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With the purchase of Apprento, M-Files brings machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities into its information management platform PHOTO: Alex Blăjan

M-Files added a little more artificial intelligence to its "intelligent" information management platform last week with the acquisition of machine learning and natural language processing solutions provider Apprento. 

Financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

M-Files' Growing AI Chops

Fredricton, New Brunswick-based Apprento looks like a good fit for M-Files. 

The Apprento Context Engine promises to "understands both the semantics and the concepts within your content and communication streams, enabling it to turn a flood of data into something simple and actionable for end-users."

Since its 2001 founding in Finland, M-Files has built its enterprise content management business on its ability to manage and search content, regardless of location. 

It does this via unique metadata-based search capabilities, which allow workers to find and use content without the need to move it.

The addition of the Apprento Context Engine clearly complements M-Files existing abilities and should fit well in the M-Files portfolio.

The acquisition follows the June announced partnership between M-Files and Moscow-based ABBYY, which develops language-based and artificial intelligence technologies.

Both the Apprento acquisition and the ABBYY partnership are part of M-Files' wider strategy to make information management more intelligent using AI.

“Making information management more intelligent is a core tenet of the M-Files vision and strategy. Artificial intelligence (AI) technologies offer huge promise in realizing that vision," Greg Milliken SVP of Marketing at Plano, Texas-based M-Files told CMSWire.

“In Apprento's case, we were first attracted to their experience with applying natural language processing (NLP) and natural language understanding (NLU) to practical business needs.”

As part of the deal, the Apprento team will join M-Files, bringing their AI experience that Miliken said is part of M-Files’ future.

The Failure of Current Content Management Approaches

M-Files plans on integrating the Apprento technology directly into its platform to offer as part of the core solution.

The AI capabilities will be available both in the cloud and on-premises. M-Files is a fully hybrid solution, meaning it can be deployed either fully in the cloud with a SaaS model running on Microsoft Azure, or on-premises, as well as mixed cloud and on-premises environments, with an identical user experience and functionality across all.

Artifical intelligence is quickly becoming a core part of the enterprise content management space. 

According to Milliken, the traditional enterprise content management market is characterized by a static, one-size fits all approach which stifled innovation.  

That approach depended on hierarchical folder structures that classified documents and information by storing in different locations.

This older approach stifled innovation, Milliken argued, by locking information up in inefficient systems that users have not adopted. It also resulted in users working around the systems management puts in place, chaotically proliferating content across systems and repositories including content management systems, emails, individual computers, file sharing services and network file shares.

“It's clear: the old ways weren't and aren't delivering, and the minute users find a simple tool that allows them to work the way they want, that helps them individually versus being a corporate mandate, they actively use it,” he said.

“Current thinking goes ‘More user adoption equals greater ROI.' In fact, that's one of the key flaws in current approaches — they aren’t being used, at least not to the extent they should. And just as more use leads to greater ROI, the corollary is also true; less use ultimately leads to lower ROI and unmet expectations."

AI Ushers in a ‘New’ Approach to ECM

The new approach is more flexible, dynamic and personalized, he added, allowing users to work smarter rather than harder. And AI is a key component of that new approach.

AI lends itself naturally to the “what,” metadata-driven approach to information management, versus the “where” traditional approach.

AI can evaluate file content for specific terms, like a customer name, project or case, which can then automatically initiate processes, such as a review and approval, as well as set access permissions.

The ECM market, like other technologies, is in the early stages of AI development and still feeling its way forward. AI is still in a nascent stage as well.

“The bigger challenge comes with trying to integrate modern technologies like AI within existing, often entrenched and aging IT environments without ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water,'” Milliken added.

“This requires acknowledging that the static and inflexible approaches of the past aren't going to work, and embracing alternatives that can effectively integrate and maximize the investment in existing systems and processes.”

A phased approach to modernization that minimizes the need for expensive migration projects avoids some of these issues. Change management is simpler with this approach too, by allowing innovation to start with smaller teams and departments, while not disturbing those relying on existing systems.

What's Next for M-Files

M-Files is in the second phase of its development. The first phase was about information in M-Files and how to manage it using a metadata-based approach.

The second phase is about the backend and making M-Files repository neutral.

“The third phase is about the front end. What if everything just discussed could reveal itself wholly within other user interfaces and ecosystems,” Milliken asked.

“Think Office 365, G Suite, Salesforce, and even applications and ecosystems. This third phase takes us to a place where Office 365 provides a user interface known by tens of millions to the M-Files intelligent information management platform that unifies and manages business content and information residing anywhere, in context.”