M-Files Corporation offers a metadata-driven enterprise information management solution, M-Files, for both unstructured content and structured data (available on-premise, in the cloud, and in ‘hybrid’ scenarios).
M-Files is headquartered in both Tampere, Finland and Dallas, Texas (the latter office opening in 2009), with sales offices in the UK, Germany and Sweden.
What does it do?
M-Files’ Enterprise Information Management platform is designed to manage both structured data (e.g. ERP and CRM data) and unstructured content (e.g. documents, images, media) throughout any content-based workflow.
Core features include:
- Metadata – M-Files appends metadata attributes to each content asset. This approach powers a great many of the technology’s usability-focused capabilities, which revolve around it being able to surface assets based on what they represent, rather than where they are stored. For example, a user can search and browse by any attribute, constructing logical ‘playlists’ of content similar to how media is organised on consumer devices without any need to know where it resides. For M-Files, this works across content stored on-premise or in the cloud, and within any folder structure; and also across source business applications – for example customer data from Salesforce CRM. Metadata also plays a part in M-Files’ ability to synchronise content offline based on what it is (and whether it’s needed to complete a particular workflow task) rather than where it is located. Keyword search also ranges across metadata and inside document full text.
- User interface – a native desktop client for Windows, web client, and native mobile apps for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. M-Files repositories (or ‘vaults’) can be mapped to virtual drive locations in Windows so any application can save into M-Files. In addition M-Files integration with Microsoft Office applications adds ‘ribbon’ functionality so users can save emails and attachments directly to an M-Files vault. Multiple users can co-author simultaneously, online or offline using Microsoft Office Online and its own native syncing capabilities; external authors without access to M-Files directly can make use of M-Files’ integration with Microsoft OneDrive for secure sharing. PDFs and Microsoft Office documents and many other file types can be previewed and annotated, and full version history and audit trail is maintained.
- Security – dynamic role-based and metadata-based security, with access permissions again based on what it represents rather than its storage location. M-Files supports the managing and tracking of content workflows (for example Contract Lifecycle Management capabilities for processes like ‘change control’, ‘corrective and preventative action’, and training scenarios) by notifications, with all workflow steps tracked in a content’s item’s version history.
- Mobile – M-Files has native apps for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone designed to support mobile workstyles (i.e. they provide a subset of desktop capabilities). The company also provides some ‘single-purpose apps’ targeted at particular use cases (such as document scanning and recording deviations).
- Integrations – In pursuit of wide sources of document capture, M-Files integrates with capture vendors such as I.R.I.S., Kofax, PSIGEN and Nuance eCopy; and can ingest from (and apply OCR to) PDF, TIFF, JPEG, BMP, PNG and GIF format files generated by scanners.
The M-Files product is available in the following editions:
- M-Files Standard for generic document and information management for small- and mid-sized businesses.
- M-Files Enterprise for larger-scale implementations.
- M-Files for Compliance for highly-regulated small and mid-sized businesses.
- M-Files Enterprise for compliance initiatives within large, highly-regulated businesses.
- M-Files QMS – a packaged solution for quality management.
M-Files for Compliance and M-Files QMS editions are targeted at highly-regulated industries requiring compliance with HIPAA, FDA 21 CFR Part 11, and EU GMP Annex 11 (which it supports with multiple layers of security (including usernames and passwords, AES256 data encryption, and access permissions on a per-document basis); and manufacturing businesses requiring ISO 9001:2008 certification.
All product editions are available as on-premises software as well as SaaS offerings, which are feature-identical. The SaaS versions of M-Files (M-Files Cloud Vault) are hosted in the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. The cloud solutions integrate both with on-premises and cloud-based business applications (and can sync content from on-premise storage), enabling M-Files to be deployed in a hybrid environment as well as a pure cloud deployment. The company is seeing significant demand for hybrid deployments (particularly in the UK) as organisations tend to take a risk-based, pragmatic approach to content sharing – sharing lower risk (often sales and marketing collateral) content with partners via the cloud, whilst keeping higher-value content on-premise.
M-Files doesn’t publish the list price of either its on-premises software or hosted SaaS offerings, though a 30-day free trial of the M-Files software is available to download from the company’s website.
