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Software-as-a-Service, also called Software Plus Services by Microsoft, may be a new concept to some, but the actual service is not new at all. SaaS can be described simply as a managed IT service where a firm shifts responsibility for its software application management and deployment to a trusted, third-party-managed service provider for a predictable subscription fee. Today, more and more law firms are migrating to this proven, reliable IT model of technology centralization because of the many benefits and features it is capable of offering in an industry where electronic communication and data storage are growing exponentially. According to a 2007 International Legal Technology Association publication on the subject of records management, “attorneys reported that nearly 90 percent of client communication occurs via e-mail, and the majority of those same attorneys receive an estimated average of 200 to 300 e-mail messages per day.” With this staggering amount of electronic information flowing in and out of firms on a daily basis, it is no surprise that firms find themselves extremely motivated to get out of the IT business. The SaaS model offers them an unrivaled technology solution to do just that. The SaaS Scenario The SaaS solution is an option often favored by law firms and professional services organizations for the same reasons some firms opt for managed IT services in the first place: To minimize technology risk To obtain technology peace of mind, and To enable strategic focus on the business, not on technology. In the SaaS scenario, firm employees gain a consistent computing experience across their PCs and handheld devices, no matter if they are working at home, on the road or in the office. All software applications and data files are stored off-site on fault-tolerant systems at a highly secure data center and accessed via a dedicated T1 connection (or an Internet connection if the user is away from the office). In this SaaS environment, law firms offload the daily administration and management of their business-critical software applications to an MSP, which ultimately affords the law firm staff the time to concentrate on core business responsibilities. SaaS offers firms built-in disaster recovery and provides firm staff with 24/7 high-speed, remote access to important documents and business-critical software applications anytime, anywhere. Essentially, the entire desktop and all of the applications that firms need to operate are all delivered in a fully integrated and seamless solution for a predetermined fee. Software packages for time and billing, document and case management, the Microsoft Office suite and even Internet Explorer are typical applications offered through SaaS. Delivery Model How is the SaaS model delivered? The computer network is built in such a way that application processing no longer takes place on the desktop. Since all processing is centralized at a data center, the cost of administering and managing individual desktops is greatly reduced. Also, because the servers are designed with maximum fault tolerance, system uptimes can far exceed those realized in a traditional computer network. Advances in broadband communications allow the servers that are running the firm’s applications to be located remotely from the firm’s physical location. This approach spares law firms the headache and expense of developing, housing and operating their own computing infrastructures. IT research company Gartner Inc. reports that, by 2011, “early technology adopters will forgo capital expenditures and instead purchase 40 percent of their IT infrastructure as a service. Increased high-speed bandwidth makes it practical to locate infrastructure at other sites and still receive the same response times. Enterprises believe that as service oriented architecture becomes common, ‘cloud computing’ will take off, thus untying applications from specific infrastructure.” Real Advantages with SaaS With software and files being hosted at a centralized data center in the SaaS model, a firm’s PCs don’t need to be as powerful and, therefore, are less expensive; firms also avoid purchasing, installing, supporting and upgrading costly software applications. This is often referred to as a “thin client,” as the applications don’t reside on the PC. In this approach, in addition to managing all the application software, the SaaS provider should also be able to: remotely maintain all systems provide troubleshooting services upgrade software as needed, and provide disaster recovery services. Like other managed services options, the SaaS solution is typically provided for a fixed monthly fee, resulting in a predictable annual technology budget for the organization. Furthermore, SaaS allows firms to offload the typical costs associated with maintaining, troubleshooting and upgrading system hardware and software as well as managing storage capacities, data security and data backups. A great advantage of the SaaS model is that whether a firm does or does not have an internal IT staff on payroll is irrelevant. For a firm that does not have an internal IT staff, the SaaS provider typically offers 24/7 access to tech experts who can assist in developing and implementing strategies to get the most out of the firm’s IT infrastructure. Conversely, a firm with employed IT staff can avoid that staff from focusing on the inexhaustible maintenance of the firm’s system and servers and instead direct their concentration on deploying practice-specific technologies that will further enhance the firm’s efficiency and productivity. Both situations can be win-win. Most notably, a major benefit enjoyed by firms under the SaaS model is the simple and secure remote access to the firm’s desktop from any Internet-connected computer. Staff can work easily and efficiently from any location as if they were sitting in front of their office PC. Enjoy the Benefits without the Aggravation Managed services come in all shapes and sizes. One size does not fit all. Firms each have different IT requirements and varying levels of in-house resources to manage their IT environment, which will determine how much of the IT infrastructure the service provider will manage. Both the assortment of and expansive use of electronic devices – including PCs, cell phones, smart phones and PDAs – are becoming a bear to manage and regulate, ensuring that all of the business-critical documents and applications are accessible by all firm members at all times of the day or night on all of these devices. The SaaS model is an example of a managed IT service that enables firms to enjoy the benefits of these technologies without the aggravation of managing and maintaining them. EDWARD J. GRUBB is general manager, legal managed services, of mindSHIFT Technologies Inc., a provider of managed IT services, software-as-a-service, VoIP, compliance, e-business application development and professional services to small and medium-sized organizations. Contact Grubb at 215-702-3800 or at [email protected].

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