The following is sort of a mega blog -- very long, but hopefully complete
Cloud based applications – Software as a Service (SaaS) – have become increasingly popular, perhaps in part because of people’s familiarity with “Apps” on their smart phones. In particular the following factors seem to be driving this development:
• The ability to work anywhere there is a WiFi connection (although response time can be an issue).
• Firms that have a main office and multiple small offices do not want the expense of a separate server and infrastructure to support just a couple of attorneys dispersed over a relatively wide geographical area.
• In the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, an increased sense of urgency to insure business continuity in the event of disaster and to provide better security for the firm’s documents than the typical law firm has available.
• Increased demand for 24/7 availability, which is tied in with the explosion of email.
• Small firms for whom IT expenses loom proportionally larger than for a bigger firm.
• The Cool Factor. It is surprising how many technology decisions are driven by this.
Types of Cloud-Based Programs
Basically, there are two types of Cloud-based applications. First, there are browser-based programs. Historically, these have had significant issues with response time and substantially less functionality than desktop-based programs. This is only now starting to change as programs mature and internet speeds increase (the United States ranks only 27th in the world in terms of download speeds, below most of Europe and Eastern Europe).
The second type of application involves a PC-based client, however thin, and an internet connection to a hosted application, typically via a Terminal Services client. This is the solution that Worldox has chosen.
Both options have advantages and disadvantages. With a pure browser-based application, you can access it anywhere, any time (the mythical Internet café on the Riviera, say). In addition, browser-based applications are platform independent so they will probably support Mac users. But you will most likely not have the same functionality you might get using a Terminal Services client. With a PC-based thin client, you do need a minimal installation on your laptop/desktop/tablet, but you are likely to get better response time and fuller functionality. You may have difficulty using a Mac. In addition, a significant number of legal-specific programs don’t play nice with Terminal Services, and this can be a serious limitation, not to say a deal-breaker.
The bugaboo of Cloud-based applications is lateral integration. Desktop users are accustomed to having all their desktop applications integrate with each other: Document Management, Practice Management, Time & Billing, Email, etc. Historically, Cloud applications cannot integrate laterally. Thus cloud-based Practice Management solutions have had mediocre integration at best with Outlook, for example. Neither solution offers lateral integration: if you are running program A on one hosted server and program B on another hosted server, the two will not communicate (with the partial exception of Outlook/Exchange).
Where Does Worldox GX3 Cloud Fit In?
Worldox has had a Web App, Worldox Web Mobile, for several years. In addition to accessing your document store, this add-on program also enables users to access Worldox with iPads. Worldox Web Mobile is browser-based, so it can be accessed from anywhere. As with most browser-based apps, it is not particularly well-suited for everyday production. You can search and view your documents online, but to edit a document, you have to manually download it, edit it, then manually upload the document back to Worldox. Emailing documents is somewhat easier, though.
Enter Worldox GX3 Cloud, or Worldox GX3 SaaS (Software as a Service). Worldox Cloud is installed on your computer/laptop/tablet as a “thin” client (25 Mb or less). It directly accesses your Worldox document store on the cloud. The key feature here is that it is not browser-based: the Worldox interface and functionality is virtually identical to the normal Worldox network client, with the exception of a small “Connection” tab at the left of the Bookmarks bar that shows the number of bars (strength) of your connection, the same way a smart phone does. Otherwise, depending on how Worldox is configured of course and the description at the top of the window - GX3 (In the Cloud), you cannot tell which client you are using. In fact, while I was testing, I would frequently go to save a document I was working on and then had to stop and say “wait a minute, do I want this on the web or locally?” Note that if you have the Enterprise version, which includes Worldox GX3 Cloud, this is a non-issue, since you are saving documents to the same place no matter which client you are using.
How does Worldox GX3 SaaS (Cloud) functionality compare to the networked version? • When you open or save a document in virtually any program (Word, WordPerfect, Acrobat, etc.), Worldox pops up. Same with the Cloud.
• When you copy or move an email to Worldox, Worldox pops up. Same with the Cloud.
• If you display your email inbox with the “Email” tab just below the Bookmarks bar, your local Outlook is shown. Same with Worldox – and this requires some added comment. It is taken for granted that a local program can and should integrate with another local program. But Worldox cloud integrates with your local Outlook (or the locally cached version if you are using hosted Exchange).
• If you open a PDF file, Worldox pops up. Further, Worldox has published Acrobat Reader and is negotiating with major PDF makers such as Nuance to publish a full-featured PDF program to the web as part of the installation, so even very large PDF files can open extremely rapidly without downloading the file. Many law firms generate extremely large PDF files (I have seen some 5 GB or more!), so this saves a lot of time uploading and downloading. So if you open a PDF from the Worldox interface, it opens in the cloud without downloading. If you open it starting from Acrobat or a similar program on your desktop, the file is downloaded and opened locally, giving the user complete flexibility.
• When you upload or download a file to the Web, Worldox pops up. Same with the Cloud. This can be a major issue, for example in e-filing documents for courts, the US Patent Office, etc., which have a wide variety of frequently proprietary protocols. Worldox Tech Support will typically write integration for these situations at no cost in less than a half an hour.
• Worldox can be configured so that you can use the “Send To” function to send files from the cloud to your local PC. You can also create a bookmark to a directory on your local PC by filling in a UNC path in the “Location” field on the Worldox screen, e.g., \\tsclient\c\cloud.
