The big three — Microsoft, Google, and Apple — have consistently pushed users toward the “cloud.” Generally, cloud products are not quite ready for day-to-day use in the legal profession. Cloud word processors, for example, lack some of the features attorneys need for writing appellate briefs or more complicated documents.
What is different about Microsoft’s Office 365 subscription platform is that it allows access to both the full versions of Word/Excel/PowerPoint and Web-based versions of those software programs. As a result, it has become a viable option for small to midsize firms.
Migrating to Office 365 is a decision that should be made with careful planning and consideration of the risks and benefits of a cloud-based system. That said, the trend toward using other people’s computers to lower your own operating costs will only continue in the future.
With any expense decision, consider the total cost of ownership as well as the return on investment. Review your firm’s total information technology expenditures over the last year. Consider any planned upgrades for the new year (new servers, new computers, new mobile devices, and the like) and estimate those expenses. Don’t forget that each time you buy a new desktop or laptop computer, you will need a new license of Microsoft Office. Finally, don’t forget to estimate how many times over the life of your practice you will need to replace those various items.
Microsoft’s Office 365 solution is a subscription-based service to its Microsoft Office products and Web-based file storage. Subscribers pay Microsoft a monthly fee and have access to the most recent versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, either on the Web or as a full desktop version.
Buying a new computer? No problem. Just access Microsoft’s website, sign in, and download the newest version of Microsoft Office. Since the files are stored with Microsoft, they will sync to the new computer or device and you are up and running in a short amount of time.
In addition, and this is where the TCO swings in favor of the subscription model, Office 365 subscribers can utilize an Exchange server, which provides email, calendars and contacts. Exchange is usually a large cost for a firm, both from a software and hardware perspective. Comparing these costs shows that the TCO, in most cases, will be less for smaller firms.
As an example, a file server costs approximately $5,000 to upgrade every five years. Over 20 years, you replace the server four times ($20,000). Each desktop computer replaced during that time will need a new version of MS Office at a cost of approximately $229.99. If you have five users on the same replacement cycle, you are looking at an additional $4,599.80 in MS Office cost. This assessment does not include what you are currently paying for email, antivirus, backup, and the like. Let’s call it $25,000 over 20 years.
With Office 365, subscribers will pay, at today’s numbers, $12.50 per user, per month. If you have five users, that’s an annual cost of $750.00. Over that same 20-year period, you will spend approximately $15,000 for better software services using the subscription model. Obviously, there’s no guarantee that prices stay the same, but it looks good on paper. The question becomes, how does it work in real life?
Will Office 365 make you a better lawyer? Probably not. But the right tools are important for any job and it will make your practice more enjoyable. The key question is whether purchasing Office 365 will make the firm more effective. The tool must make you and your firm better, not just faster (though that’s important too). Office 365 removes many of the administrative difficulties in running a small to midsized practice and allows attorneys to focus on practicing law.
On the ROI side, subscribers to Office 365 should see lower vendor-related costs in managing their IT. Subscribers should also get better reliability and ease-of-use to make them more productive.
The beauty of Office 365 is that it allows subscribers to work in programs they know. There is almost no learning curve. In addition, if the attorney is out of the office and needs to access a file or make a last-minute change, the attorney only needs a (secure) Internet connection to make a necessary change. Remote work is simple because the files are accessible wherever the attorney has access to the Internet.
That said, there are risks associated with cloud computing. Be sure you understand those risks and make a principled decision before moving to the cloud. The conceptual benefits of cloud computing were always apparent. Now, those benefits are becoming practical realities.•
Seth R. Wilson is an attorney with Adler Tesnar & Whalin in Noblesville. In addition to practicing law, he helps manage the day-to-day technology operations of the firm. Seth writes about legal technology at sethrwilson.com and is a frequent speaker on the subject. The opinions expressed are those of the author.