Standard telephone support is available 8/5 with a 24/7 service also available as an add-on. M-Files also provides administrator and user training through its M-Files Academy, and has a professional services arm.
Who is it for?
M-Files Corporation describes its core competency as “helping regulated businesses stay compliant”; and although it has historically focused on regulated industries, it also looks to apply those same considerations in non-regulated scenarios where the security of customers’ IP assets is of paramount importance as they share content across their extended enterprise amongst partners and field workers (commonly found in industries such as high-tech manufacturing, media, entertainment and utilities).
M-Files’ client interface is designed to provide easy-to-use, easy-to-configure content management capabilities that reduce end users’ reliance on corporate IT – targeting a middle ground between consumerised IT focused offerings (that typically deliver less rich content management features) from born-in-the-cloud SaaS-only vendors; and the feature-rich (and often expensive) offerings from the legacy Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems with a mainly on-premise focus.
Why is it interesting?
Rather than design a system where content is managed and navigated from within folders, it’s the comprehensive use of metadata that drives how M-Files secures (because of metadata-based permissions), replicates (in terms of metadata-based synchronisation), accesses (providing users with metadata-based search and browse), and manages business processes (using metadata to serve the right content in context to the right person at the right time in a workflow situation, based on rules applied to content classification). Metadata is at the heart of M-Files’ designed-in usability – both for end users, and enterprise administrators.
As a vendor with a strong dual focus on both on-premises and cloud deployments, M-Files Corporation has been able to play well into the ‘hybrid’ arena with a product that not only supports a mixed mode of content storage (satisfying customers’ data sovereignty and sensitivity concerns) but also integrates with both on-premise and cloud-based business applications to provide workflow context, access, and ingestion points. Not all ‘hybrid’ content management systems do this – some are only hybrid insofar as they can synchronise on-premise content into their cloud and present it through their SaaS offering; and for some, ‘hybrid’ describes only the fact that their on-premise only application can integrate both with on-premise and SaaS business applications.
It’s a combination of the metadata-driven ease-of-use, and M-Files’ (true hybrid) cloud capabilities, that enables the company to promote the product as straddling the consumerised IT and legacy enterprise ECM worlds.
How established is it?
The M-Files software product was launched in 2005 by a Finnish company then known as “Motive Systems” (which also marketed a colour plotting application, M-Color). In May 2011 the company changed its name to M-Files Corporation to reflect a focus on its flagship enterprise information management solution, and it now has 300 employees worldwide (mostly in Europe).
M-Files Corporation offers its product in 29 languages, in over 100 countries, to customers including Sagem, Siemens, NBC Universal Media, AstraZeneca, the United Nations Environment Programme, and SAS Institute.
In 2013 M-Files Corporation completed a Series A funding round (led by DFJ Esprit, with participation from Finnish Industry Investment) which raised $7.7m, principally to fuel for rapid growth plans in the US, a bolstering of its global partner channel, and further focus on select industries (such as manufacturing, healthcare, life sciences, etc.). Although it doesn’t publish its revenue figures, the company did report 76% revenue growth in 2014 (comprising a 70% increase in EMEA, and a doubling in North America and Asia Pacific; worldwide revenue growth through partners climbing by nearly 80%) – coming after year-on-year growth hovering around the 40%-50% mark in the five years prior to its injection of funds.
Cloud delivery is a particularly important part of the M-Files story now. The company reported a 70% growth in its cloud-based revenue in 2014 (and in Q1 of 2015, over 22% of its revenue came from its SaaS business).
How open is it?
M-Files includes an ActiveX / COM API (with support for VB.NET, C#, C++, Visual Basic, and VBScript) and a Web Service API which provides a REST-like interface for comprehensive read/write access to M-Files. Additionally, the M-Files Extensibility Framework (a collection of features, APIs, program execution environments and libraries) allows M-Files applications to customise the behaviour of the M-Files desktop client. API support for developers is provided via the M-Files community forums.
Who does it partner with?
M-Files Corporation has over 400 global partners. Technology partners include Microsoft, Salesforce.com, Autodesk (AutoCAD), Canon, Fujitsu, Epson, Panasonic, and Kodak – bringing integrations and connectors to common business software and capture devices. There’s also a network of licensing partners, resellers, and solution providers that provides the channels through which the M-Files product is sold and supported worldwide (the company sells both direct and via its channel in the US).
