Interview with Daniel Chalef, CEO of KnowledgeTree

KnowledgeTree has recently been making headlines here on CMS Critic with their recent shift to a SaaS based document management platform and we decided to take some time to find out the reasons for their move. In this interview with CEO, Daniel Chalef, we discuss the reasons behind the move to SaaS and his vision for the future of document management, among other topics of interest.


CC: Can you give our readers a bit of a basic rundown as to how you came to be with KnowledgeTree and a bit about your background


DC: Mike, the genesis of KnowledgeTree was a product developed for a South African customer by a South African systems integrator. At the time I was CTO of the SI and we decided to open source the results of the project.

We put the project up on to and started seeing many thousands of downloads per month and we figured there was a business model to be had.

We subsequently started up a company in the US, of which I became the CEO, and redeveloped the software which is the incarnation of KnowledgeTree's document management solution that is available online today.

CC: Interesting. Compared to competing DMS products, what do you think made KnowledgeTree peak the interest of potential customers/users?

DC: To business users:

  • simplicity
  • fast time to value (i.e. what equipment, people, configuration and customization, and training is required to start seeing value from the product)
  • affordability versus very expensive enterprise content management suites.

For technologists running KnowledgeTree on-premise:

  • The accessibility of KnowledgeTree's code. Being written in PHP it is easy to modify and extend
  • The fact that KnowledgeTree is delivered as a service, a cloud offering, really assists both business users and technologists with seeing value very quickly

KnowledgeTree is designed to allow users to quickly start managing documents online, and to go beyond other basic content management services available today in in allowing users to manage their document lifecycle with tools such as workflow and contracts management features.

KnowledgeTree also has pretty neat integration with Microsoft Office applications, the desktop and even HTML5 drag and drop.

CC: Can you explain a bit further how your customers see benefit from moving to your platform now that it's SaaS based? What is the primary difference to the end user between a SaaS cloud offering and a locally managed install, in your opinion?

DC: Document management as a Service provides the following benefits:

  • Customers don't need to make capital expenditure on equipment and software;
  • The software can be implemented immediately, without requiring IT's assistance, reducing IT's workload and streamlining the purchasing process
  • their content is stored securely, with many vendors servicing customers out of datacenters that have undergone stringent physical and logical security certifications (such as SAS70 Type II certification) often this level of security is higher than their own infrastructure
  • coupled with security, DM as a service provides for very high availability and data integrity – again, the massive redundancy available on cloud infrastructure often far exceeds what a customer can economically implement themselves
  • In a mobile, or geographically dispersed workforce, a customer can ensure that all knowledge workers can access content from wherever they may be, without having to lay on additional network connectivity into their own datacenters.

Additionally, with software as a service, all upgrades and improvements are managed by the vendor, and this further reduces the burden on internal IT teams, and ensures that the customer is always running the latest, most capable and most secure product.

CC: Those are certainly compelling reasons. You mentioned the mobile workforce.. how well does KT integrate with the increasing number of mobile platforms on the market?

DC: Our web interface can be used from Webkit based phones (Android, iOS) and we have Android and iOS apps in the works.

CC: What is your vision for the next 5 years as to how people will be interacting with and manipulating their data? Do you see a change with regards to how it is being accessed? Do you anticipate more mobile applications coming into play? How is KnowledgeTree preparing itself for these shifts in the way content is managed?

DC: We will have greatly increased need to manage content. Currently, very few organizations are managing all sources of content – IM, social streams (whether generated internally, or on external social platforms), the majority of email etc are not currently managed, with adverse effects on an organization's ability to manage risk.

This problem is only going to increase and often times, the burden of doing so is too large (expensive) to manage centrally. As a result, line of business managers are often bearing the costs, both in terms of risk and in terms of operating efficiency. The costs of managing this explosion of content have until now been very significant, primarily due to two factors: available software, and the model the software was taken to market.

The available software has been expensive, difficult to implement and difficult for the line of business to maintain. It's required expensive consultants to configure, and often manage and the software was only available on-premise – with all the associated capital investment required in physical infrastructure.

Alongside the explosion of content, we've also seen the rise of cloud computing. Storage costs and computing costs have plummeted and software running on that cloud infrastructure has taken cues from consumer software:

  • It's become accessible for business users, with easy to use interfaces, the removal of “tech” or “ECM industry” geek-speak.
  • It's also mobile and accessible

So going forward, business users will grow ever more empowered to manage their own content, drive efficiency within their line of business, and manage risk.