• Just as with the networked Worldox you can “check out” documents to your local PC. The checked out document shows up on the web with the note “Checked out by John Heckman on 12/12/12.”
• Every program that I had integrated with my network-based Worldox integrates in exactly the same way with the cloud.
Worldox Cloud includes multiple redundant backups, email management, local backup copy, client matter update automation, hosted Acrobat Reader and hopefully a full-fledged PDF editing program. Worldox Web Mobile (which allows for iPad connectivity) is available as an add-on at minimal cost for specified users (i.e., you don’t need the same number of licenses as for the Worldox installation). In short, the feature set is identical whether you are using GX3 Cloud or the Networked version of Worldox GX3.
Cloud-Based Document Management: NetDocuments
The only other full-fledged, cloud-based, document management system is NetDocuments. NetDocs is a fully mature program which has been around ever since its founders split off from SoftSolutions (the granddaddy of all document management systems) nearly 15 years ago.
Basic day-to-day functionality of editing Word documents is roughly analogous in the two programs. That is, while the display is somewhat different and one or the other may have an advantage in one feature or another, there are no earth-shattering distinctions. The more fundamental differences have to do with the basic infrastructure and mindset of the two programs.
NetDocuments is a pure browser-based application. This means that you can use it anywhere, from any computer (PC or Mac). It also has some advantages, for example in the ability to give a client access to specific documents (with various security options) since every document has its own URL. The advanced search feature also includes a content crawler, so that you can list, for example, all the companies or individuals named in a particular search results. It also ties in closely with Sharepoint.
On the down side, its ability to integrate with programs other than Microsoft Office is much more limited than Worldox, and it doesn’t integrate with Acrobat X or XI at all, a very serious omission which could become a deal breaker if it is not remedied in the future. To fully integrate Word, you have to use Internet Explorer with Active X controls (of questionable security). While NetDocuments will work with other browsers, the upload/download process is manual (you have to manually select the file location before uploading).
If you are using a Mac, NetDocuments is probably a better choice (although email integration doesn’t work on the Mac), because Worldox from a Mac would require running a Windows emulator, a questionable proposition.
The NetDocuments default mindset is to leave the system very open, and in some matter-centric configurations it is not even possible to lock the system down fully. So depending on your setup, it may not be possible for NetDocuments to prevent end users from introducing elements of anarchy into the system. This means that users are not be obliged to store all their documents within NetDocs, thus calling into question the integrity of the system since a firm cannot be certain that all its documents are stored there. The bottom line here is that while NetDocuments can function as a full-fledged document management system for Microsoft Office documents, for other third-party applications it more resembles a store and forward system: You save the document locally and then upload it to the cloud.
Worldox on the other hand is typically a locked-down system. All users must use it for all applications that generate files (as opposed to database programs). It uses a stub program to access a Terminal Services installation over the Internet. What is unique about Worldox Cloud is that it uses a patent-pending communications platform to seamlessly connect all your desktop applications to the cloud. This means that integrating third party programs is substantially more complete and easier in Worldox than in NetDocs.
The bottom line here is that a firm using Worldox can reasonably claim that all the documents it saves (including scanned documents) reside in the Worldox document store, whether on the network or on the web. This gives Worldox a step up in terms of e-discovery requests, which are becoming increasingly important. NetDocuments cannot make this claim.
Worldox cloud is actually running in a Terminal Services environment. The first time you open it, you are asked to log in to your instance. After that, Worldox opens automatically, just as it does on your desktop (if you tell it to do so). What is new and unique is its ability to integrate with programs on your desktop using its patent-pending communications channel.
The basic methodology is that when you open a file from the cloud it is transparently “checked out” and then checked back in when you save it. You do not have to click on an extra “Check-Out/Check-In” button. For firms that create extremely large PDF files the fact that Acrobat is hosted will also represent a major savings in time. In addition, by hosting a full-fledged PDF editor, Worldox may eliminate the need for most firms to purchase full copies of Acrobat, thus providing a savings to the firm of $200-400 per user.
Worldox Cloud is using Rackspace OpenStack for hosting. This features multiple, geographically dispersed backups and the main standard compliance frameworks (ISO 27001, SSAE 16 and ISAE 3402, PCI DSS, Safe Harbor).
Like the regular Worldox, you will need a consultant to help you decide how best to configure your Worldox system. Worldox will provide a basic vanilla configuration and part of the basic setup. If you already have a system and just want to move it to the cloud, Worldox will do that for you. In most cases, Worldox maintains the system: unless your are an approved consultant, users will not have access to the Worldox indexer or administration program.
Worldox will provide various options (blocks of time either from Worldox or via a consultant) to tweak the configuration and functionality once the program is installed.
Worldox Cloud is priced at $55 per month per user in addition to a one-time fee of $200 for basic setup, including two hours of mandatory web-based end user training. Worldox Web Mobile, which allows iPad users to access the document store, will be available for a small additional fee. Worldox includes 3GB/user of storage. Additional storage is $2/GB
Many web-based programs advertise “no training.” This is manifest nonsense. Any program that is sufficiently feature-rich to meet the needs of most law firms will require training. Fortunately, since Worldox Cloud has exactly the same interface as the network-based version, sufficient consultants will be available to do training.
In short, if you are looking for a cloud-based document management solution, Worldox should be your first option.