What would you do if you had everything you needed at the touch of a button? Would you use it to its best advantage or would you squander the opportunity and focus only on what you think you need?
The irony often is, what we think we need, we often don’t use and those items we never thought we would use, suddenly become crucial. At least in the business world. And it is perplexing. How did the software developers know that you would need a product and include it in the package? How could they foresee that? It’s uncanny.
And no, they are not psychic.
Software houses who provide their clients with an all-in-one package that speaks to their business’s basic needs, have done this over time. More often than not, this is done in response to various and differing requests from their respective client bases. The shame in this, is that firms that possess these all-in-one packages often don’t use the product suite to its best advantage either because they are not aware of the extent of the product suite or have purchased it for one or two of the main features and believe that they do not need the rest of it.
Some firms have no idea that they have (for example) a FICA management system amongst the rest of the products in the suite. They didn’t even know (at the time) that a FICA management system would become critical to the day-to-day operations of their business. Until it did. They had no idea that the software they purchased primarily for its trust accounting system functions, also included other secondary features that did not seem important (or even usable) upon first purchasing the software. But that is a mistake.
And that’s the problem really – programmers that develop these all-in-one suites, including everything but the kitchen sink, run the risk of their clients not using all of the available features simply because they did not purchase the software for that particular need and therefore have no idea that they actually have it.
The integrated software suite misconception revealed
Last week we discussed the difference between a standalone and integrated software solution for your business.
There is merit in standalone programmes that do their job extremely well as they are exclusively designed to address specific and single aspects of business operations. We are, however, of the well-founded belief that having an integrated software “suite” will benefit your firm. Especially in the long run. Why do we say this? Well let’s repeat a portion from last week’s article –
Integrated software “suites” or “bundles” are a collection of software programmes which are especially created to work on closely related programs. The different integrated aspects, add-ons and plugins of the program are designed to work together seamlessly, so it is easy to generate reports and comparisons that encompass the entire workings of your organisation.
Simply put – you buy one software suite for your entire practice containing all the programmes your practice could ever need – all working seamlessly together – ensuring that there will be no issue with integrating new systems (which don’t speak the same language) on an ad hoc basis. It amounts in principle, to a holistic approach.
Think about it.
With an integrated solution, there is no need to source different systems for different requirements or to have to deal with clumsy integrations if you have an integrated system. And all of this is provided to you at no extra cost.
And I am not sure about you, but it is always safer to be prepared than falter when you need to act.
So, while there is a tendency to slip back into old habits – purchasing only what you need, when you need it (which has its merits, we grant it to you) – it is a little short sighted.
And herein lies the misconception – an integrated solution may offer you more than you need. Right now. But you will inevitably come to use it down the line, as that is the irony of an all-in-one package.
Let us demonstrate why…
What to look for? An ideal integrated software suite should provide the following functionality and services as a minimum
Let’s take a look at what an ideal integrated software suite should offer your practice –
Legal Accounting and Practice Management
A legal accounting and practice management software system is crucial to today’s forward thinking legal practice. It should include all of the functions normally associated with a legal trust and business accounting system, but it should also offer more. These legal accounting and practice management systems should include practice management features like document management, time recording, contacts management, FICA management and even an asset register.
An important consideration is also to host your legal accounting and practice management system on the Cloud. This will allow you to not only do away with expensive file servers but will also enable you to work from anywhere on almost any device. Your work should also always be automatically backed-up (the software provider you choose should ideally offer this as a standard feature), to allow for peace of mind knowing that your data is safe (backing up your data yourself is also recommended).
2. A Document Assembly programme
When time is money, you need to ensure that you have a reliable and trustworthy document assembly programme at your disposal. This will ensure that your law firm is able to offer efficient and accurate documents, every time. This was made expressly important during the various stages of lockdown in South Africa, limiting how you could work and what you could deliver.
A document assembly program would alleviate these types of uncertainties by allowing you to produce any document, no matter where you are. These systems can also be as basic or as sophisticated as you want them to be. In its simplest form, templates should be able to be created within minutes of installing the system, and in its most sophisticated form, an ideal document assembly programme should include every command a document template designer will ever need – regardless of the complexity of the requirement or the size of the firm.
You should aim to source a flexible document automation system which automates the production of all types of documents. Templates should ideally be created in Microsoft® Word for Windows, allowing for wider use across the practice. A major competitive advantage would also be the ability to develop these templates in a wide variety of environments – including Microsoft Word, Microsoft Outlook, via a browser, in the Cloud, hosted on premise, launched from a website, on just about any device, or even as an Application Programming Interface (‘API’) component where it is launched from within a third party application.
