The Legal Layer

4 Questions Law Firms Should Ask When Buying or Moving An ERP/PMS to the Cloud

4 Questions Law Firms Should Ask When Buying or Moving An ERP/PMS to the Cloud

If your law firm is debating a move to a new cloud PMS or moving your current system to the cloud, here are four questions to consider.

The world of cloud computing can be hard to get your arms around especially if you are not in the IT group. Many business leaders inside law firms are not aware that cloud-based systems from each provider can be drastically different under the covers. Each practice management vendor will have their own reasons why their cloud solution is the best, but your firm should prepare a few questions ahead of time to help make sure that the new ERP/PMS is in alignment with how your firm wants to leverage the cloud. Here are four questions to help you get started on your journey to the cloud:

1) What are my firm's expectations from the cloud?

This question may seem obvious, but the truth is that many ERP/PMS buyers walk into a discussion about the cloud with some preconceived notions about what is or is not included with cloud solutions. It is important that when you walk or Zoom into your meeting, that you understand what your firm wants from a cloud-based solution, so you ask the right questions. This will ensure that you drive the conversation into what the firm needs instead of what the cloud vendor wants to sell to you.

Because you will be looking at multiple vendors, it is very important to create a score card for what your firm would like the cloud to do for you. Don’t worry, it does not have to be a technical list. Simply list the items you feel will be important to your firm or perhaps list the challenges with your current system that drive you crazy so you can find out how the new cloud can help you. Once you have your list of cloud expectations together (using the four sample questions you see in this article), remember to ask each vendor the same questions and document their replies. This will allow you to go back after to review the answers and compare how each vendor replied. This will become very helpful later because it can get hard to keep all the details separated after you see a few demos.

2) How can the cloud speed up my implementation?

For some strange reason, I watched Shark Tank the other night. One phrase that Robert Herjavec uses on that show that I love is “the quick and the dead”. Unfortunately, in legal ERP, it is not “the quick and the dead”; it is more like “the quick or the exhausted” because ERP projects have been known to take a long time. Everyone knows a firm or two that was promised a twelve-month implementation only to have it go live in 36+ months. With today’s cloud technologies, PMS vendors need to be leveraging the cloud to speed up implementations. You should explore how each ERP vendor is using the cloud to reduce your implementation timeline.

Some vendors use bespoke systems to plug into their process that will help speed things up. These can vary from simple cloud-based project planning tools to advanced tools that help monitor the cloud infrastructure. The good news is that these tools can help speed things up to a degree but because they are bespoke, there is only so much they can do technically. If your potential vendor uses bespoke tools, ask them for a list of the tools, get an understanding of where the tools help in the initial roll out, and how those tools are used for your future version upgrades.

More robust providers will have tools built natively into their processes and products that will deliver an end-to-end implementation in the cloud. If you are serious about moving to the cloud, this is the ideal situation because the tools, process, and execution – all happen in one place. PMS implementations are complex and have many different teams executing tasks all at the same time. By having the full end-to-end process centralized, it creates one version of the truth. Not only is everyone always on the same page but every artifact for the project will reside in the cloud-based tool. Items like test scripts, new versions, training materials, technical documentation, and all the other goodies that you will need to implement and maintain your new PMS will live here. In most cases, vendors that use an end-to-end implementation tool set will leverage these tools for the lifetime of your system. All upgrades, enhancements, and training will flow through this process for the entire lifecycle of your new system.

3) How can the cloud simplify the upgrade processes for my firm?

For system owners, the cloud means more software releases. While the end-users get excited for the new features, system owners typically do not share their excitement because of all the quality assurance and testing that must go into each release before it reaches the firm’s production system. For me, this is one of the most important areas to be exploring because the biggest benefit of the cloud is the fast-paced release cadence. If your firm cannot keep pace with the releases, what is the real value of the yearly subscription? Many firms that have historically run on on-premise software only upgrade every few years because of the burden that it puts on the firm’s resources.

