By Elsante Mnzava
Other than clients and employees, documents are a law firm’s life-blood. There is seldom a working day that a lawyer doesn’t create, edit, share, manage or store a document of some sort. In fact, many law firms have attempted to use some sort of “system” to manage documents, henceforth broadly referred to as “Document Management Systems” (DMS).
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Yet, despite the prevalent knowledge of DMS systems amongst Kenya law-firms, most have stuck to what we call “legacy systems” which generally comprise servers at a law firm’s facility onto which documents are stored. Examples of these are iManage, Worldox and so on.
These legacy systems have often failed to keep pace with evolving technology and user needs. Moreover, efforts of law firms to make their legacy solutions stay relevant have led to cumbersome DMS approaches that suffer from low user adoption rates. This, in turn, has caused multiple problems at law firms, including risk of information leaks, loss of knowledge, and the inability to work remotely or bring new offices online quickly enough.
For these reasons, cloud-based document management platforms have begun to take hold in the US and Western Europe, and the tide has begun to hit Africa and Kenya. This “tide” has been buoyed by NetDocuments, a US-based cloud-based document management platform with the largest market share in the legal cloud document management space.
NetDocuments has partnered with BiasharaWorks, a subsidiary of Tanzania-based Mkenga Group, to drive its growth in the Region with an emphasis on Kenya, although its first client in Africa is the largest law firm in Uganda, Katende, Ssempebwa and Company.
With the improving penetration, quality and reliability of broadband Internet in Kenya, the use of cloud-based platforms is increasingly becoming a viable option for law firms. So what should Kenya law firms look for when reviewing cloud-based DMS platforms? There are several matters that law firms should consider, but 7 are particularly important:
Document management: The cloud-DMS platform must enable law firms to intelligently file, tag, and organise documents into client, matter or project-centric workspaces and folders (this cannot be found in cloud solutions like Dropbox etc). Moreover, documents should be accessed according to security rights provisioning, after which a variety of functions may be performed, including opening, editing, creating new versions, commenting, approving, and sharing. Intensive document management work should be facilitated by seamless integrations with the Microsoft Office Suite and Adobe.
Security and compliance: Any cloud-DMS must treat security and compliance as top priorities—just as banks do. DMS platforms like NetDocuments, for instance, utilises a patented envelope technology to wrap access information and metadata associated with a document into a single digital object. The object is then encrypted both in transit and at rest with bank-level encryption levels. Importantly, you want the data centres to be ISO27001 compliant—no exceptions.
Email management services: A cloud-DMS should be “email friendly.” Specifically, Microsoft Outlook email messages should be filed to the document management system in a very seamless “drag-and-drop” functionality, or tagging through predictive filing. In both scenarios, the file is copied to the cloud-DMS and is located in either the workspace or folder. Moreover, attachments should be kept intact and searchable in the DMS service.
Mobility: Content on the cloud-DMS must be accessible from anywhere in the world, anytime and from any device without VPNs. This built-in mobility bridges the gap for firms with multiple offices and a mobile workforce, brining everyone under a single solution and eliminating the need for complex VPN access or terminal server login. In addition to inherent mobility, the DMS platform must at least have a native mobile phone app.
Collaboration: Through several features, the cloud-DMS should ideally combine both internal collaboration (inside the firm) as well as external collaboration (individuals and companies who do not belong to the firm). With such a centralised collaboration model (unlike File Sync and Share services), content is by default shared across the company according to pre-defined access rights provisioned based on individuals or user groups.
Disaster recovery and business continuity: This function is crucial. Ideally, a cloud-DMS should have a built-in continuity plan to ensure the firms work product and client data is protected regardless of whatever disaster (natural or otherwise) occurs. Ensure that the cloud-DMS solutions provider employs people around the clock to ensure the physical security, redundancy of power and systems integrity are kept to the highest standards. Crucially, ensure that the cloud-DMS can contractually agree to a 99.9 per cent uptime and nothing less.
Lower cost of ownership: Unlike legacy systems like iManage, Worldox, OpenText etc., cloud-based platforms do not require the capital expenditure or heavy upfront cash outlays. Rather, cloud-DMS systems run on a predictable subscription cost per user, paid monthly, annually or quarterly and without any hardware or software updates to worry about.
The uptake of modern cloud-based document management platforms like NetDocuments have began to take hold in Africa. Without question, law firms in Kenya will soon take the bold step of adopting a cloud-based platform to turn the DMS function into a true knowledge management system which would enable them to be more responsive to clients, and allow attorneys and staff true mobility.
Elsante Mnzava is the Founder of Mkenga Group Limited. Through BiasharaWorks, (www.biasharaworks.com), Mkenga Group Limited is the only certified Africa-based solutions provider for NetDocuments, the leading cloud-based document management
platform for law-firms.