Legal Document Management:  Server-based, Hosted or Web-based

There’s a lot of talk about legal document management systems that are on-premise, cloud-based, web-based, hosted… and a slew of other confusing and overlapping terminology. What’s the difference? Which is the best for your firm?

In this post we’ll demystify the buzzwords and evaluate the different models and options.

First: What exactly does “Cloud-based” mean?

By now you may have realized that “in the cloud” is a pretty broad term. Often the term “cloud-based” is (mistakenly) used synonymously with “web-based”. Well, what does “cloud-based” really mean? A cloud-based solution simply means that it is hosted and managed in a service provider’s infrastructure rather than your own. That’s the broad definition, and there are different ways you can apply a cloud-bases system, For example, web-based applications and private cloud/virtual desktop.

Next: Server/Desktop-based, Private Cloud and Web-Based

When it comes to software, including Document Management software, the application is delivered in one of two formats: Server/Desktop-Based (which can be run on-premise or in a private cloud), and Web-based.

Server/Desktop-Based Document Management Software

Server/Desktop-based Document Management software is just what the name implies: Software that the users install on their individual desktop computers. The Document Management System database (documents, metadata, and so forth) are stored on a server computer that acts as the “hub” of the system. The server is where the documents live, are indexed for search and so forth.

Server/Desktop-based Document Management software can be deployed to a law firm’s local, on-premise server/desktops or can be hosted in a private cloud platform.

Examples of Server/Desktop-based Document Management include:

Private Cloud

A Private Cloud isn’t software at all–rather it’s a platform where a Cloud Service Provider (CSP) builds and manages a dedicated private cloud space that a law firm can host its Sever/Desktop-based software within.

Effectively, the CSP is providing and maintaining the servers to run your law firm’s software–so you don’t have to.

A Private Cloud can effectively “cloud-ify” non-cloud, or server-based applications.

Examples of Private Cloud include:

Web-Based Document Management Software

Web-based software, sometimes referred to as “natively cloud based” Document Management Systems are hosted in the cloud and accessible to the end-user via a web browser. The law firm doesn’t install any software on the individual desktops–instead each employee accesses the software online, in their browser.

Moreover, the law firm doesn’t need to maintain an on-premise server or procure a private cloud solution–the software’s servers are maintained by the Document Management Software publisher/provider.

Examples of Web-based, or natively-cloud Document Management Systems include:

Take a look at this diagram to visually see how Server/Desktop-based, Hosted (Private Cloud) and Web-based Document Management fit together.

Legal Document Management Software

Evaluating Server-based, Hosted or Web-based

So now you understand the differences between (and relationships between) between Server-based, hosted and web-based Legal Document Management software. So which approach is the best for your firm?

To answer that we have to look at the benefits (and potential drawbacks) of each model

Server/Desktop-based: On-Premise

Benefits:

In today’s cloud-enabled world, there are few benefits running any software on-premise.

Probably the only “benefit” is that if you’re already using an on-premise document management system on a local server, doing nothing requires the least amount of change. You may have already paid for your software, and provided it never requires any support, maintenance, or upgrade ever, it’s easy to do nothing.

Drawbacks:

Running any software on-premise, especially heavy-duty document management software, requires an on-site server, which requires maintenance and IT support.

If there is ever an emergency or natural disaster, someone has to come on-site to fix the system before you can use it again. For a lot of law firms in lower Manhattan, their systems were knocked out for weeks during Superstorm Sandy due to the flooding and downed power grid. And they were unable to work on their cases. Firms came to a standstill until they were back online.

Additional drawbacks include lack of mobility and likely lack of security.

Server/Desktop-based: Hosted

Benefits:

If your firm is committed to a particular Server-based DMS, wants to move to the reliability, security and mobility of the cloud but doesn’t want to have to implement and learn new software: a hosted DMS—via a Private Cloud—may be the cake-and-eat-it-too situation.

Another benefit is if your firm runs other server/desktop-based software, such as Practice Management or accounting software, a Private Cloud allows you to centralize all of the software your firm uses in the cloud.

Drawbacks:

A private cloud can ensure a reliable, mobile platform but doesn’t guarantee the DMS itself will be functional and reliable. Your DMS software publisher may or may not keep their document management software up to date with new and useful features.

Web-based

Benefits:

The benefits of web-based Document Management systems are many.

The ability to access your firm’s documents anytime, anywhere, on any device.

The built-in security offered by a reputable, online DMS.

The lack of a need to buy and manage a server—or outside IT support.

Drawbacks:

The only real drawback of a cloud-based DMS is that you’ll have to learn new software.

The good news is: the function and flow of Document Management software tends to be similar from one application to another. And with a good Document Management provider, you’ll get lots of training and support to help you along.

The Uptime Verdict

We hope this article helped you understand the different options and models for Legal Document Management software. During your search for your firm’s new DMS, we recommend you consider your firm’s specific requirements and need for document management and carefully evaluate your options.

Your firm depends on it.

About the Author: Dennis Dimka
Dennis Dimka is the CEO and founder of Uptime Legal Systems, North America's leading provider of technology, cloud and marketing services to law firms. Dennis is the author of Law Practice as a Service: How and Why to Move Your Law Firm to the Cloud, and was an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist in 2016. Follow Dennis on LinkedIn.

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