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To reflect the desire for flexibility, and regulatory shifts in the enterprise content management industry, software vendors are starting to offer users options for storing data on premises or in a cloud infrastructure.
The M-Files cloud strategy is a response to these industry changes. The information management software vendor has released M-Files Online, which enables users to manage content both in the cloud and behind a firewall on premises, under one subscription.
While not the first ECM vendor to offer hybrid infrastructure, the company claims that with the new M-Files cloud system, it is the first ECM software provider to provide both under one software subscription.
"What I've seen going on is users are trying to do two things at once," said John Mancini, chief evangelist for the Association of Intelligent Information Management (AIIM). "On one hand, there are a lot of folks that have significant investment in legacy systems. On the other hand, they're realizing quickly that the old approaches aren't working anymore and are driving toward modernizing the infrastructure."
Providing customer flexibility
It's difficult, time-consuming and expensive to migrate an organization's entire library of archives or content from on premises to the cloud, yet it's also the way the industry is moving as emerging technologies like AI and machine learning have to be cloud-based to be able to function. That's where a hybrid cloud approach can help organizations handle the migration process.
John Mancinichief evangelist, Association of Intelligent Information Management
According to a survey by Mancini and AIIM, and sponsored by M-Files, 48% of the 366 professionals surveyed said they are moving toward a hybrid of cloud and on-premises delivery methods for information management over the next year, with 36% saying they are moving toward cloud and 12% staying on premises.
"We still see customers that are less comfortable to moving it all to the cloud and there are certain use cases where that makes sense," said Mika Javanainen, vice president of product marketing at M-Files. "This is the best way to provide our customers flexibility and make sure they don't lag behind. They may still run M-Files on premises, but be using the cloud services to add intelligence to your data."
M-Files cloud system and its new online offering act as a hub for an organization's storehouse of information.
"The content resides where it is, but we still provide a unified UI and access to that content and the different repositories," Javanainen said.
Moving to the cloud to use AI
While the industry is moving more toward cloud-based ECM, there are still 60% of those in the AIIM survey that want some sort of on-premises storage, according to the survey.
"There are some parts of companies that are quite happy with how they are doing things now, or may understand the benefits of cloud but are resistant to change," said Greg Milliken, senior vice president of marketing at M-Files. "[M-Files Online] creates an opportunity that allows users that may have an important process they can't deviate from to access information in the traditional way while allowing other groups or departments to innovate."
One of the largest cloud drivers is to realize the benefit of emerging business technologies, particularly AI. While AI can conceivably work on premises, that venue is inherently flawed due to the inability to store enough data on premises.
M-Files cloud computing can open up the capabilities of AI for the vendor's customers. But for organizations to benefit from AI, they need to overcome fears of the cloud, Mancini said.
"Organizations need to understand that cloud is coming, more data is coming and they need to be more agile," he said. "They have to understand the need to plug in to AI."
Potential problems with hybrid clouds
Having part of your business that you want more secure to run on premises and part to run in the cloud sounds good, but it can be difficult to implement, according to Mancini.
"My experience talking to people is that it's easier said than done," Mancini said. "Taking something designed in a complicated world and making it work in a simple, iterative cloud world is not the easiest thing to do. Vendors may say we have a cloud offering and an on-premises offering, but the real thing customers want is something seamless between all permutations."
Regardless whether an organization is managing through a cloud or behind a firewall, there are undoubtedly dozens of other software systems -- file shares, ERP, CRM -- which businesses are working with and hoping to integrate its information with. The real goal of ECM vendors and those in the information management space, according to Mancini, is to get all those repositories working together.
"What you're trying to get to is a system that is like a set of interchangeable Lego blocks," Mancini said. "And what we have now is a mishmash of Legos, Duplos, Tinker Toys and erector sets."
M-Files claims its data hub approach -- bringing all the disparate data under one UI via an intelligent metadata layer that plugs into the other systems -- succeeds at this.
"We approach this problem by not having to migrate the data -- it can reside where it is and we add value by adding insights to the data with AI," Javanainen said.
M-Files Online, which was released Aug. 21, is generally available to customers. M-Files declined to provide detailed pricing information.