Please enjoy this blog posted on behalf of the co-authors, Bill Bice, CEO, nQ Zebraworks and Mike Ertel, Practice Innovation & Knowledge Attorney, Paul Hastings LLP.
There are a number of considerations when moving law firm applications to the cloud:
- · The real technology jump comes from true software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, not just software that has been moved to the cloud.
- · Customization can initially be more challenging because of the nascent stage of many legal-specific SaaS applications.
- · Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), however, offer a more straightforward way for long-term integration.
Cloud vs. SaaS
A cloud application just means that it’s running in the cloud. You can take the same exact software that was running on-premise and move it to cloud servers that are hosted for you, and now you have a cloud application.
There are reasons this makes sense, for example, to reduce IT burden on the firm. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is making a jump to newer technology.
SaaS is a specific subset of cloud: software that was designed to run in the cloud. It’s built on newer technology that leverages the benefits of being in the cloud, like being accessible from any device with an Internet connection.
Ironically, the level of customization available in SaaS offerings sometimes pales in comparison to what is available with on-premise software. Some of this is due to where SaaS applications are in their evolution of development, particularly in legal, but it can also come from standardizing an application for one-size-fits-all.
With on-premise software, it’s easier to have custom implementations specific to one firm. When moving to SaaS, its crucial to verify that your needs are really met because it may be more challenging to extend the system at a later time. There is, however, a big advantage to SaaS when it comes to customization, and that’s APIs.
A well-designed, modern SaaS application is built on Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). It may be more challenging to change core elements of SaaS software (at least those applications that don’t specifically have features for doing so); however, APIs open up the game in a much more flexible and generally more cost-effective way. APIs create a defined way to interact with the application. Want something to happen every time a new file is opened of a certain type? Use an API. Want to pull matter information to show in another application? Use an API.
Using APIs still typically requires development resources and a real investment, but compared to diving directly into a SQL database to find the desired information, a well-defined API is a gift to building integrations across systems in your firm.
On the subject of SQL, many firms are accustomed to having direct access to their data, typically in a SQL database. Moving to SaaS can often make this somewhere between really difficult and impossible. APIs provide an alternative, but if you’ve built, for example, business intelligence (BI) that is dependent on getting the full database, it may take a very different approach or force you to use the vendor’s solution for BI.
Applications running in environments like Azure and AWS are built on secure foundations. Microsoft, for example, states they have 3,500 cybersecurity experts working on Azure. Combined with a capable software vendor, SaaS applications have the ability to be a security upgrade, but it does make the security due diligence process more difficult.
Security reviews roll downhill from clients to firms to vendors, and moving to SaaS increases the work you have to do in evaluating vendor’s security protocols.