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Intelligent information management the next wave for ECM

In a 2018 upgrade, M-Files allows users to search for content in multiple repositories, while also being able to automatically assign metadata to content.

The introductions of AI, automation and an abundance of vendors have caused a seismic shift in content management...

-- so much so that, in 2017, Gartner rebranded the space as content services, a term that covers content services applications, platforms and components.

Content management company M-Files hopes its evolution toward intelligent information management is where the content services industry is heading. The thought being that, as information finds itself in more silos, there's more importance on what the content is, rather than where it resides.

"What M-Files is doing is interesting, as it's consistent with what I see in the industry now," said John Mancini, chief evangelist at AIIM, a nonprofit research and education firm in Silver Spring, Md., focusing on information management. "Everyone is trying to figure out how to leverage its existing content and how to push as much as possible in the direction of the user so that content management becomes more user-defined, rather than a top-down approach."

Focus on content type, not new thinking

The concept of focusing on what content is, rather than where it resides, isn't unique to 2018. Intelligent information management is gaining in importance, however, as information is scattered across clouds, on-premises systems and mobile devices.

We spent 15 years trying to convince people to care about what repository something is in, but they still don't.
John Mancinichief evangelist, AIIM

"We spent 15 years trying to convince people to care about what repository something is in, but they still don't," Mancini said. "But they do care if it's a contract or a proposal or an internal document."

It's with that in mind that M-Files released M-Files 2018, which connects to market leaders in content storage -- ranging from other content management services, like OpenText and Laserfiche, to more classical repositories, like on-premises network folders or SharePoint, and expanding out to systems of record, like Salesforce and Dynamics 365.

"There's this trend of consumerization -- the idea that the way you'll be most productive is by allowing users to work the way they want to work," said Greg Milliken, vice president of marketing at M-Files, based in Plano, Texas. "There's the OpenText or Laserfiche type, where the structure is defined, and this is how we're going to work. But everyone works a little bit differently."

Finding content wherever it's stored

What M-Files is touting is, with its intelligent information management platform, users will be able to natively search for content based on its metadata and locate and view any content no matter where it may be stored.

"It speaks to the trend we're going toward, which is away from static silos and one-size-fits-all approach to something where content can be anywhere and it comes to you like a service," Milliken said. "You can look into these repositories with a common lens."

Being repository-agnostic requires some form of AI, and M-Files hopes its partnership with ABBYY will prove fruitful in building out its intelligent information management software.

"The way I think about it sometimes is upside-down content management," Mancini said, referring to the repository-agnostic approach -- and not a reference to Stranger Things. "Content management used to be a very top-down, orchestrated process. That colored how we all thought about the tools that individual knowledge workers used. And in that process, we tended to overcomplicate that from an end-user perspective."

A list of the various vendors to which M-Files 2018 is connected includes other content management players, on-premises share folders and CRM systems. The connectors vary in price, according to M-Files.
A list of the various vendors to which M-Files 2018 is connected includes other content management players, on-premises share folders and CRM systems. The connectors vary in price, according to M-Files.

Partnership adds AI to content management

Last year's partnership between M-Files and ABBYY brought AI functionality to the vendor, which M-Files hopes benefits its users by automatically classifying and tagging documents and other content with the correct metadata, saving users time and minimizing human error.

"Where you put something comes down to the company or even the individual," Milliken said. "Someone might put a document in a customer folder; someone else might put it in a specific project folder -- now, it's derived automatically. The idea of applying AI to a meta-driven approach is what we've been striving for."

Mancini sees a metadata-driven, repository-agnostic approach as a potential transition for the content management market.

"What's happened in the last couple of years and in surveys we've done, people and companies with long-term ECM [enterprise content management], the primary challenge they come back to us with is usability," Mancini said. "The metadata-centric approach of M-Files is an attempt to do this through the prism of a knowledge worker and to see if that redefines content management."

M-Files 2018, currently available for download, is a platform upgrade for existing customers. The AI metadata layer is an additional cost for new and existing customers, starting at $10,000 per year and varies depending on the size and scope of the company. The connectors to various repositories are also an additional cost, depending on the connector.

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