As M-Files opens a UK office, James Goulding asks Julian Cook, Director of UK Business Development, about the company’s target market and what the information management specialist looks for in a reseller
M-Files Corporation is a global provider of enterprise information management solutions operating in 100 countries via a network of 400 resellers. It is based in Finland and has regional offices in Scandinavia; in Dallas, Texas – since 2009; and now in the UK, with the opening of a new office in Reading, Berkshire.
The company is fast growing – outperforming the market by a factor of almost 10 last year, with revenue growth of 75% compared to Gartner’s estimate of 8-10% for the enterprise content management market as a whole – and is committed to expanding its business in the UK.
To find out more about the company’s UK plans and what it offers resellers, PrintIT ResellerEditor James Goulding spoke to Julian Cook, M-Files Director of UK Business Development.
PITR: Tell me a little about M-Files and how its approach to enterprise content management differs from that of other providers.
Cook: We are a software provider in the enterprise information management space offering solutions that help our customers manage information and documents more efficiently. The fundamental difference with M-Files is that we help our customers manage information based on what it is, rather than where it is stored. A lot of legacy solutions in the market are still very focused on traditional folder structures, which we find leads to document chaos.
For a simple illustration of why the traditional way of managing information using folders doesn’t work, think of a sales person putting together a proposal for a customer. The fist thing they have to think about is where to put the proposal. Worst case scenario is they keep it locally on their laptop, but even if they’ve got some kind of network storage they will start thinking ‘Well, this proposal relates to a customer, so do I put it in the customer folder? Or, because it relates to a particular product, do I put it in the product line folder? Or do I put it in my territory folder?’.
Before long, they start asking themselves ‘Do I put multiple copies of this document in different folders on the network or do I put it in one folder and hope that everyone thinks the same way as me and is able to find it?’. Putting documents into specific folders and sub-folders really does lead to confusion and very quickly you end up with multiple versions of the document spread across different parts of the organisation.
M-Files, from the ground up, built a solution that addresses the problem a little differently by helping companies to assign metadata – properties or attributes – to a document or piece of information. Rather than putting the sales proposal in a folder, M-Files users would tag it with the customer name, with the product line, with the territory, with the sales team and, by giving it some context, enable users to manage that document much more efficiently and search for it based on what it contains. Being able to go into a solution like M-Files and search for documents based on metadata attributes dramatically improves the way you find information and the way you share information.
PITR: How do users search for documents and how are the search results presented?
Cook: There are a couple of ways you might find a document using M-Files. You might use something similar to a Google search to enter a couple of keywords. Very sophisticated algorithms look across the name of the file, the content of the file and the metadata and return information ranked in order of relevance.
You can also create what we call ‘dynamic views’. If I go into M-Files, I might want to look at all invoices or proposals. I could set up a dynamic view so that those are the only documents I see in that view. If I am in a finance department I might want to look at invoices that are due this month or are due this quarter or belong to a particular supplier. I might find the same document using these different dynamic views. It is very comfortable for me as an end user: I am using something that looks, smells and feels like a folder, but actually a document can exist in one or multiple dynamic views based on the metadata of the document.
PITR: Does the use of metadata have any other benefits for information management?
Cook: Yes, metadata is the engine that drives all aspects of our systems – not just how a piece of content is organised and how someone searches and accesses it, but also workflow and security and permissions and replications.
Metadata attributes added to an information asset can automatically kick off certain workflows. For example, if I save or create an invoice, its metadata attributes can automatically indicate that this, this and this person need to review it. Or, from an access and security standpoint, metadata attributes might dictate that only this, this and this person can view it and only this person can edit it; Or, from a replication standpoint, it might determine that after five years the invoice is automatically saved to a specific archive vault.
One other point that makes M-Files different is that we see ourselves as an enterprise information management system. How that differs from some of our competitors is that we allow an organisation to manage both unstructured content – typically Word and Excel files, images, video, email files – and structured content – information assets that reside within a database system, e.g. a CRM, ERP or accounting system. Metadata serves as the bridge that connects a structured data system to unstructured content assets.
