No single thing probably drove the early growth of the internet as much as email did. In that way, it’s considered a driver application for internet tech, like cryptocurrency sparked interest in developing blockchain tech. Email gave us an inexpensive (sometimes free) and instant way to communicate all over the world. In addition, email lent itself to automation, collaboration, and integration, which sparked development to incorporate those ideas into other kinds of software that worked better for specific tasks.
That was OK then. But we have graduated — or at least we should have. Today, using email for more than mere communication generates avoidable problems and inefficiencies, particularly in an era when you can rely on better tools that will help improve efficiency and overcome email’s challenges. In particular, businesses that rely on email too much to share files and collaborate will certainly struggle with the many hazards of information sprawl.
Understanding and Overcoming Today’s Challenges with Email
Look at just a few problems information sprawl causes when email becomes the de facto collaboration tool. Even more, understand how smart document management systems can eliminate these kinds of inefficiencies and errors.
In a previous article on problems with using email attachments for collaboration, we brought up the specific example of a CEO who wanted input about next year’s business plan. She attached her draft to the email she sent to her five vice presidents. Each of them made some edits and forwarded their versions to their own department heads. As the day for the CEO to present the plan approached, she found her own inbox full of dozens of versions of the plan, all edited, corrected, and commented upon by different people.
In the end, that CEO found himself trying to consolidate all of these versions — a difficult and error-prone process. Even if some of the executives and directors did not make a single change, he still had to account for each of them to make sure they approved it. If not, he needed to write a follow-up email to nudge them.
Is this really the best we can do in an age with tons of easy solutions to the problem?
With an intelligent information management system, she could have simply shared the document link with each stakeholder, alerted them as their deadline for edits or approval approached, and each person would be contributing to a single authoritative document version. The CEO would then have had one version-controlled and consolidated document. Not only could he view all edits in one place, he could also easily see exactly who generated each change and exactly when they did it. This made it much simpler for the CEO to verify information, accept the right changes, and produce his final business plan.
Today’s businesses don’t just keep information in text documents. Various media may consist of graphics, videos, and sound files. If everybody relies on emailing and downloading these as email attachments, it can bog down both the performance of the email system and the capacity of storage devices. Instead, smart document management can keep track of the single storage place for these files and various versions and simply send everybody a hyperlink to access it.
Security and Compliance Problems
Even with small documents, having multiple copies stored on various cloud accounts, employee’s laptops, and of course, as email attachments generates more security vulnerabilities. Just as bad, storing private or sensitive information may create compliance breaches. With a good document management system, the owners can set rules for files that only allow the right people various types of access. Not only does this keep information secure, it also allows the company to demonstrate their compliance with regulations governing the kind of information they have.
Let’s say the CFO just had the latest version of the company’s financial report stored on his hard drive the day before he caught the flu, needed medication, and was in no shape to remember to tell other executives that he had updated the last attachment he had received from the accounting department. Even worse, let’s say that CFO suddenly left the company and had his server account deleted, along with the latest report.
Thinking she could simply bypass the CFO, the CEO asked the accounting department to email her the figures, with neither party knowing the CFO had the most current document on his own computer. Again, a central store of this information would show the most current version and a history of changes. A high-level user could also set and change ownership permissions with a few clicks, so the person who needed to take over for the CFO would take responsibility for this document.
Business Process Inefficiencies
Using the example of the business draft, the CEO wanted to ensure she gathered approvals from everybody who received her first version of the business plan. In turn, she needed to know when the draft had circulated to all stakeholders and then been returned back to her. With email, she would have the clunky process of sending out reminders and then having to check off names as replied hit her inbox. Instead, she could have set alerts within her document management system both to let the stakeholders knew she had a task for them and in turn, to let her know when they finished it.
How Enterprise-Quality Document Management Eliminates Information Sprawl
Nobody doubts the importance of email. It helped grow the internet and revolutionized communication. Still, as noted on HubSpot, many businesses still relies on email for more than its core function — simply out of habit. It’s not that surprising that even top executives still rely on the tool they’ve probably used their entire career. At the same time, once they’ve been introduced to the benefits of smart information management, these same business leaders are pleasantly surprised to find a comprehensive tool to collaborate, track versions, manage audits, automate business processes, and avoid errors.
See how intelligent information management can beat email collaboration with a 30-day free trial.
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.
1. Digging deeper into our core differentiators
As a product, M-Files is built on three cornerstones. M-Files is:
- – metadata driven
- – system and repository neutral
- – AI-powered.
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 data security 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.