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Accelerating Digital Transformation with a Hybrid Approach

We've probably all heard that stat, or some variation of it, related to the explosion of information. I think it originated in a Fireside Chat with Eric Schmidt at Google Atmosphere in 2010, almost ten years ago, when he said the following:

There were five Exabytes of information created between the dawn of civilization through 2003, but that much information is now created every two days.”

The specific stat has been debunked (basically, way more than five exabytes was created between the dawn of time through 2003), but it certainly was sensational, and the point he was making was, in general, true. The volume of information we have to deal with is exploding, and it's accelerating much like an IT "Big Bang" in which more and more information is being created, faster and faster, spreading "farther" apart over time.

The old days of trying to consolidate everything in one repository seem almost quaint nowadays. Information seems almost everywhere today, in documents, emails, chats, videos, tweets, etc. Increasingly, it's in the cloud, in business applications and repositories, such as Salesforce, NetSuite, SharePoint Online, Box, Dropbox, OneDrive, Workday, Zuora, but it's also still on company servers, in on-premises SharePoint libraries, network file shares, ECM systems, and so on, as well as individual PCs and mobile devices. The cloud, mobile, collaboration, security and automation are all part of the increasingly complex mix.

Organizations of all types are having to rethink their approaches to deal with this explosion of information, in addition to ever more competitive and demanding business environments, where compliance with regulations and standards, or just organizational governance policies, are all part of the new normal. "Digital transformation," the "digital workplace," and "digital business," are more than just buzzwords, even if they've been overused by the marketing types, they are imperatives to remaining competitive moving forward.

Unstructured Information

There's another statistic that has surfaced in a variety of studies over the years that indicates that 80% to 90% of all information is "unstructured". In other words, in documents, files, images, videos, etc., rather than in a database or line of business application managing "structured" information, such as Salesforce, NetSuite and Workday. Moreover, this unstructured information is growing fast as well.

Some might argue with the exact percentage of information that is unstructured, but the key point is not so much the precise accuracy of the stats, whatever the exact number is, it's the majority of information in any business — and it's getting bigger. This means that to perform any task in any company as effectively as possible, this huge source of information in unstructured form has to be readily accessible, and ideally, the most relevant information easily identifiable from the rest.

Productivity and Focus

We're all striving to prioritize, to focus on the most important things to the exclusion of the less important, moving the "Big Rocks," as Steven Covey would say. The challenge increases when one considers the "Big Bang" referenced above, i.e., the information is all over the place, and increasingly so.

Further, if such a large amount of information is spread out across the organization in different systems, it becomes one of the major forces that pulls our focus away from the task at hand, decreasing productivity, slowing down the sales cycle, degrading customer service, and on and on. Think, you're in Salesforce working on an account, and you realize you need a document, or multiple documents that aren’t stored in Salesforce. Maybe a contract, proposal, a project plan, or a recent SOW and/or presentation. What happens? You have to stop and look for it, and often that requires leaving Salesforce and accessing another system to find the document(s) you need to move forward. So, you're not only having to switch context from the specific Account or Case you are working on, you are having to literally switch completely from the context of the Salesforce UI.

Let's not even get into the question of whether it's the right version of a document, and how ensuring that would improve productivity and quality, let's just consider the basic idea of simply being able to get to the information spread out across the organization without having to totally stop and recalibrate to another interface. If you can do this easily, right from within the Salesforce UI, focus improves and productivity increases.

Two Phases: Access then Context

M-Files brings a new approach to accessing and managing information in a unified manner that is increasingly spread across the organization right within the Salesforce UI. Think, from a user perspective, storage location doesn’t matter, only what the information is and what it's related to, e.g., the account/customer. There are two phases to this: the first is simply access, being able to get to the information you need while minimizing context switching. The second is accessing that information contextually.

