The pandemic has unsettled the world, leaving us all to navigate the uncertainty. I don’t need to elaborate. We all know and feel the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our economy, workplaces, and personal well-being.
However, at the time of writing this, restrictions around the world are starting to lift, little by little. And as the initial hurdle comes to a close, we are gradually shifting our attention from the panic of What now? and instead, shifting our focus to What’s next?
As a Product Marketing Manager for M-Files, I am in the game of figuring out what moves and shakes people to change, or more specifically what drives companies to invest in new technology. This pandemic has certainly offered a new driver to the mix.
COVID-19 has Forced Companies to Transform (and Transform Quickly)
Before this crisis, some common drivers across many industries included items like increasing efficiency in a competitive landscape, winning and retaining new business, and minimizing risk.
These drivers are still relevant. The pandemic, however, has presented a new driver — resilience. Namely, how can companies ensure and maintain operations in times of crisis? How can companies continue with business as usual in times when business is not usual?
While the initial hurdle of this pandemic seems to be coming to an end, there is no guarantee that the pandemic will not grow worse or that further restrictions will be enforced in the future (some news media portends the possibility of a second wave of cases globally). And as experts warned us of a possible pandemic before COVID-19, they are also insisting that we realize that other pandemics are just as possible in the future. We simply do not know. We used to operate with a false sense of certainty about the future, but this crisis has exposed just how uncertain things really are. Despite this, we are certain that the COVID-19 crisis has taught us that businesses need to transform. We can feel confident about that lesson. And when there’s need for great transformation, there’s need for great guidance.
Bring in the Consultants!
The reason I boldly claim that we need consultants now more than ever is because we’re in uncharted territory. Emotions are strong and it’s difficult, for both employees and business leaders, to wrap their minds over what to do next. Consultants, by and large, are transformation experts. We call on consultants to get us from one state to the next, because they have the expertise, experience, resources and know-how to pave a path to our objectives.
When it comes to the topic of resilience, businesses are plagued with questions around policy, leadership, technology, security, and change management while also grappling with the struggles of maintaining business today. This presents an interesting opportunity for people in the thinking industry.
The Driver: What’s driving or forcing companies to change?
The COVID-19 crisis has tested the resilience of the business world.
The Objective: What do companies need to do in response to this driver?
Companies have been forced to establish and maintain organizational resilience — to handle future crises.
Business Changes: What transformations must take place for companies to meet these objectives?
To establish and maintain organizational resilience, companies must:
Institute a flexible and secure work environment
Reduce costs to buffer current and potential decreases in revenue
Enable a remote, yet effective workforce that can work either from the office or at home
Establish policies and procedures for times of crisis and train staff on policies
Train leadership on managing and leading in times of crisis
Uphold excellent customer experiences in times of crisis
Business Value: What is the potential business value of these transformations?
When companies are resilient to crises, they:
Retain more business
Maintain business continuity in times when business is not usual
Have better buffers for sudden revenue decreases
Mitigate risks to security and quality — in areas like information security, safety, and compliance
Increase workforce satisfaction and trust
So, if you’re in the service of helping businesses transform, take a moment to consider if this new driver offers your firm new opportunities. And in doing so, consider the following:
What sort of products or services can you provide to help potential or existing clients manage this crisis?
What sort of training do you need to better help your clients manage crises and build resilience?
What sort of content can you develop to help your clients manage our current global predicament?
In times of global uncertainty, we need people in our corner to help us put one foot in front of the other. That’s why we need consultants now more than ever.
At its core, digital transformation is exactly what it sounds like:
“The process of integrating newer and more sophisticated examples of digital technology across all areas of your business, thus fundamentally changing how things operate for the better along the way.”
But at the same time, it’s also so much more than that. It’s a unique opportunity to not only streamline engagements but eliminate manual processes in favor of automated alternatives as well. It also helps to create the most important benefit of all: empowering you to create a better customer experience with a free flow of information on demand to customers, typically for the first time in your history.
Of course, getting to that point requires you to move beyond digital transformation itself. Once your technological evolution is complete, the next step involves sharpening the tools you’ve acquired to fully unlock all of those benefits outlined above. Getting to that point isn’t necessarily difficult — but it does require you to keep a few important things in mind.
Empowering Engagements, One Step at a Time
As you move beyond your digital transformation, maybe the most important area for you to focus on has to do with how you and your people are actually engaging with your customers. The tools are officially available for you to do this in a better way than ever before. Now, it’s up to you to actually put them to good use.
