At the recent TechEd Africa 2013, we caught up with Uriel Rootshtain, Business Lead of the Office Division at Microsoft South Africa about Office 2013 and Office 365 and the role it will play in the local law office.
Malcolm: Where does Microsoft see Office 365 and the legal firm going?
Uriel: I have some really good mates who are lawyers and when I visit them, I’m always struck by how manual and paper-based the whole process is.
So when I walk into a firm I see tons of opportunity for them to do things differently. When I ask why they don’t put it into electronic format, I’m told that the legal system is still hugely entrenched in the paper environment and at the moment there is not enough drive for change to electronic form. However, it seems the younger firms are trying to implementing more efficient business processes.
If I zoomed out a little bit and looked at it from a macro point of view and look at collaboration and enterprise content management at a more generic level, then there’s a very rich discussion to be had of examples where companies have already achieved great efficiencies through the use of the new Office 365 and its capabilities. Many of these same scenarios could be implemented in law firms and maybe the task that needs to be initiated would be to start communicating this to the law firms.
Malcolm: So that means Office 365 is more about collaboration really?
Uriel: Collaboration and enterprise content management. Documents in particular are such a large part of the process in a law firm butthey’re not the only ones. We have tons of case studies of businesses and government institutions that have taken many paper-based processes and automated them using high end scanning, optical character recognition, storage and archivingfiling with sophisticated search, all of that being built on top of the new Office family of products. Things like SharePoint for your document management, enterprise search capabilities and taxonomy for example.Once you start taking that step, the next piece that comes into play is the collaborative element which enables multiple entities to work on a single case, all in real time.It will happen,it might take a bit longer in the legal industry, if you think about what is possible there is no reason why a case should be not be a team project where all the documentation is available to all partiesand in a very fluid way,make comments and interact with each other in a shared one note area. If you ask me it is a great opportunity to improve the processes.
Malcolm: It seems that the USA is way further down the line when it comes to utilising technology to enhance productivity, have you noticed this in your dealings internationally?
Uriel: It seems that the legal government departments in South Africa are looking to enhance efficiency throughout the legal process, but the resistance to hang onto the existing paper-based system as a safe guard, seems to make the change a little more conservative. Maybe we’ll soon see electronic collaboration and signing of documents, while the actual physically signed documents follow through the current existing channels – almost an electronic “word in progress” until finalised.
Malcolm: Most law firms in South Africa use local practice management and case management systems specifically written for our local legal process, the systems all integrate very closely with Microsoft Word and Outlook. Does Microsoft have some sort of official relationship or agreement with these local vendors to ensure that the current and future versions of Microsoft Office will work seamlessly with these vendor systems?
Uriel: It’s a little bit of a combination, we have such a vast ecosystem that is impossible for us to talk and interact directly with each and every vendor out there. But it is important to note that when we develop a product, we will always build it with two mind-sets; to deliver the best possible key functionality with the core product and to enable third-party vendor’s to be able to integrate with the system. Basically to enhance the value proposition to the end users, both from our aspect and then also to allow others to extend the value further with bespoke systems. I think we reinvest more in terms of integration documentation and products for our development partners than any other provider in the market.
What is interesting to note, is that with the new Office, we have taken the next step to work with development partners which allows them to integrate and grow their applications through our new App Store. This allows the partners to take it to the next level in making their product available to over 1 billion users of Microsoft Office applications.
Malcolm: Will the products available in the App Store work with both the new Office or should I say the “on premise” Office 2013 and the “online” Office 365? Or do these vendors have to build specific applications for each version?
Uriel: it’s a little bit tricky for us to refer to Office 365/Office to 2013 so to make it easier for everyone we refer to the suite as the “New Office”. So the outright purchase version is referred to as the Office 2013 and then the Office 365 is a subscription Office with the benefit of “on-going” updates. It all depends on how the vendors want to deliver the application, they may choose to have the system as a stand-alone on premise application or they may choose that the online solution is better suited for what they want to provide. But if the application is built with web service that is hosted off Azure, the application could be used with either on premise or the Office 365 online.
Malcolm: Could we have a quick overview of what licensing options would be available to a small law firm?
Uriel: A small law firm would fit into the category of the Office 365 Mid-Sized Business. There is an upperuser limit of 300 users, so the user count fits in nicely; it also gives them the option of integrating into a local active directory. If they wanted advanced security and archiving and search capabilities, then they would need to look at the Enterprise Solution. The prices for the Mid-Sized Business package will cost approximately R1400 per user per year. That will give you your back-end infrastructure as well as your front-end client.
Malcolm: Is Microsoft going to develop a document assembly solution?
Uriel: I’m not aware of anything that is in the pipeline. In 2007, when we launched our open document standard, our intention was then to make it easier for third-party vendors to be able to build solutions like document assembly to work seamlessly with our Office applications.
Malcolm: Microsoft SharePoint is really the document management solution for large law firms; the pricing really puts it out of reach for the small to medium-sized law firms. Is there a solution for the smaller firms available from Microsoft on the document management side?
Uriel: Well, that is actually where Office 365 hits the sweet spot. When we talk of the price of R1400 per user per year they are getting access to full Exchange mail box, full SharePoint site, Lync unified communications, and have access to a Office client. Basically what we are doing is offering enterprise wide solutions using hosted systems to smaller businesses.
Malcolm: What finance packages are available from Microsoft for law firms to purchase volume licensing?
Uriel: We use the same licensing model that is available in all countries with slight tweaks. We have a couple of licensing packages, the first one is the Open License Programme which starts at a minimum of five licenses and you can use this to get good price breaks. You can also add on the ability for software assurance which allows for a finance option over a couple years and ensure that your software is always updated.
The next licensing plan is called the Select Program which is for larger companies who want to buy a mix match of applications from Microsoft, each application license is allocated a number of points which accumulate against your Select Programme points.
The Enterprise Agreement allows the business to standardise on all Microsoft applications across the business. What that means to the end user is better pricing across the board depending on the number of users.
The interview ended.
What Uriel did mention at end of our interview was that it would be very interesting from a Microsoft point of view, to follow an attorney both at the office and also to court to see how much they use Microsoft products, and to see what opportunities exist where Microsoft already have existing solutions.
Thanks Uriel for your time in the interview.
Any law firm who is keen take Uriel up on his offer should contact us for more details.