M-Files uses metadata system to drive content management

Essentially eliminates folders

I learned about a start-up called M-Files this week at the Gartner Portals, Content and Collaboration Summit in San Diego. M-Files uses metadata, information about the document, to help store and discover documents and drive business process and document management.

The company is predicated on the idea that's it far easier for users to describe what a document is, then it is to decide where to store it in a folder, and because it's built from the ground up as a metadata solution, they say they are different from other ECM vendors, which typically build a metadata layer on top of the repository.

What this essentially means is they are eliminating the folder-driven system and replacing it with a metadata taxonomy. Such a system could introduce other levels of complexity around creating and maintaining that metadata, but in theory it should simplify document storage and retrieval.

M-Files is using metadata information to manage the entire process including permissions management, information retrieval, ownership and rights management, and even preservation and retention of information.

Company president Greg Milliken told me that the system is built on top of Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) Azure. When a user saves a document, the system forces them to make some metadata selections, and the choices they make drive other aspects of the system. It could be a proposal for a certain client, and it's shared with a team of sales and marketing users, which drives permissions. The date created might set a retention schedule in motion and so forth.

When it comes to retrieving, users can enter keywords or boolean search, and search for all proposals on company X in the last 6 months, which could make document retrieval a much simpler matter. As Milliken explained, we might not recall every detail about a document, but at a minimum, we know something about it such as the fact it was a proposal, and this can help users find the documents they need faster, he explained.

This week, M-Files announced more than $7 million in Series A funding and they are hoping that will help grow the company from its current level of just over a hundred employees to closer to a couple of hundred by year's end, which Milliken says could help them compete for some customers where they lack the resources to do so today.

Overall, I like the idea of a pure metadata driven approach. I spoke to Alfresco CTO John Newton in March and his company has introduced a metadata-driven approach to business process management within the Alfresco content management system. If the metadata can be extracted automatically, all the better, but the complexity comes into play when you depend on users to select the correct data elements.

That said, M-Files is trying a different approach and the folder metaphor has clearly run its course. It's hard to say if this will be better, but it's an attempt at moving the industry beyond folders and that's a step forward in itself.

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