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M-Files as the foundation for information management at Heilijgers

Maarten van Essen has an extensive background in ICT combined with the construction industry. Now in his 'second phase' at real estate company Heilijgers (Amersfoort), he finds that it is increasingly about information, applications and data quality. 'Technology has become commonplace, it almost comes out of the wall.' With a clear cloud-aside strategy and MS Azure as its platform, Heilijgers additionally chose M-Files as the foundation for information management. Precisely because it is all about guarantees, quality, clarity, efficiency, speed, clarity and control of information flows.

Maarten van Essen - ICT manager Heilijgers

Amersfoort-based Heilijgers is an enterprising and innovative real estate company that focuses on sustainability, digitalisation, diversity and connectedness. With smart accommodation solutions for both living and working, the company is working hard. Cooperation between the various parts of the organisation - but also with the chain partners - is key. So the company invests in smart information management solutions.

Complex information flows, extensive supply chain

Maarten van Essen, ICT manager: 'The growing amount of information, laws and regulations and working in chains are putting increasing pressure on organisations. Communicating between all those parties is, correspondingly, becoming more complicated. In addition, the number of (specialised) applications in use is growing, nowadays often in the form of a SaaS solution. Those applications often perform one particular function. The information is then usually stored within the SaaS solution, creating an extremely fragmented landscape. In such a landscape, you have to be constantly alert to keep a grip on your processes, information, investments and the supply chain.'

Van Essen: 'However, that information also offers great opportunities for the company. The more you know, the better you can assess the future. Therein lies great added value. Then you can better steer your business with decisions based on up-to-date and complete information.'

Volume of unstructured information grows

The amount unstructured information is also growing visibly. Van Essen: 'A lot of unstructured data, read documents, contain data that are often already in a database somewhere, as for instance in our 4PS Construct. There was a need to display that unstructured data structure and to be able to use it in combination with the structured data from other sources. It's all about the connection between that unstructured and structured information. Legally, we are also obliged to retain specific documents for a certain period of time and keep them accessible. At the same time, it is important for operations to have the documents at their disposal when they need them. Behold our challenge.'

Numerous projects on network drives

 'We were looking for a system that allowed our people to quickly access the right information (structured and unstructured!) from every angle. Even if it came from other sources,' says Van Essen.

In the construction world, work is mostly done in projects. 'Per project, documents are stored for this purpose, usually organised per department. This way - with several people - multiple versions of documents quickly arise. That management should actually be done more at the level above the departments. Now, searching for specific information became very difficult. After all, everyone uses a different - own - naming convention.'

Heilijgers employees at work with M-Files
Heilijgers employees at work with M-Files

Information management versus document management

Heilijgers uses MS Office365. It was obvious to start using SharePoint for the intended purpose, however, that did not happen. Van Essen is very clear about this: 'It is not fast enough, it is not particularly user-friendly and SharePoint (with MS Teams) is more of an advanced collaboration environment. That is substantially different from an information management environment. While talking to GeONE about this, we came to the conclusion that M-Files is a much better option: no flat document management system, but a intelligent information management system. A small nuance, but a world of difference in practice. It's about all information, wherever it is and in whatever format.'

Enter right once, benefit infinitely

To show immediately that M-Files really works, Van Essen took the lead with the ICT department. 'We started with documents and after some experience, we transferred data from the Configuration Management Database (CMDB) from Topdesk to M-Files. This involved not only files, but also hardware specifications, licence periods, etc. Essential information is now accessible to everyone, from their own angle. The clever way M-Files is set up with the metadata makes the system very insightful and user-friendly. If you put in some time beforehand and enter the data correctly once, you will have the rest of the information life cycle the benefit of it. That's a compelling argument to get users on board.'

Information instead of file

M-Files approaches everything as information rather than file. Therein lies its strength. 'M-Files is much like a so-called low-code platform: it is mainly about configuration, with which you then seamlessly connect it to key business processes. The system is also quickly adaptable to change(s).'

Back-office links

M-Files obviously had to link with the back-office applications. That was a requirement and, in addition, it had to have standard document management functionality and be customisable, open and user-friendly. That proved no problem for M-Files. 'This also allows employees to tap into other sources to retrieve and access information. That guarantees that people are always using the correct and most up-to-date information.'

Added value GeONE

This revealed the added value of GeONE as a premium M-Files partner. Van Essen: 'GeONE not only has a lot of knowledge of and experience with M-Files, but they also understand our business processes and what is important to us. They listen very carefully to what you say. Together, we set up a step-by-step plan to make the roll-out as smooth as possible. Then we started working in sessions with the various departments to analyse the information on the network drives and to base a concept design for M-Files on that. For each department and user group, the system was further customised and people were instructed. A good way to explain how it works is the example of booking a holiday online. There, you can create all kinds of filters to get through the entire offer faster. You search based on certain properties (metadata), e.g. price, country, region, type of accommodation, etc.. Actually, it works the same way with information search: you are looking for a contract, from 2018, from customer X. If you have thought about the set-up beforehand, you can manoeuvre very quickly... That approach has contributed significantly to making this project a success.'

Follow-up with M-Files

If it were up to Van Essen, almost the entire Intranet would switch to M-Files. 'This is possible because an Intranet has the same objective as M-Files: central sharing of information. We will also use M-Files Process Maps for the Heilijgers Quality System: a graphic representation of processes with associated information/documents. This year, the staff departments will switch to M-Files, with a place in it for the permanent consultations. Next year it will be the turn of the project organisation. Van Essen: "Linking the work environment to M-Files, as the central link in the ICT landscape, means that everyone has direct authorised access to information relevant to them. This kind of change especially requires a mental conversion of people. That takes some time, but when people experience the benefits they are quickly converted. From the start, we also took the MT of Heilijgers along to experience the benefits for themselves. Then it suddenly becomes very practical and tangible.'

Ultimately, M-Files must soon become the entry point for chain partners - suppliers, subcontractors, municipalities or other bodies et cetera - to access information within Heilijgers. Van Essen is already looking forward to it...

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