Saas is defined as Software as a Service. It is widely known as cloud based software. The model differs from traditional software in several ways. Rather than installing the software to your computer or the firm’s servers, it is accessed via a web browser over the Internet. The data is actually stored on the vendor’s data center. Upgrades are rolled out continuously and mostly seamlessly. SaaS is usually sold as a subscription model, meaning that users pay a monthly fee rather than purchasing a license up front. Although with most docketing software nowadays, there is an annual maintenance or subscription fee.
Is cloud based docketing software right for you firm? Here are some of the factors you should consider when evaluating SaaS.
Most traditional software was developed over the years and provides very intuitive functionality. There have been many revisions to meet demands by attorneys, firms, and court and agency requirements. They typically have a wide range of features but may be more complicated for new users.
Cloud based docketing software, on the other hand, is fairly new so the functionality can be very intuitive and easy to use. The UI (user interface) is usually very customer centric and well thought out.
When looking at the SaaS model, be sure to consider these questions about functionality:
- Does the provider offer a trial period or a demo to test out the interface?
- Does the cloud based software offer the same features that you have grown to appreciate from the traditional software (ex. Outlook synchronization, automated reports, rules based calculations, etc.)?
- How often are minor or major upgrades offered?
- Is there a fee for upgrades?
- Are there any plans to provide new features and, if so, what are they?
- Is the vendor open to suggestions for enhancements?
With traditional software, complications can occur when providing technical support by the provider. Since the software is installed on the firm’s servers or computers, there are many issues that can arise making the process of determining the problem difficult. Cloud based software is much easier to support since the issues will most likely be on the provider’s end. The downfall to the SaaS model is that if there are technical issues, it will affect all firms.
Traditional software may be limited in gaining access by remote workers. Not all firms use Citrix or other software to provide a simulated desktop. With SaaS, access to the software should not be a problem due to its availability using a web browser such as Internet Explorer or Chrome. Important too is that SaaS is usually available on mobile devices where traditional software is not. On the downside, if the remote user does not have Internet access, the SaaS model can be useless.
A difference between SaaS and traditional software is that SaaS solutions store the user’s data (documents, contacts, billing information, etc.) on remote servers rather than on the user’s own computer or server. Given that attorneys’ foremost duties are to safeguard client confidentiality, they are wary about placing client files on a vendor’s servers. However, vendors’ servers may be more secure than the law firm’s since the provider uses extreme measures to safeguard the data. Law firms are a prime target for hackers.
Obviously a firm should make sure that the vendor uses safeguards with storing the firm’s data, documents, etc. Firms should ask for a backup schedule, the protocols used to safeguard the data, and liability.
This is an issue that resonates deeply with law firm management. With the SaaS model, the fee to use the software is usually per user. The traditional software model typically charges per attorney. That is not to say that cloud based models only charge per user. They can charge per attorneys as well.
Some questions to ask the vendor include:
- What are the monthly costs of the SaaS option? If by attorney, is there a fee for non-attorneys?
- Does the vendor require a contractual agreement to maintain service for a certain amount of time (e.g. 12 months, 24 months)?
- How does the cost of the SaaS solution compare over a two or three year period to the cost of a comparable traditional software license?
- How often are monthly rates increased for the SaaS solution?
In conclusion, I believe the docketing SaaS, or cloud model, will become much more prevalent in law firms in the next 5 years. Most vendors either already have that option or are in the process of developing one. The real issue will be trust.