Are there areas for improvement?
How well M-Files delivers on its metadata-driven promise depends largely on the consistency and quality of the metadata that drives the application. Its professional services arm can help during migration and roll-out, but to keep up the momentum a customer needs to wholeheartedly buy into the importance of metadata classification across its content assets – and so any ongoing assistance in that regard is to be welcomed. The company plans to extend text analytics services (see below) to improve automated document classification. Currently, customers are reliant on their business processes ensuring adequate manual coverage of certain metadata insertion. This may be a struggle for some to maintain, and so they may not be in a position to fully realise the potential benefits of the M-Files approach until the execution of their metadata strategy catches up with the rest of their digital strategy.
M-Files Corporation’s technology partnership with Microsoft has yielded many close integrations (with Office applications for direct access to M-Files ‘vaults’, exploiting OneDrive for external users’ mobile sync, in adopting Windows user interface conventions, and establishing its public cloud presence on Azure). However, some of the company’s target customers aren’t ‘Microsoft shops’ – and how well it establishes relationships with other common business and productivity application vendors, and cloud providers, will affect the amount of friction some buyers feel in adjusting their ways of working and existing infrastructure preferences to fit M-Files’ partner preferences.
With cloud delivery such a strong component of the M-Files approach now, expect to see further integrations with storage and applications to support the hybrid deployment style increasingly popular amongst organisations exhibiting a degree of ‘cloud pragmatism’.
Also expect the company to seek to build on the uptick in growth that followed its Series A funding, but that will require further investment in its partner channel. Currently its customers typically inhabit the small- to mid-range business size, and if it’s looking to expand more into higher-value enterprise sales then that too is going to require investment to build out its sales and marketing capacity. Whether M-Files Corporation can continue to grow at the rate it did in 2014 without a second round of funding remains to be seen – it’s not clear how profitable the company is, as it’s privately held and doesn’t publish its accounts.
As for future features, the M-Files product currently stands at version M-Files 2015.1 (launched in September 2015), with intermediary releases times about every six months (M-Files 2015.2 to be released in March 2016) and major releases timed to occur every 24 months or so. Although M-Files Corporation hasn’t yet seen much appetite for content-based business intelligence tools from its customers, and as such it’s considered much more of a third-party add-on than a priority for native capabilities, text analysis (to facilitate automatic classification of what sort of content a document is and classify it automatically) is on the company’s roadmap for a future release. Also in the pipeline are ongoing improvements to end-user experience, speed, and scalability of the system.
Should I consider it?
If Microsoft clients, applications, and infrastructure comprise a key component of your IT estate, then M-Files’ strong alignment here will certainly ease its path to integration and adoption across your organisation. However, if your needs aren’t so well served by M-Files Corporation’s technology partnerships then – short of developing integrations of your own – you may prefer to wait. That’s not to say the usual bases, like Salesforce CRM, aren’t also covered; but you may find gaps the company hasn’t yet plugged with out-of-the-box integrations, and you may deem the cost of plugging them to be too high.
Notwithstanding the above point, though – the fact that M-Files sales are driven by its channel partners, who will often very well know the situation in particular industries, means that it’s through your relationship with the M-Files licenser or reseller that specific add-ons will be developed – and that provides M-Files Corporation with a very effective route for building out its coverage (in terms of expected integrations and use case configurations). What remains to be seen is the extent to which the company is able to capitalise on that and enrich its core product.
If you’re a pragmatic adopter of cloud, or have good risk-based reasons for being cloud-cautious, then M-Files’ true hybrid approach should appeal in terms of support for mixed content and application locations. Although M-Files only offers a public cloud service via Microsoft Windows Azure, the company’s partners offer alternative private cloud hosting options.
In summary, M-Files’ key areas of distinctiveness (i.e. its exploitation of metadata; and its support for true hybrid ECM) will enable it to strengthen its position, but be prepared (as a customer) to get out what you put in – in terms of how well the focus on metadata will work for you; and in terms of working around current constraints (in terms of hosting options and integration coverage) while the company consolidates on its rapid enterprise growth and builds out its offer in response to what it’s learning about its new customers’ priorities.