In 2011, closely on the heels of selling his latest successful tech startup — supply-chain software provider Emptoris — Avner Schneur was named CEO of privately-held GRM Document Management. Founded in 1987, GRM was known for its customer service and had built a strong market position in records-management services, but the company was unwaveringly focused on managing and storing physical documents, presenting a host of new challenges to the serial entrepreneur.
Schneur dug in, concluding sales growth would ultimately depend on how quickly the company could adapt to the digital transformation of its end markets and the workplace. He developed and began to implement a strategy to boost GRM’s capabilities in digital information management — a transition he knew would be no easy task.
Advisors suggested that he let go much of the sales force -- many with no software experience -- and start over with digital specialists. Schneur faced an important decision: follow his advisor’s recommendations or go with his gut?
Based in Jersey City, N.J., GRM is the country’s third-largest provider of records-management services. In China, where GRM has been operating since 2000, it’s the largest. GRM has 1,000 employees globally, including over 500 in the U.S, about 200 in China and the balance in South America and Africa.
While Schneur needed to quickly ramp up GRM’s digital capabilities, he was reluctant to simply discard the vast repository of institutional knowledge that the existing sales team represented. He knew experience and expertise were at the heart of GRM’s competitive advantage.
“These employees were – and still are – deeply dedicated to GRM and its clients. They also were responsible for building GRM from the ground up,” says Schneur. “More importantly, they knew our clients inside and out, were records-management specialists, and expert in matters of compliance and governance. Those capabilities were extraordinarily valuable. So we decided on another route: invest in our team.”
Six years ago, Schneur’s professional background was atypical for the industry. A native of Israel, he had spent his entire professional career in the U.S., leading a number of startups from inception to IPO or successful exits. He also held advanced degrees in industrial engineering and information systems from Technion, part of the prestigious Israel Institute of Technology, where he now serves on the faculty advisory board.
Drawing on his experience as a technology entrepreneur, Schneur brought aboard several outside hires as so-called “digital quarterbacks” and strategically placed them geographically to drive GRM’s reinvention, help instill new skills and build a “digital-first” culture. This group, in short order, built a customized curriculum for a series of employee workshops across GRM’s facilities worldwide.
With the benefit of hindsight, the effort was prescient and clearly paid off. Since 2011, GRM’s annual sales have tripled, while turnover has been minimal.
“Our commitment to digital services and comprehensive training, which continues to this day, are the best investments we’ve ever made,” says Schneur. “Today, 70% of GRM’s new client bookings are for digital solutions.”
In late 2016, Staples selected GRM as its first services partner, another validation of the decision to go digital. Under a licensing agreement, GRM markets paper- and Cloud-based records storage services to small businesses, operating as Staples Records and Cloud Management.
The company’s expertise in managing physical records was key to GRM’s transition to digital-records management. GRM’s success in managing the intricacies of indexing, filing, retaining, and tracking corporate files – and the inherent complexities of regulatory requirements in records retention -- translated directly to cost-effective digital records management.
Today, managing and interpreting unstructured data is challenging companies like never before, particularly in the health care, financial services, and legal industries, where data extends well beyond traditional digital formats in the form of handwritten notes, receipts, social media posts, e-mails, texts, letters, and other “less formal” correspondence.
“Unstructured” essentially describes data that’s in a form that can’t be readily stored and integrated into most IT systems – without some upfront work. GRM says 80% of the typical organization’s data is unstructured.
Using a proprietary cloud-based, ECM software platform (enterprise content management), GRM helps companies keep up with the volumes upon volumes of digital data they create, and then maintain and access these records quickly and securely.
Many of GRM’s clients operate in highly regulated industries, where there is a need for services that help companies and governments not only use data more effectively, but also meet stringent regulatory requirements in maintaining that data. Regulatory compliance is the dominant market driver. As such, business is booming.
“The most-pressing client concerns today revolve around regulatory compliance and data security,” says Schneur.
The last decade has seen a rise in both the number and complexity of records-retention regulations across industries. That compliance imperative means more processes and audits. To help companies keep pace with the ever-changing rules, GRM also built and maintains GRMpedia -- a comprehensive, searchable database of 16,000 federal, state and industry regulations that dictate the specific records that businesses need to maintain and for how long.
“Some clients are hesitant to make that major change to, once-and-for-all, transition from paper toward digital-centric operations, given their long histories and comfort level in storing physical files,” says Schneur. “Some of the hesitation is due to a misperception that ‘going digital’ is expensive and can strain a company’s internal capabilities and resources.
“Despite that initial reluctance, most companies today – regardless of their size and industry – recognize the strategic necessity to move to digital. As such, they’re increasingly seeking cost-effective solutions that are easily implemented across geographies, functions and users,” says Schneur. “And that’s what GRM does better than anyone else.”