Cloud-based solutions enable the vendors to automate much of the QA and testing process because all the clients are using the same code base. This converts what would have taken months of manual testing down to just a few minutes. When you start to compound that over the 8-10 releases that cloud vendors push out yearly, you can quickly see why this would be an important topic of conversation for your next Practice Management Solution. Do not just focus on your regular release cycles; be sure to enquire about how the new cloud offering will deal with any system customizations or configurations that might be unique to your law firm. In many cases, automated testing for customizations is something that many vendors will do for an additional charge. This type of investment generally has a very good return. If your new vendor provides this service, dig in for more details so you understand just how automated you can make your release cycles.

4) Is my firm empowered to drive its own direction with the cloud?

The power and flexibility of the cloud is changing at a staggering rate. Law firms and legal vendors are all embracing the rapid change to gain advantage over the competition. As a law firm looking to change your PMS system, embracing how the cloud can be a critical part of your competitive advantage should take precedence. You will want to make sure that your firm and your PMS vendor share the same cloud vision. The cloud should empower your firm to be more competitive not hold you back. You will want to have a maximum level of empowerment over your cloud Practice Management Solution so it can grow with your organization as your needs evolve over the life of the system. Because no one knows what the future holds, I encourage you to think about empowerment in big buckets. Three that jump to mind for consideration are: cost control, firm growth, and connectivity.

Empower your firm’s cost control:

Cloud vendors love to talk scalability and I have often watched finance team members tune out during that portion of the presentations. The reality is that scalability is all about cost control. You only need to buy what you need and when you need it. This is a great way to save the firm money on a regular basis. Having empowerment over your firm’s scalability lets you control how much money you are investing on a monthly basis. If you tend to just need extra processing power at the end of the month/quarter/year, then why not scale back on the costs until you need it?

Empower your firm’s growth:

One of the best assets that every law firm has is its data. Firms are now using their data to crack the codes on matter profitability, efficiency, and operational excellence. Data is essentially the new arms race inside of law firms. Without having complete access to your data, your firm will eventually get passed by firms that have found a competitive edge buried deep inside their datasets. Add into that mix that clever law firms are not just using people to investigate their data, but artificial intelligence is now being injected into the process. This should open a new paradigm for law firms to exploit.

Where you want your data to reside may seem obvious to you today, but the reality is that you might want to change that in future. Your firm may want to acquire another firm which could drive a move, laws could change, or your firm may have an opportunity to land a marquee client who has specific requirements on data residency. Many PMS vendors have their solutions configured for specific regions that have been predetermined. Adding additional data residency regions can be complicated; so, understanding how the vendors accommodate additional regions would be important to investigate. Remember if that marquee prospective client is leaning in your direction, they might not want to wait for you to square away your infrastructure.

Empower your firm’s connectivity:

The legal industry has a history of some products and vendors not playing nicely with each other while the law firm is stuck in the middle trying to connect the dots on two products. The cloud should help put an end to some of those historic squabbles. Modern cloud solutions embrace open (sometimes called public) APIs that serve to make it easy for humans and computers to understand how to communicate and interact with one another. When researching your new PMS systems, make sure you explore how the vendors leverage APIs. Many of the legal vendors will have tight integrations with the “A-list” technologies but I would encourage you to look beyond that. Make sure that your new system can connect to all your current systems and those systems on your future wish list. I would also encourage you to make sure you ask about any restrictions on the access or nuances to the API because in rare occasions, the product’s API might not be as open or defined as you might envision.

Cloud software providers are obsessive about the client experience after the sale. The main reason is that cloud solutions are often easy to swap out should a law firm be dissatisfied with the solution or service. Practice Management Solutions are getting easier and easier to transition from one system to another, but they still require some planning to transition. That is why when you decide on a cloud-based solution for your next PMS, make sure you bring along these four questions so you can position your law firm for its needs today and for the future.

Did I miss an important question? Or do you want to discuss a question further? If so, I would love to know what you would ask. Please comment below.


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