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Intelligent information management

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in document management is continuing to make great strides in improving office productivity. Tim Waterton, Senior Director of UK Business at M-Files, explains how M-Files is capitalising on this

Tim Waterton
Tim Waterton

M-Files Corporation continues to see strong metrics. Established in Finland in 2005, it has a large US presence, entered the UK in 2014 and opened new offices in France, Australia and Canada in 2017, with the French office resulting from the acquisition of Streamdesign, a local French partner.

Since the company first entered the ECM market, it has, according to aterton, grown pretty spectacularly. M-Files reports strong performances in both direct sales and through its global partner network. Over the past six years, it has continued to see sustained success, accounting for more than 750 per cent revenue growth during that period, driven by uptake in its SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) business, along with accelerating market acceptance of its unique intelligent information management platform.

In addition to enhancing its product and services portfolio, globally, the company has increased headcount by a further 12 per cent, as well as making several significant internal promotions, notably to its UK team. Today, the business has more than 600 partners worldwide and 400+ employees.

It grew revenue in the UK by more than 78 per cent year-on-year in 2017, an achievement it says complements the wider company’s growth and reinforces its position as one of the most innovative, fastest-growing providers in the information management space.

“We have outstripped the growth that you would typically see from companies in this sector,” said Waterton, “Success has come really from us committing to a blend of technology innovation and agile delivery. The way that we approach this market is very much driven by technology innovation which allows us to deliver our solutions in an agile way, which means that our customers end up getting what they want rather than something that they’ve envisaged or designed six, nine, or even 12 months beforehand.”

Key differentiator
Waterton contends that the key differentiator is its completely metadatacentric model for managing content. “We focus on managing information based on what it is, as opposed to where it’s stored,” he said.

Information from M-files
Information from M-files

“Take a contract that’s stored on a network drive, in M-Files we would describe what that document is – it would have metadata about the supplier, key contact, internal employee responsible for managing that contract, effective date, expiry date etc. attached. That means we are able to link the contract back to all the customer’s systems of record and present that information in context with those systems, instead of it simply being a document on a network drive. Importantly, with M-Files, each document has context with the way the customer has already chosen to run their business.”

Today, businesses are dealing with an increased amount of information and struggling to keep track of where everything resides. “If you think of a typical business, information can be distributed across multiple content systems – one statistic quoted is that 43 per cent of organisations use four or more content systems – from SharePoint, to Dropbox to Google Drive, and it’s been reported that 25 per cent of badly fled documents are never found,” Waterton said.

He added: “M-Files wants to put an end to the idea that all data must reside in one, central place. Instead our vision is to deliver a simple and unified experience for intelligently finding, accessing and managing information residing within any system, without disturbing existing processes and, the users that depend on them. These traditional approaches to information and document management aren’t working and therefore a rethink is needed. This is the challenge that we are actively addressing.

Artificial intelligence
A critical component to M-Files’ success has been the continued expansion of its artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. In 2017 it partnered with ABBYY, a global provider of innovative language-based nd artificial intelligence technologies, then in August acquired Apprento, a Canada-based provider of AI technology solutions that brought new natural language processing (NLP) and natural language understanding (NLU) technologies to the M-Files platform. In December, it launched M-Files 2018, a major new product release that represents a fundamental step forward in how businesses manage information.

“When we look at AI and M-Files 2018 and what we call the intelligent metadata layer – we’re taking metadata one step further, allowing people to apply this contextual metadata model to information that lives outside of M-Files,” Waterton explained. “In essence we’re providing connectivity to other repositories – from network drives, other ECM systems, Dropbox or SharePoint etc. etc. We’re able to look at those systems and identify the content that lives within them and then present and surface it through M-Files without ever having to migrate all of that content or lift and shift it.”

Finding information on M-Files from a desktop client
Finding information on M-Files from a desktop client

He continued: “Importantly, people can fnd that information on M-Files from a desktop client, web client or increasingly through our mobile app. That’s pretty powerful, even before you start adding the AI layer on top.

“By applying metadata to information that lives outside M-Files, we are able to provide context for that information. If we go back to the contract mentioned earlier, if it lives on a network drive you can choose to index that data just as you would within M-Files, as well as put it through business processes and workflows without moving it from the repository,” he said.

“Another advantage is that whilst NLP allows the system to look within the document for candidate metadata, NLU is able to look sideways within M-Files to the key information that is synched with the CRM or ERP e.g. contacts and companies. This means we can match what we find within these documents with knowledge of the entire business ecosystem, enabling us to make even more intelligent suggestions about what metadata should be applied for particular documents,” Waterton added.

This functionality means that the metadata attached to a document is more accurate and also the process of categorising the information is much more efficient. “Rather than asking people to choose from a drop down menu, we’re able to make the suggestion for them. The end result is a richer set of metadata being delivered faster and by fewer employees,” he said.

Channel model
Up until now M-Files’ channel model has been pretty exclusively resellers. “Our channel partners have driven a lot of growth in different territories,” Waterton confirmed, adding: “What we’ve seen in the UK is an opportunity for lots of different partners to work with us in this ecosystem. So to complement our reseller channel, we recently rolled out a referral programme whereby partners work with us to introduce business that we can effectively close to the end customer.  Equally if those referral partners have a strong business relationship with existing customers, we’re able to co-sell alongside them and jointly deliver solutions into their end clients.”

Waterton also said that the company is looking to dramatically expand the referral partner network particularly with partners who have got either a strong geographic presence or who have vertical market expertise. “Resellers may in fact have technology solutions in those vertical markets and simply want to strengthen their offer by carrying a world leading ECM system alongside their current portfolio.”

He added: “We have a blend of partners, referral partners who are able to identify opportunities alongside their existing business will sit alongside resellers who are finding opportunities, selling and delivering solutions to support these. Referral partners are an on-ramp for reselling – as they establish more expertise and build a revenue stream from M-Files though the referral and co-selling models, they may well choose to deepen their investment and establish a particular business unit or team – and that’s great for us.”

The company also has a third partner category – accredited service provider. “These are essentially delivery partners, people who are uniquely focused on the delivery of high value professional services and implementation alongside us. So, we’re looking for partners who aren’t necessarily looking to drive licence revenue but who have specific expertise in delivering ECM systems,” Waterton explained, adding: “Our goal here is not to build a professional services business but to drive M-Files deployment and licence growth and we have three partners already working alongside us in this area.”

Plans for growth
Waterton said the company is looking to double its UK business this year. “We want to ensure we deliver what customers actually want, the focus for us is ease of adoption and time to value. We are probably looking for 50 per cent growth in our resell business and we really do see the channel as being a tremendous growth opportunity for us in terms of driving the overall number,” he said.

Headcount in the UK is expected to grow to 22 or 23 this year, up from 14 people last year. “We’re deepening our investment in people in the UK to drive business alongside our partners, as opposed to taking business from our partners,” Waterton said in conclusion.