It's true that just accessing the information within the Salesforce UI is one level of context, but the second and even more important context, is the context of the account, opportunity, case, etc. Imagine being able to not only access the information from within Salesforce, but then also being able to instantly access the specific information that is related to the account or case of interest. We believe this is a key requirement to the ultimate realization of the Customer 360 vision, and the notion of a 360-degree view enabling access to related information regardless of where you start is a core part of the M-Files intelligent information management vision.

User Adoption, Change Management and Hybrid

As the heading above suggests, there are three topics I'd like to briefly cover in this last section, so let's take them one at a time.

The first is user adoption. People will tend to adopt and consistently use tools where they are able to get their work done most efficiently. If you can enable people to remain focused, eliminating or minimizing the forces that tend to defocus them, then user adoption will be improved. In other words, if one can stay focused in Salesforce and get to the information they need, they'll tend to use it more, to adopt it more readily and consistently. At first, that may be primarily just because they don’t have to leave Salesforce and use another system -- more eyeballs are on Salesforce longer, leading to their owners becoming more familiar, comfortable and productive.

The second topic is change management. Change and innovation doesn’t happen in lock step across an organization, some folks are on the leading edge and others are on the trailing edge. This disparity is one of the biggest obstacles to innovation; how do you embrace the innovators without alienating the less innovative? What if you could do both? In other words, what if the organization and your IT systems were a bit more elastic, accommodating both groups, as well as all those in between? Innovators could push the envelope and advance, improve processes, identify best practices and so on, while those who are more resistant to change could phase into it, safely utilizing the existing tools and processes they are comfortable with now, and as the new approaches being driven by the innovators show results, they can adopt them at their own pace.

Here’s a simple direct example: by enabling direct access to information in on-premises SharePoint libraries from within Salesforce (not to mention essentially any other repository or system, on-premises or in the cloud) without preventing others who are comfortable with and dependent on SharePoint from using it the way they always have, the organization becomes more elastic, enabling improvement and innovation while accommodating those who are more reluctant to change.

In-place Information Management and Data Migration

At M-Files, we call this managing information "in place" without destabilizing or disturbing existing systems and processes. This also has huge implications on the need for and pace of data migration, another often killer obstacle to advancement and innovation. Data migration, the need for it, and how and when it occurs, is another very interesting topic that is part of what we describe as intelligent information management, but I'll reserve that for another time. Suffice it to say, if being able to avoid migration, or doing it in a phased, intelligent manner, influenced and driven by user behavior and machine learning, is interesting to you, we would be happy to explore it further.

The last topic for this section is related to hybrid IT environments. In other words, mixed environments of solutions and data in the cloud and on-premises. As a cloud pioneer, Salesforce has been dealing with the realities of hybrid environments since its inception. The cloud has gone mainstream, so while some people, businesses and industries have proven to be more resistant to moving to the cloud than others, it's now a matter of when rather than if. But even in those organizations that have embraced the cloud, for instance, by implementing Salesforce, they often still have significant amounts of information in on-premises repositories, the most prevalent being on-premises SharePoint libraries and network file shares. The M-Files Connector for Salesforce enables connecting these on-premises repositories directly to Salesforce in the cloud. This hybrid architecture enables a new component called M-Files Ground Link which you can read about here: M-Files Ground Link Connects Salesforce to Documents in On-Premises SharePoint Libraries.

Note that this has some similarities to Files Connect, but putting links to files stored in external repositories within Salesforce records is just the beginning; the full vision is about in-context access to information regardless of where it's stored, creating a full 360 view across structured data and unstructured content. But before getting into the Holy Grail of truly unified in-context information, let's focus on the important gap the M-Files Salesforce Connector fills that there is no solution for today. That is, connecting Salesforce directly to on-premises SharePoint libraries. If that is a need in any of your customers or prospects, M-Files offers a solution.

There's a much bigger vision and integrated solution addressing use cases across industries, both regulated and not, but this simple use case is a great starting point.

Learn more about the M-Files Connector for Salesforce on AppExchange.

Greg Milliken has over 25 years of management experience in a variety of technology companies, including startups and public companies. Greg oversees strategic alliances at M-Files, after leading worldwide marketing and opening North American operations for M-Files.

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