The genie is out of the bottle – and needs guidance

Editorial Type: Opinion Date: 2021-06-21 Views: 763 Tags: Networking, Cloud, Digital Transformation, M-Files
What's the point in returning to regular on-premises work if you can also work remotely in the cloud? By Herbert Lörch, Regional Vice President, Western Europe, M-Files explores the issues

Proactively or reactively, many organisations have experienced a tremendous digital transformation in the past few months. Within a few days or weeks of the global pandemic starting, most employees have found themselves switching to remote work. Working from outside the office is the new normal. For many organisations, platforms such as Microsoft Office 365 or Google G Suite have been the means of choice. They are, without question, ideally suited to bring together distributed teams and enable collaborative work on documents and processes. Of course, not everything has gone smoothly, and many employees in IT departments and at service providers have had to work under incredible pressure, but on the whole, most companies were surprised at how quickly they have been able to adapt. In retrospect, the pandemic might be seen as the necessary shock and catalyst for fast digitisation.

Since then, many employees have felt inspired by new possibilities and have eagerly used the wide range of features and apps offered in Microsoft Teams as an example. What's the point in returning to regular on-premises work if you can also work remotely in the cloud? Why not use the vast array of new cloud apps instead of waiting for tedious IT projects? This genie is out of the bottle, and that's a good thing. Diversity enriches, flexibility makes agile - and the new role of IT is not to get the genie back in the bottle but to control it in such a way that maximum benefit and security is achieved.

But as with every great party, the first ones to it can be left with the biggest hangover. As flexible, modern, and user-friendly as the new cloud wizards are, they often offer little in the way of information governance and compliance - at least out of the box.

This can be quickly explained using Microsoft Teams as an example. Teams is ideally suited for quick coordination and easy collaboration. However, it is a nightmare for the management of files and documents: With every new team created, an isolated SharePoint site with one directory per channel is created in the background to hold the files. Since changes – such as the renaming of channels – are not consistently propagated throughout, these structures inevitably diverge. Inconsistencies and duplicates are therefore pre-programmed. Not to mention that countless individual SharePoint sites with their own default rights and user structures can cause major issues in themselves regarding Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC). Uniform rules for retention periods and archiving, audit trails with complete proof of access and changes, and automatic content classification are also missing. Of course, Microsoft also offers mechanisms here that would allow at least a rudimentary form of control. But they require a consistently planned procedure with clearly defined structures, rules, and roles - something which there was simply no time for at the peak of the lockdown.

What has been described here for Microsoft Teams applies in a similar way to other popular new cloud services such as Microsoft OneDrive, Google G Suite, Google Drive, Dropbox etc. All these new platforms now enrich the already existing mix of storage in file systems, archives or DMS/ECM and ERP, CRM and SCM applications. In the new normality, the number of potential storage locations has suddenly multiplied massively. Control and GRC will certainly not become easier. If data protection and IT security officers were able to look the other way at the beginning of the crisis or, in case of doubt, weigh up in favour of maintaining business operations, they will clearly not be able to accept this as a permanent state of affairs.

Things will not be able to remain as they are - but cleaning up is not very popular, and who wants to clean up when, even unintentionally, new chaos is constantly being created? The solution is intelligent content services, which take over this task automatically or, even better, ensure in the background that no mess is created in the first place or that it can be ignored. To do this, they have to have two essential capabilities: flexibility in terms of the platforms used and artificial intelligence as the basis for automation.

Within our M-Files platform, for example, it makes no difference whether a file is stored in the file system, in SharePoint, Dropbox or in our own repository, since there are standard connectors for each of these platforms. M-Files can use AI to automatically analyse the contents of the file, classify it and enrich it with metadata. For example, if M-Files determines that the information is confidential, it can transfer the file to its own repository and restrict access. Documents that must be retained can be archived accordingly. Duplicates are reliably recognised during storage and the user is notified accordingly. Versioning and check-in/check-out are also possible where the original storage does not provide for this.

Figuratively speaking, M-Files cleans up after the party without the participants needing to do anything. This means that users can use a wide range of storage locations, from the familiar file system to new cloud services, and the Content Services ensure uniform handling of the files and documents stored there. Users can use the file as they wish via the cloud services, for example, even if it is located on-premises, and IT retains transparent control over the information assets.

But intelligent content services can do much more. They are the key to truly intelligent information management. Any information becomes more valuable if it can be used in the right context. A project contract in itself is interesting, but it becomes much more valuable when it is linked to contextual information about the project content, the project team, the customer or similar projects. This is precisely what intelligent content services do automatically. Using AI techniques such as content analytics and natural language understanding, the content of documents is unlocked, and a context is created in the form of classification and links to other information.

Due to the cross-platform approach, this context can also extend beyond system boundaries. For example, the sales department can work with Salesforce and the project team with Microsoft Teams and automatically exchange information. M-Files recognises a quote in Salesforce as such, assigns it to the correct project, and can offer it to teams as contextual information. Conversely, the project status report from SharePoint can be integrated into Salesforce, for example. All of this is mainly done automatically without any programming by universal mechanisms. Modern content services can be seamlessly embedded in a wide range of applications and cloud services and offer the user context, metadata and even comprehensive processes and workflows - without the users having to leave their favoured work environments.

The automated production of context is like the super glue that holds all information together, even if it is distributed over many different systems. In this way, intelligent content services enable users to maintain an overview and recognise context in the brave new world of cloud services.

The enormous impact of the coronavirus crisis on digitisation must now be directed into the right channels. Freed from system constraints, users can access the cloud services that enable them to do their jobs in the best way possible. In the background, intelligent cloud services ensure that uniform rules for handling information are observed concerning governance, information security and compliance. The opportunity is there, let's make something of it.