Some very practical examples:

A CFO in a 200 person company no longer requires the implementation of an expensive on-premise ECM and document capture solution to manage the workflow around invoicing, purchase orders, and accounts payable.

Document management as a service offerings, such as KnowledgeTree, allows the CFO herself to build workflows, integrate on-premise scanners etc that support the above uses, all from a very accessible (as in easy to use, free of jargon) web UI.

You've got me started, but I can go on if you'd like ? It's a topic I quite enjoy.


CC: You recently wrote an article on the KnowledgeTree blog entitled “Is traditional software dead?” in which you pointed to some numbers by IDC that showed a steady decline in the licensed software model that most corporations have been tied to for years.

What methods are being employed by KnowledgeTree to assist these users with large time and customization investments in place with their current software to move to your platform?

DC: We are building technology that assists customers with migrating their content, and broader taxonomy (metadata, workflows, etc) from on-premise to the cloud.

We positively want to make it as smooth as possible for a customer to get from their existing legacy ECM app to KnowledgeTree in the cloud.

Already in place, we have technologies that assist organizations with putting large volumes of content in the cloud, either as the bare documents themselves, or with some migration development of XML files, the documents and their metadata.

So we have some tech already in place, and are building more to ensure a smooth migration.

CC: Has KnowledgeTree seen a growth in adoption due to this decline of late?

DC: Yes, we have seen strong interest from customer organizations for a SaaS / cloud solution and from surprising places that have validated our belief that mid-market organizations are very ready to see the benefits of SaaS. The sizes and types of organizations we are seeing certainly indicate the coming of age of SaaS.

CC: Do you feel that Knowledgetree has a leg up on it's competitors when it comes to the migration to a SaaS based solution?

DC: Our Hot Folders technology, which is specifically designed to assist with this process has certainly been well received by our user community.

CC: Can you describe Hot Folders a bit for us?

DC: It monitors a folder for files or folders and releases them into the KnowledgeTree service. What's cool about it is that it can work as simply as that, or you can train your scanner, fax server, or even other line of business apps such as accounting apps, to output an XML file alongside the document.

This file describes the document in more detail, perhaps providing a barcode, a customer number or similar. This metadata is then associated with the document in the KnowledgeTree repository. You can then report on documents added to the repsoitory, based on that metadata, using KnowledgeTree's search engine or even kick off a workflow that manages the newly added documents through their lifecycle.

For example, newly scanned in invoices could go through an approval cycle before being paid.
This very same technology can be leveraged when migrating from a legacy on-premise ECM application to KnowledgeTree in the cloud. That is, your existing metadata can be migrated alongside the documents themselves.

CC: Thank you. Back in June, you mentioned an upcoming launch of integration. When can users expect to see this and what other integrations are in the works, if any?

DC: We are able to right now provide it to customer organizations who'd like to try out the beta and will be publishing it on the AppExchange later this quarter.

We have a number of other line of business application integrations in our sights, and will be announcing these over the next few months. Our lightweight and easy to use REST interfaces do already provide a powerful mechanism for custom integration efforts that customers or partners would like to undertake.

CC: It sounds like KnowledgeTree is well positioned to be even more of a contender in the market. Where do you see the company in the next 5 years?

DC: Continuing to deliver great, innovative software that our customers enjoy using, and see significant value from, and with that, healthy growth that we and our investors can be proud of ?

CC: Can you share with us whom some of your largest or more recognizable customers are?

DC: We're proud to have a number of very recognizable organizations using KnowledgeTree.
These cover federal agencies, such as the US GSA, the FAA, DoJ, etc to companies including folks such as Virgin America, Papa John's Pizza, and IBM. We also have a whole bunch of universities using our software.

CC: Excellent. Thank you for your time, do you have any parting comments or remarks you'd like to share with our readers?

DC: Mike, thanks for the opportunity discuss content management today, and KnowledgeTree's cloud solution for SMB document process management. I'd like to invite your readers to sign up for a free 30-day trial of KnowledgeTree to experience the contacts management, workflow and collaboration features themselves:

About KnowledgeTree

KnowledgeTree makes sharing content and controlling document processes simple with secure, affordable online document management solutions for growing SMBs and departments at larger companies. Designed for business professionals, KnowledgeTree is easy to use, does not require extensive training and enables content to be accessed and managed anytime, anywhere via cloud computing. Rich and open APIs allow for seamless integration of popular third party business applications.

KnowledgeTree accelerates return on investment by streamlining document-centric business processes and increasing collaboration with workflow, document alerts, version control and full transaction histories. KnowledgeTree is headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina. For more information, visit