So, if I am a sales person and I’m working on a proposal associated with a customer contact in the CRM system, metadata connects the CRM system to the unstructured repository involved, which is M-Files, so that proposal can reveal itself within that CRM system. By associating the proposal with the customer account, I can see that there are three or four open support tickets that need to be resolved and that the customer has two or three outstanding invoices – information that is important to me as a sales person. The metadata serves as an intelligence layer that connects systems and gives people content in context – a 360 degree view of all the other content assets and processes associated with this singular asset that I am looking for. That is something that makes us distinctive from other players in our field.
PITR: What is your target market?
Cook: Every business, of any size and in any industry, has documents and unstructured content they need to manage. Where we have done really well is selling into the mid-market, bringing enterprise-grade functionality to the masses. We’ve got customers who have a handful of employees and customers who have thousands of employees, but the midmarket is where we have been really successful.
PITR: Is M-Files an on-premise or cloud-based solution?
Cook: We don’t get religious about whether customers deploy this on-premise or in the cloud. We also have a hybrid solution. So when you take M-Files it’s your decision whether you want to deploy it on your infrastructure and have it on-premise or whether you want to subscribe to our cloud service or whether you want to have a bit of both. Regardless of which option you take, you get exactly the same solution and exactly the same capabilities.
The vast majority of our customers have been on-premise, but in the enterprise information management space we are seeing cloud adoption at a little over 10%. We are outstripping the market and at the moment are seeing 20% plus adoption of our cloud services.
One of the factors driving this is the facility to deploy M-Files in a hybrid cloud environment, so you don’t need to rip & replace if you want to transition from on-premise to the cloud. You can utilise existing on-premise systems – CRM, ERP, what have you – and augment it with M-Files in the cloud and vice versa – maybe do M-Files on-premise and integrate that with a cloud-based CRM. That flexibility enables our customers to be more nimble in how they choose to transition to the cloud.
PITR: What are the benefits of having a UK office?
Cook: We have UK customers and today we have UK resellers, but we’ve always managed those remotely. It’s important for us to have a local presence so we can start to service those customers, those partners better.
We have 10 active channel partners in the UK. The EBC Group is one of our partners and the Itec Group is another. Both of these are managed print service providers, which is historically where a number of our channel partners have come from. They are used to selling printers, MFPs, managed services and are really looking to expand their solutions portfolio and move into high growth areas. M-Files is a great fi for such businesses as they start to take different types of solution out to their customers.
PITR: How many partners would you like and what sort of partners are you looking for?
Cook: We have no hard and fast targets. What’s really important to us in this fist year is to make sure we find the right type of partner who can take our product to market effectively. We are really looking for new channel partners that have staff dedicated to selling software solutions and can deliver those solutions to their customers.
Our overall strategy is not just to find the right type of partner with the right type of skills, but also ones that have domain knowledge about particular industries and particular verticals – ones with strength in depth around manufacturing, engineering, financial services, the legal market. That’s where they can really add value to the M-Files solution and deliver industry-specific solutions to their customers.
PITR: What do you offer resellers?
Cook: We offer a great deal of support in terms of getting up to speed, product training, sales training. We also have a great marketing programme in place – almost ‘a marketing programme in a box’ – that they can roll out to their own marketing departments. Our channel programme is designed to motivate our partners and reward them for success. They get great discounts on our pricing and fantastic margins on software licences, as well as great opportunities for incremental revenue around professional services and delivery of industry-specific solutions.
PITR: It also gives them an entrée into a market with a lot of growth potential. Are you surprised so many organisations still use paper?
Cook: I am pleasantly surprised by how much opportunity there is, by how many businesses of pretty significant size don’t have any type of document or content management solution in place and are still managing mountains of paper. It isn’t only small companies, but companies with hundreds of employees that still haven’t got round to employing an effective document management solution. Many companies do have network drives, folders and sub-folders but everyone I speak to realises that this is not a viable solution for managing documents or their content going forward. There is a lot of frustration that comes from trying to manage information by putting things in folders.