in the middle of a phase of high disruption and uncertainty.” What a time to be alive.  

With changes come problems, and with problems come solutions. One company tackling the changing ECM environment is M-Files, and the company is taking a different approach to the same old problem.

M-Files: Making Moves on the Fringes of ECM

“When people think of ECM, they think of managing documents,” said Greg Milliken, VP of marketing at M-Files Corporation. Milliken explained that there is a lot of information locked away in different critical systems that are driving businesses, but most ECM systems are built on the idea that information should be stored and managed in their system. “In the traditional world of ECM, how data is managed is subjective because the focus is typically on where the data or document is located.” This design is proving problematic given the current atmosphere where information is often stored across disparate systems.

“We’re in the ECM market, per se,” said Milliken. “But you’ll also hear us refer to ourselves as enterprise information management.” M-Files sets out to do the same thing as every other ECM system: merge people, content, and processes, but what puts M-Files on the fringes of the ECM galaxy is in how it facilitates this merger.

“M-Files doesn’t care where you put information, because the system takes an entirely different approach to organizing information. A contract is a contract, and an invoice is an invoice, no matter where they are stored,” said Milliken. “M-Files organizes content objectively, based on what something is instead of where it’s stored.” In M-Files, file-folder hierarchies take a back seat to context.

What’s different about M-Files is that it doesn’t try to replace your existing systems or add another repository that needs to be managed into the mix. Instead, the solution is built around existing infrastructure, bridging users to information locked away across various systems like CRMs or ERPs via one interface. This way, when users search for an invoice, for example, they are also presented with other information relevant to that invoice, such as the customer, vendor, or other related documents and information, such as a proposal or contract.

The system's architecture lends itself well to high user adoption. “People resist change, and especially in bigger companies,” Milliken said. Be it organizational inertia or plain old human stubbornness, low adoption rates can hurt ROI all the same. The platform’s new Intelligent Metadata Layer helps customers sidestep some huge issues: data migration and managing change in the organization. “When you deploy a new ECM solution, it requires organizational change, and that can stifle innovation generated from smaller pockets in your business,” said Milliken. Department heads or managers of workgroups can still be innovative within M-Files because they can leverage the platform to enrich and repurpose existing information based on need. And since the Intelligent Metadata Layer technology “unifies multiple systems and repositories based on the context while the actual content and data remains in place,” data migration isn’t even an issue.

ECM, EIM — call it what you want, but one thing you can’t call M-Files is traditional.

The Nuts and Bolts

M-Files deployment options are flexible, with cloud, hybrid-cloud, and on-premise deployments available. The solution supports popular mobile devices, such as the iPhone, iPad and Android and allows access through web browsers to accommodate workers on the go and remote workers. The repository-agnostic solution can search across virtually any system thanks to a slew of SDKs and APIs, plus the UI Extensibility Framework.

From the end-user's point of view, not much changes according to the company. The solution offers a Windows Explorer-like interface, which should be instantly recognizable to Windows users. “Vaults,” which look and behave just like a hard drive, are accessible from any Windows application or device. Documents are indexed with metadata — such as client, date, project, or department — upon being stored in a vault, and can be searched and retrieved by these indexes later. Users can tag documents and other content as favorites and keep tabs on documents, projects, and customers via automatic email notifications when documents are modified. Relationships between documents and other content can also be defined.

The solution sports most of the productivity enhancing features one would expect to find in an ECM solution. Document check-in/check-out, versioning and full history audits, simultaneous editing capabilities and co-authoring, markup tools, and the ability to share files via email, in the cloud, or through secure hyperlinks directly to documents in vaults to empower collaboration. But where M-Files draws most of its strength is through its search and advanced metadata-based capabilities to manage, process and secure information. M-Files can automatically extract data via OCR, ICR, barcodes, and patch codes when scanning paper documents--plus use validation rules to ensure accurate capture — as well as automatically classify documents based on the information that is captured during the scanning/OCR process. Users can locate documents, even with little information about the document and its contents, via keyword or full-text search. The solution returns queries based on relevance. With Dynamic Views, users can choose how they want information to be presented. For instance, users can configure a Dynamic View to show invoices organized by customer, due date, customer and due date, or virtually any combination of properties or tags to display information the way it is most relevant for the user — and this can vary based on the department, role or individual preferences of the users.

As with many competitive offerings, administrators can build and manage workflows and leverage e-Signature and BI tools to optimize processes. Security is a focus, with features such as multi-factor authentication, federated authentication, single sign-on capabilities and management of access permissions to keep unauthorized users from accessing sensitive information.

Our Take

Being different can be a good thing. In a brave new world where content is everywhere, and is quite literally almost everything, creating pathways to access what you need when you need it becomes an increasing struggle. Companies are seeking solutions for how best to manage their information assets that have become just as critical to their ongoing operations as their financial, physical, and human assets. M-Files has a fresh approach to tackling some of the most structurally complicated conflicts arising in the new data era.

Patricia Ames
Patricia Ames

is senior analyst for BPO Media, which publishes The Imaging Channel and Workflow magazines. As a market analyst and industry consultant, Ames has worked for prominent consulting firms including KPMG and has more than 10 years experience in the imaging industry covering technology and business sectors. Ames has lived and worked in the United States, Southeast Asia and Europe and enjoys being a part of a global industry and community. Follow her on Twitter at @OTGPublisher or contact her by email at patricia@bpomedia.com