iManage's RAVN acquisition: The devil will be in the delivery
iManage’s acquisition of RAVN Systems has been greeted with enthusiasm from the market, albeit I speak for many when I say the wider success of the deal will rise or fall on whether RAVN is left to stick to its own knitting.
A surprise in the sense that it was a very closely guarded secret, iManage announced the acquisition on 24 May, bringing an end to the question over how RAVN will obtain funding and take the company to the next level after some fairly monumental recent successes.
It’s no secret that CEO David Lumsden has, having been appointed in January 2017 to help grow the company, been looking at a range of different options including private equity funding, as RAVN looks to scale up the business.
This marriage with iManage, which was mid-way through agreeing a partnership with RAVN, reunites a team that worked together pre-2010 at Autonomy, where RAVN founders Peter Wallqvist, Jan Van Hoecke, Simon Pecovnik and Sjoerd Smeets all worked before starting RAVN, overlapping with a period when iManage was also a part of the Autonomy stable.
Geoff Hornsby, iManage general manager EMEA, tells me: “The benefit of having worked together is that we’re friends and know each other and trust each other. It’s like a family reunion where you say, ‘why haven’t I seen more of you?’”
For iManage, the deal is something of a no-brainer. In line with the wider trend towards applying analytics to law firm data, it has been working towards transforming its document management system into something far greater than a document dustbin.
Hornsby says: “When you examine what the two organisations do, there’s real synergy. We’re saying we hold the data and protect the data and tell customers if cyberattacks happening and then we also want to unlock the value of the data in the system.”
Certainly the deal has been received well by clients, and at one of the largest of those, Daniel Pollick, director of business transformation and CIO at DLA Piper said: “One of the primary applications of AI and analytics is going to be document related – we have tens of millions of documents in our DMS – so tight integration of such technology with our DMS is going to open up lots of interesting possibilities.” (see below for his full comment.)
The acquisition may also eventually enable iManage to move off the IDOL search engine, which it currently leases and underpins iManage Work, although Hornsby says: “We’re not taking any rushed decisions, we’ll look at it all.”
For RAVN, which has shown its wide appeal in the likes of work with the Serious Fraud Office, where its AI engine RAVN ACE is a key tool in the Rolls Royce bribery and corruption investigation, as well as outside of legal, it will inject necessary funds and open up RAVN to iManage’s 3000 customer base.
Lumsden tells me: “Joining iManage will make it easier to adopt RAVN technology and grant RAVN access to additional resources, new channels to market and direct access to over 3000 iManage customers worldwide.
He adds: “By taking advantage of iManage’s maturity in the tech space we’ll be able to develop our products more quickly and get them to market faster.”
iManage will certainly be able to help focus RAVN’s growth – the last 18 months has seen the company visibly mature and understand how to package up its technology but iManage will be able to help put that on turbo charge.
The big question is whether the acquisition will also limit RAVN’s growth to within the iManage portfolio, given the wide application of technology such as ACE, Extract and Connect Enterprise.
Linklaters director of information systems and strategy, Matt Peers tells me (see below for full quotes): “How they bring the organisations together will be where the challenges lie. There’s no doubt that the search side of the RAVN business will enhance the iManage product offering but RAVN was about much more than just this.
“Smaller organisations are able to take risks and innovate freely and if RAVN are to remain as a ringfenced entity within iManage then it could be a real success but if they are forced down the route of being forced to follow large company processes and we see them consumed into the larger organisation, then one suspects that innovation will be stifled and their tech will simply enhance the current iManage search/document management world focussing on structured data, while leaving untapped the potential around unstructured data.”
Stifling innovation is a challenge in any acquisition, iManage should know, they’ve been acquired a number of times and would be the first to say they have learned the hard way how not to do it.
