M-Files and Master Data Management
Why are they relevant to product development? Let’s start with master data management, and then discuss M-Files. Master data management is a set of solutions meant to address the burgeoning problem of different functional departments using various enterprise systems. For example, there is service life cycle management, product life cycle management, manufacturing execution systems, and ERP. These systems have a lot of common information, such as part numbers, that need to be consistent. That’s where master data management fits into the broader enterprise set of needs.
But what is the value for that type of solution in product development, other than playing nice with other functional departments and making sure you’re on the same page? Well, M-Files took that core need and tweaked it to be all about finding the right information very quickly and very easily. We’ll talk about why that’s important here in a second. But first, let’s talk about what M-Files does.
What are M-Files’ capabilities?
First off, they offer a repository of information similar to data management, generalized document management, or enterprise content management. The information is then generalized for the whole enterprise. Anyone in any functional department can store information, files, documents, spreadsheets, CAD models, drawings, and engineering specific stuff into the repository.
The second capability is connecting to other repositories of information such as Dropbox, other cloud solutions, or other data management solutions. The idea here is you connect everything, even folders on your desktop, to where you have data and information you want to manage and find.
The third capability is metadata, where you can tag anything stored in the M-Files repository or other repositories. It’s very organic. You can define whatever tags you want to apply to that file. You don’t have to follow a restricting classification system where you have to comply with specific definitions and route them down into some company-wide definition. You can apply any classification of information so you can find it later.
Using Artificial Intelligence
Of course, allowing people to create their classification brings up a problem. When everyone in the organization creates their own classification structure, it means no one else is using the same one. How do you get around that? Well, M-Files has an artificial intelligence application to stitch together the different classifications. Then, using AI, the search capability looks across the tags to find almost anything in all these repositories. You can also use the search capability with other enterprise solutions such as ERP, service life cycle management, PLM, or data management. So, suddenly, you can find any information in any of your enterprise systems. The combination of having a repository, connecting it to any other repository, allowing people to define their own classifications, using AI to keep it all connected, and then making that search available anywhere is powerful.
Why is this so important for product development? Well, it’s an acknowledgment of the reality of modern product development, especially for works in process. Engineering releases information when they finish it. They want the whole enterprise to be able to see and access the information as the definition for manufacturing, sourcing and maintaining the product. But there’s also a ton of unreleased work in process that is still pretty important. Maybe there are iterations of designs not chosen for whatever reason, but that doesn’t mean it’s useless and thrown away. You can find that work quickly and easily now.
Now, with very accessible cloud solutions, the use of email, and the use of the desktop for local work in process iterations, M-Files’ capabilities are really interesting. Using AI for rationalizing a classification system enables users to find information easily. So, if you have a lot of repositories or a lot of information spread out all over the place, you might want to consider this solution.