Your business will have a new level of mobile capability coming out of digital transformation, for example, which absolutely should be utilized to your advantage. Not only will it be easier to share information and insight between departments, but all of that data can also be accessed from any location on Earth with an active Internet connection. This includes via not only desktops and laptops but smartphones, tablets, and other devices.
This means that your employees now have the tools needed to better engage with customers on-the-go or at THEIR location, not yours. This type of purpose-driven technological shift doesn’t just create better engagements with your clients on a day-to-day basis. It also makes your professional services firm far more valuable to your client base as well.
The Power of Automation in the Modern Business Enterprise
One of the major reasons why enterprises go through a digital transformation in the first place often comes down to the idea of automation. Rather than paying high-value employees to focus on routine tasks like data entry or document management, you can turn those jobs over to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) powered solutions to handle everything on their behalf.
Think about it like this: every minute that one of your employees is focused on these everyday jobs is a minute they’re not supporting and empowering your business’ relationship with your customers. AI, on the other hand, is perfect for examining large sets of data and extracting the most meaningful insights in a way that humans could never match in the first place.
From that perspective, automation doesn’t just once again create an opportunity for you to provide a better and more personal level of care to your customers. It’s also an incredible chance to eliminate manual, repetitive and error-prone processes in a way that allows you to become more efficient as a business with far less overhead at the same time.
A Bold New Customer Experience Begins Now
Finally, we arrive at what is perhaps the most important driver behind digital transformation for many professional services firms: enhancing the quality of the customer experience they’re able to offer.
A rock-solid information management system can absolutely act as the foundation between your professional services firm and your customers — but that doesn’t mean that it won’t require a little additional work on your part after the transformation is complete.
Here, you’ll need to focus on two core areas, including:
Removing any and all obstacles that prevent personnel from serving the customers in the best way possible. This means making sure that information about customers is available to anyone who needs it, whenever and wherever they need it, no exceptions. This enables them to not only make better decisions in the heat of the moment, but to avoid the duplication of documents and requests as well.
Reducing friction (and costs) to focus on delivering your critical services. As outlined above, you should absolutely be using your digital transformation as an opportunity to digitize and automate as many of those menial administrative processes as possible, all so that your actual human employees can devote the majority of their attention to those tasks that truly need them.
If you’d like to find out more information about the many ways in which professional services firms can reap digital dividends as we collectively move beyond the concept of digital business transformation, or if you’d just like to discuss your own needs with someone in a bit more detail, set some time aside with us.
This is an age when so many competitive businesses depend upon efficiency. Still, problems with document workflow productivity create challenges. In contrast, superior document workflow management tools and tactics can offer amazing productivity boosts. Learn how inadequate document workflow management reduces efficiency and even more, how the right technology can help improve all areas of your business.
Why Reconsider Your Document Management Strategies?
Document workflow management simply refers to the process of transferring information from one person to another during various stages in the business process. Typically, work has to get approved before the completed work moves to the next step. For a simple example, a supplier might send an invoice to a buyer. The buyer may need to approve it as matching the order and route this document to inventory to confirm delivery. Once confirmed, inventory will approve it and route the invoice to accounts payable.
This example may appear simple, but you probably already know the problems that inefficiencies in your own document management system can introduce to a business. In the example, flaws in the process can lead to violations of payment terms, issues with future orders, and increased workloads.
According to Business.com, these are common issues that many companies struggle with.
Document mishandling issues: Common problems include the inability to find documents, issues opening documents emailed from others, and duplication of incorrect information on multiple documents. Either way, these challenges led to an estimated loss of productivity of well over 20%, based on a global IT survey.
Collaboration using email: It’s still common to find companies emailing documents back and forth for collaboration. This generates multiple copies of the document as it’s in the process of getting emailed. Generally, discussions occur within long, cumbersome email threads as well. There’s also no way to assure that the final version ended up in the inbox of the person who has ownership over the data.
Versioning issues: Old-fashioned methods of sharing documents create versioning problems. They make it difficult to ensure that everybody’s working on the latest iteration or even knows how to find it. Business.com mentioned a Harris survey that found 83 percent of respondents said that tracking versions caused problems.
Wasted time searching: Knowledge workers reported spending an inordinate amount of time looking for the documents they needed to proceed with tasks. Dealing with misplaced or lost documents took them even more time. When key employees leave or transfer out of departments, files often got lost.
Lack of remote access: Increasingly, today’s workforce runs remotely. Relying upon hard copies or even electronic files stored on somebody’s disk drive can limit accessibility to necessary documents. Having an on-premises-only system may also encourage employees to create even more unmanaged copies of documents, so they can take them home or on business trips.