According to Hornsby, the intention is very much to leave RAVN, which will retain its name, to get on with the day job. The management structure will stay roughly the same, and RAVN will even remain in its Clifton Street offices. Hornsby says: “iManage Govern is run out of Belfast and when we started that we didn’t say you have to be in London. It’s the same with for the RAVN operation. We will see a merger of certain parts – the sales teams will merge.” That means Gareth Thomas, for one, will be working as part of the UK combined sales team and Hornsby says: “I think I’ll have one of the strongest sales teams around.”
He adds: “What we want to do is let them get on with what they’re good at.”
In terms of the tech offering, some of RAVN’s tech will be incorporated into the core iManage Work DMS while elsewhere it will available as modules. Customers will be able to auto-classify documents so they can be used or protected based on their content; extract key information such as dates obligations; and amounts; identify documents that are subject to compliance requirements – including GDPR; and find terms and clauses for knowledge management purposes.
RAVN will continue to work with outside clients and its partnerships with the likes of Tikit will notably continue as before. The pricing work that RAVN is doing with IT consultant Neil Cameron should remain unaffected and Hornsby said: “We’re not going to stop them doing anything they are doing. We have as much to learn from them as they do from us.”
With iManage’s ConnectLive conference coming up in London in June there will be a big focus on RAVN so it will be worth attending to find out more.
For me, I can’t help thinking that RAVN should have held out for longer, although if iManage really can give it the freedom it needs – and the early signs are good – the deal will unquestionably be a win for both companies. As ever, the devil will be in the delivery.
Early market reaction (we will keep you updated as more comes in):
Daniel Pollick, director of business transformation and CIO, DLA Piper
I think this is an exciting acquisition for customers and for iManage. One of the primary applications of AI and analytics is going to be document related – we have tens of millions of documents in our DMS – so tight integration of such technology with our DMS is going to open up lots of interesting possibilities. And for iManage, it could transform their core product from being a repository to being an engine. There are a few other document-centric AI products in the same space, each with different strengths, so there won’t be a monolithic document ‘AI’ solution, but iManage/RAVN will certainly have a lot to go at.
Matt Peers, director of information systems and strategy, Linklaters
How they bring the organisations together will be where the challenges lie. There’s no doubt that the search side of the RAVN business will enhance the iManage product offering but RAVN was about much more than just this.
“Smaller organisations are able to take risks and innovate freely and if RAVN are to remain as a ringfenced entity within iManage then it could be a real success but if they are forced down the route of being forced to follow large company processes and we see them consumed into the larger organisation then one suspects that innovation will be stifled and their tech will simply enhance the current iManage search/document management world focussing on structured data while leaving untapped the potential around unstructured data.”
I think it’s important that they retain the RAVN name in order to maintain some distance from the core iManage offering which is synonymous with document management (and I’d say the reputation is for stable, dependable document management rather than being at the cutting edge). One of the good things about RAVN is that they were a supplier who were looking to supply more than just the legal sector, whist I know that iManage have cross sector clients their primary focus is legal which can keep good ideas from outside at bay.
Only time will tell on this one but there are definitely worse organisations that could have bought RAVN. We have enjoyed working with RAVN in their pre-iManage mode and hope to build on some of the project successes that we’ve already seen.
Robin Hall, head of KM at Howard Kennedy and Jonathan Freedman, CTO at Howard Kennedy – which recently signed up as a client with RAVN
My immediate feelings are that, on the positive side, I would expect that as a result of this the really excellent integration with FileSite could only get better. The strong and highly functional integration with FileSite was one of the key benefits to us of bringing RAVN into the firm. The flipside of that, I hope that RAVN’s openness to other content sets and types and through federated search is not damaged by this association. It will be interesting to see how this pans out.
“I think Robin put it very well indeed, with my future technology hat on, I would only add that I hope that even closer integration between the iManage Work DMS and RAVN AI technology moving forward will help overcome the limitations of the current IDOL searching and move the iManage Work product beyond just being a DMS into being an integrated knowledge management and business intelligence tool.”