In addition, you need to ensure that your document assembly programme is able to integrate with most of the document management and accounting systems on the market, making the entire integration process easy – saving you time and improving your accuracy.
3. An Online Process Manager
Process automation is no longer a luxury. It is absolutely critical for those businesses and firms who wish to increase their output but reduce their costs of operation. Put simply, it allows you to do more, for less.
A process management system is designed to automate repetitive processes and increase output by improving control measures and ensuring that nothing slips through the cracks. Perfect for any process that has a defined set of steps or stages. A process manager will enable users to manage more matters or files than would be possible on a manual system. For added efficiency, users should be able to access the system from anywhere on almost any device, ideally via the Cloud.
Examples of processes which lend themselves well to a process management system include conveyancing, debt recovery, RAF, litigation, estates, liquor licensing and family law. By automating these processes, firms are able to reduce their costs of operation considerably, thereby instantly improving profit margins.
4. Accounting services
An ideal accounting services system should offer various bookkeeping and accounting outsourcing options to suit the needs of any practice.
Globally, small to medium sized law firms are outsourcing their bookkeeping and accounting functions in order to save money and free themselves up to focus on their core function – practising law and growing their practices. Outsourcing the bookkeeping and accounting functions makes good financial sense. Not only does it provide peace of mind that finances are being properly managed, but there is often no need to employ a bookkeeper. Here, an important consideration is to ensure that this accounting service complies with all regulations and legislation.
A successful accounting services system should also process all transactions within 24 hours of receiving the information from you, which means that your information will always be up-to-date. In addition, invoices and statements should be able to be generated on demand, which ultimately improves your overall cash flow. As a result, your clients are more likely to pay you timeously. Which is a handy tool to have at your disposal. Especially now.
Another important consideration is considering a managed hosting service
A managed hosting service entails a service provider leasing their web servers and associated hardware (on an on-demand and as-needed basis) to you. They also manage those systems on your behalf. A managed hosting service comes down to the process of outsourcing a company’s computing and storage resources to a service provider that offers its infrastructure services as a utility model. Companies using a managed hosting service get data protection benefits such as high availability and disaster recovery. Servers are also constantly and critically monitored for any irregularities or potential failures (hosting providers are well equipped with various tools and have tons of experience dealing with server security related issues).
A tip – if possible and if your software provider has a hosting service it makes sense to obtain your software and host from the same place. It is not only efficient but cost effective too. For example you are able to host the AJS system with the AJS hosting service or your Xpressdox system within the Xpressdox data centre as you would host your Microsoft apps with MS AZURE.
What would an added benefit of integrated software solutions be?
Ongoing training for your software applications is essential!
Whether you are onboarding new employees or your existing ones require a refresher course, you need to ensure that your software provider offers ongoing tutorials for their products. At no additional expense to you – training should always be easy peasy and available 24/7….
In Part One of our article, “It’s all at your fingertips”, we opened with saying that whilst having everything at your fingertips is usually a positive, it is not always used to its best advantage. And that it was kind of like looking a gift horse in the mouth… which is undoubtedly true.
Why? Because if you are given everything you need in one integrated software suite, but don’t use it all, you not only do yourself a disservice (prohibiting growth and improved efficiency for your firm in the long run) but you also question the value of the gift that is an integrated software package.
And that is a shame.
We hope that by going through the values of having an integrated software suite (vs standalone programmes) you will understand that in the long run true value can only be gained from investing in an integrated software package such as that offered by AJS, upfront – investing soundly in your future, ensuring you properly architect your software landscape, without the hassle that comes with programmes that don’t speak the same language.
An integrated software suite that offers all of the above (without additional costs down the line) – is a simple and obvious no-brainer.
Like Kahlil Gibran said – “The obvious is that which is never seen until someone expresses it simply”.
So perhaps it would be a good idea to get in touch with a software provider such as AJS who are market leaders in the legal industry providing globally recognised integrated product suites. Although they are well known for their legal accounting and practice management software, they are also able to provide a broad range of associated products for a diverse range of industries – that all work seamlessly together. No hassle, no extra (or hidden) cost. You get exactly what you pay for and that is often much more than you think. They are able to offer clients a reliable integrated solution that will further the development and efficiency of your firm. Especially in the long run….
Written by Alicia Koch on behalf of AJS