Expense of manual approvals and signatures: An automated and convenient electronic signing and approval process can save time, ensure faster results, and reduce the costs to handle each document. Otherwise, employees waste even more time delivering documents, asking for approvals, and then waiting for them.
Security and compliance: In this age of BYOD, or bring your own devices, security has grown increasingly challenging. Understandably, employees may try to download documents to their own devices to take with them for work away from the office. However, it’s difficult for companies to protect information on scattered devices and also, to make sure the document only gets used in ways that the government allows.
How a Better Document Workflow Management Will Make Your Business More Productive
Modern, smart, cloud-based document management systems can address common issues. For instance, the system can have input rules that minimize human error and help ensure that employees use the latest version of the right document. They incorporate features like notifications and electronic approvals to keep the approval process streamlined. They also come with built-in collaboration tools that eliminate the need to require upon cumbersome email threads.
Even better, these systems run from the cloud, so they make it possible to access files from almost anywhere and at any time. Nobody has to travel back to the office or even worse, wait for somebody to unlock the door. At the same time as they improve accessibility, these document management systems incorporate smart security, so management can set rules to ensure that only the right people view sensitive information. This helps ensure security and compliance with legal rules.
The system also keeps a complete version history, so it’s simple to track changes and view the document’s history in case of problems or audits. Finally, these systems allow companies to classify and tag documents. This ensures that it’s easy for employees to find what they need and never waste time looking for lost documents.
Looking back at 2019, it was a year of significant development for M-Files. That was the year we truly saw the transformation with M-Files Online — allowing customers to truly achieve instant cloud-readiness. And, it was the year we helped customers find the benefits of intelligent information management within their daily business applications — like Microsoft Teams or Outlook, or Salesforce.
But so much for nostalgia. Now let’s jump into the path forward for 2020.
Our focus for this year in product development is driven by five major themes.
Our metadata approach sets us apart from the competition. Our solution is truly metadata driven; everything is managed with metadata — from the documents themselves to the user and access rights, workflows, policies, app integrations and more.
On all the three cornerstone areas, 2020 brings in development that will enhance the user experience and offer new ways to automate office work. As cool as AI can sound, it all boils down to this: How can it help employees work more efficiently? Our new intelligence features will make the user the centerpiece of everything, assisting the user in the context of his role and task at hand. And, as an out-of-the-box feature, artificial intelligence is still going to be as simple as ABC.
2. Improving the user experience
Putting the user at the center also means adjusting to the way THEY prefer to do their work. This was one of the key initiatives for 2019, and we continue the same path in 2020. We will embed M-Files into more systems and common business applications. One more was just recently launched, when we integrated with Esri ArcGIS, a tool for applying location-based analytics into business practices.
On top of the integrations to other systems, we will significantly improve our own web client, offering easy deployment and ease-of-use in a modern and simplistic UI, designed to support daily work.
3. Scaling for more complex requirements and environments
As organizations grow and begin to embrace new technologies to deal with the exploding amount of data, it is vital to offer more scalable ways to run business applications — like M-Files — or to search for data in both cloud repositories as well as on-premises data storage.
Our roadmap for 2020 supports initiatives like multi-server mode, which will improve scalability. Multi-server mode will always balance the load for M-Files Online customers by offering high availability.
4. Improving service management capabilities
As we look at 2020, the M-Files solution will also provide better service to customers — improved cloud architecture, self-service capabilities and other improvements that help further our task to be the best SaaS provider of intelligent information management solutions.
Already, M-Files is recognized as a Visionary in Gartner Magic Quadrant for Content Services Platforms, the Best Document Management Software of 2020 by Business.com, and a Leader by Nucleus Research. User experience is very important to us, and we pride ourselves on the ease-of-use confirmed by numerous customers and reports — like the Top-Rated Enterprise Content Management Software for 2019 by TrustRadius. The new service management capabilities will help us further improve the user experience.
5. Enhancing collaboration capabilities
Collaboration seems to be an overarching theme in numerous discussions and articles. The new ways of working together in virtual teams call for new solutions for easy collaboration. People will always find ways to work the way they prefer, and unless the organization provides safe but easy-to-use tools for collaboration, people will do so with whatever tools they find.
Easier collaboration is one of the themes for 2020 for M-Files as well as we seek to serve the information-driven industries better. We will start to introduce several enhancements that will make everyday collaboration a walk in the park.
So – if 2019 was a year of transformation and going where the customers are, 2020 is going to be yet another interesting year with lots of new features and capabilities. These capabilities will put our customers at the driver’s seat, allowing them to stay even more focused on the task at hand while benefitting from the many advances of intelligent information management.
As more companies start to transition away from paper files and towards digital, the threat of data breaches increases as does the disasters that come with it. In 2018, the United States experienced 1,244 data breaches resulting in 447 million records exposed.
There are hordes of hackers and nefarious people that work hard to breach weak security protocols and gain access to important documents. But let’s not discount the less nefarious yet risk-laden instances of security compromise. What about employees who access files that they weren’t authorized to look at — either accidentally or on purpose? What about Alan’s termination letter that was left on the printer right next to Alan’s desk?
Depending on your cybersecurity efforts, your IT department might already be using the latest firewalls, malware detection, and anti-virus software, so that the perimeter of your company’s documents are always secure. Having a strong external security system in place to prevent hackers from getting in is necessary for any company to function. But do you have a system in place to protect your documents from internal breaches?
Whether intentional or not, an employee may have unintentional access to emails that contain sensitive information, get forwarded important documents, log in to a public computer and forget to log out, and many more possible scenarios that result in a data breach.
To help protect your files from internal data breaches even as your company grows, intelligent information management (IIM) solutions like M-Files could be your first line of defense. IIM solutions ensure that all your unstructured files, documents, and business processes are stored, captured, managed, preserved, and delivered on a centralized network for easy retrieval. Below I’ll discuss how an IIM platform can help you protect your data from internal breaches.
The whole takeaway here is that datasecurity should be enforced, not only as protection from outside intruders, but at the document-level for internal security.
“It has long been realized that encrypting content at rest, and particularly content in motion, is the only way to secure sensitive and potentially damaging content,” according to this AIIM report. “But suppose that instead of building protective walls around places where sensitive documents are held, we embed security into the document itself?”
Permissions and Access
It goes without saying. Sensitive documents should only be accessible to those who need access. It’s easy to have control over a few employees and the content they access in the first stages of your company. However, for growing companies, the ability to scale permissions access can get unwieldy.
With M-Files, you can set access permissions for whole classes of documents and data objects, in addition to specific documents, and even for different versions of the same document or object – including assigning roles that give different levels of access to different users or user groups, such as managers.
M-Files ensures that information is accessible to the people who need it, and inaccessible and unseen by those who don’t need it or aren’t sanctioned to access it. Access permissions can be controlled by user, group, role, as well as any metadata property — no need for scripting with the flexibility to address unanticipated future needs. Take these two examples:
Employment documents. Employment agreements can be tagged to selected employees, making the agreement visible to that user, their supervisor and the HR department, but no one else. If there’s a management or organization change, just change the supervisor property of the employee and all related documents become visible to the new supervisor.
Sensitive project documents. When project team members are assigned to a project, all associated documents will be visible to only them. Brought on a new team member? Simply assign them to the project group. No need to micromanage and examine permissions for every piece of information related to the project. This approach simplifies onboarding new team members, and also makes it easy to allow external users such as partners and customers to securely access project-related documentation and participate in related processes and workflows.
M-Files also supports the concept of “faceted permissions” — where multiple metadata properties together can define the permissions of a document. In the project-based scenario above, for instance, if permissions are created for project group members, you can make certain document types — like an agreement or contract — visible only to project managers of the related project.
In regulated industries where compliance is key and audits by customers, vendors and regulating bodies are required, M-Files consistently enforces access control policy. M-Files enables businesses to easily prove they are following required procedures and follow regulations.
Audit Trails and Proactive Reporting
Audit trails and proactive reporting are useful during or after a data breach. You can use them to determine who has been accessing files, when they were doing it, and which documents they were after. Your IIM solution will notify you of any suspicious activity that occurs so you can attend to it as needed.
As an example, your IIM can notify you that a finance department staffer, who has access to all invoices, payroll, and tax-related documents is conspicuously downloading confidential information. The information consists of a few vendor invoices, employee payroll, and company tax documents while they’re on vacation, without notifying you of their intent. If you suspect something untoward, once you’re notified, you can block access to all documents until further investigation is conducted.
Sometimes we all hold on to documents or belongings that we should’ve thrown out. While hanging on to a few personal items isn’t disastrous, doing the same with company files presents risk. Although there are certain documents that a company must retain for protection purposes, not all of them have that same weight.
An IIM solution will notify you when certain content has been idle for too long and is taking up space. It’ll then ask you if you want to keep or discard it. If you have no more use for content, you can discard it which ensures that no one has access to old documents that still contain sensitive information.
In the past, we’ve discussed the importance of adding quality metadata for several reasons. Of course, better metadata will improve all aspects of search performance. Also, the right identifiers and tags can provide you with business intelligence, audit support, ideas for extra revenue streams and more. The real gold mine is in converting unstructured data into structured data.
Here’s a quick one-minute primer on what exactly metadata is:
Adding this additional information to describe your documents may seem like a big job, and that’s certainly true if you don’t use the best tools. Not to fear. Today’s artificial intelligence will help create and add better metadata with less effort. Plus, it will work with all types of files, including text, graphics, audio, and video.
How Intelligent Document Management Systems Improve Metadata Creation
Despite the obvious benefits of having high-quality metadata, the task of adding it to countless files and records might seem like an incredibly time-consuming and tedious process. You may not have the manpower to comb through hundreds of thousands of text, image, and video files to select relevant keywords. Even if you do have the resources, that might not seem like the best use of your people. Advances in AI and machine learning can minimize human effort and produce excellent results and in that way, AI is finally living up to the hype.
How Does AI Work for Metadata Creation?
This list provides a basic overview of the types of AI technology that systems use to help with metadata creation:
Natural language processing: These systems can process language in a way that’s very similar to the way people’s brains work. NLP can look for patterns in text, image, and audio files.
Statistical learning: This technology relies upon statistical models to help divine important information from large sets of data.
Neural networks: This kind of tech finds patterns by sifting through information with neural networks that are designed to work a lot like organic, brain neurons.
Deep learning: These advanced systems can sift through layers of information to extract meaning, patterns, and comparisons.
AI Can Extract Metadata from All Kinds of File Types
In the past, people associated indexing mostly with text documents. Modern AI isn’t just limited to text files. Case in point… Las Vegas face recognition can identify known cheaters and card-counters in video images. You may have also seen examples of this on popular social networks. Like when Facebook knows that family reunion photo has Aunt Wanda in it and suggests a tag. Language processing can extract meaning from speech in audio files. Combining various techniques will also extra tags from video files.
Thus, you can use AI to help create and add metadata to text, graphics, and video files. For instance, today’s search engines can index and categorize .MP3 and .JPG files as well as .HTML and .PDF files. An intelligent information management system can do the same thing inside of your organization.
Consider some examples from CMSWire of using intelligent systems to categorize various types of files:
Images: The healthcare field has relied heavily on image recognition technology for all sorts of medical scans. Other industries can use this tech to help categorize scanned documents, including handwriting. If you have deposited a hand-written check in the ATM, you have probably seen this kind of image recognition at work.
Audio: Common examples of intelligent speech processing include Amazon Alexa and similar home systems. You have probably also used voice-to-text to compose text messages or request searches on your mobile phone. This same technology can find patterns in your company’s audio recordings.
Video: Analyzing video files combines the AI tech that’s used to process images, text, and audio. For example, you might tag everybody at a meeting by using facial recognition of a recording. Similarly, you may set time indexes of a video to make it easier to find the exact moment when a certain topic got discussed.
Humans Still Make AI-Assisted Metadata Creation Better
AI can help reduce effort and, in some cases, improve the quality of your metadata. Mostly, intelligent systems can make projects possible that you may lack the time or funds to accomplish quickly if you had to do them manually. Even better, these systems learn as they work, so they can provide increasingly better and more useful results over time. Since the machines never get tired or bored, they can also help minimize and eliminate the kinds of mistakes that people are prone to making.
Here’s a simple example: How fast could the fastest data worker look through 500 documents to find instances of social security numbers and then tag those documents as sensitive? Maybe a few days. Intelligent information management AI can do it in minutes, if not seconds. That’s the kind of power we’re talking about here.
You should still involve various stakeholders to determine which kinds of metadata you need, in order to create rules within the system and verify results. You can use these rules to help direct both the intelligent software and your quality control teams. Basically, the higher the risk of specific information, the more you may need to rely upon people to normalize the intelligence with governance rules and quality verification.
You might prioritize various kinds of information, so you can devote more time to the specific documents that carry the most value and associated risks. Also, you might start testing your smart systems with low-priority information, so both you and your AI system can learn to work together better.
See Intelligent Metadata Creation in Action
You don’t have to wait for future technology to involve intelligent computer systems in information management. Here at M-Files, we eager to offer you a free trial or a walk-through to answer your questions.