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Practice Management in the Cloud

Written by Jeff Stouse on 15 April 2012.

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A Beginning


Yes, it's hard to tell if there is a difference - what do people really mean when they say they want their Practice Management software in the cloud? For some, being "in the cloud" simply means that, through whatever means, if they access their data (wherever it may be stored) through the Internet, then they are "in the cloud." For others, being "in the cloud" means that their programs and data reside on a server somewhere outside their offices, and they access them through the Internet--by using a browser - not some program (Logmein (to a desktop in their office), iTap (from an iPad), or just Remote Desktop to a Terminal Server.)

Finally, there are those who think that "in the cloud" means that your practice management software runs in a browser, not by getting to it through the Internet.

When evaluating whether or not your firm should be in the cloud, first think through all of the reasons you think you need to be "in the cloud"

For example, do you:

  • Need to access your programs/data from anywhere (using a browser-based approach)?
  • Want to avoid the responsibility of maintaining/upgrading servers within your office? (Remember that you will still have to have a server for your LAN, but not one that requires as much power and sophistication.)
  • Want to take advantage of some of the newer features (i.e., remote client access, sophisticated workflows, etc...) that newer, cloud-based programs offer?
These are just some of the reasons some firms think they need to be "in the cloud." Realize that if you get more (Practice Management through a browser, new features that older, more established practice management programs do not offer, etc...), you will probably pay more. If your goal to be "in the cloud" means that you don't have to maintain (as much) or purchase a new server (as often), or worry about backups (as frequently), then there should be a cost for that. If you get more, you probably will end up paying more - isn't that what our life experiences have taught us?
For practice management companies that have not made the commitment to move to the cloud (i.e., rewrite their existing software to take advantage of being browser-based) it is often due to the cost and time it will take to make the transition. For newer products that have started their practice management program existence as a browser-based product, they are often playing catch-up in terms of features. All practice management programs seek to answer the question: "What is your pain?" and answer that question through a feature that, in the case of some of the newer programs, has never been offered by a practice management program before.
So, older established programs may have more features, but are those the features that are still needed/wanted? Their breadth of scope is often their downfall (features added for a specific large client that are unused by the vast majority of users simply make the program feel cumbersome.) Every firm practices law; they all do it somewhat differently. Some of what each firm does in terms of workflow, practice management data, and document generation is the same. But every firm is run by an individual whose preferences, likes, dislikes, and sense of perspective makes them weigh different practice needs differently. That is why there will always be room for the next PM product.
Some firms will stick with existing products, simply finding methods to access their desktops through the Internet; sticking to programs that have been around for years, and will probably be around for many more years. But given the history (baggage) of making an older product work in newer environments, the chances that the older products will be coming out with newer features, specifically features that will not work in older environments (backward compatable), are slim. Newer products, written specifically for the cloud, will be able to offer more advanced features, but they also have the challenge of catching up to the years of (desirable) features that the more mature products already have to offer.
Choosing a Practice Management program now is harder, not easier, than ever before. Remember that practice management is tied to billing and accounting (if it's done well.) And selecting a practice management program that cannot provide the necessary information to a billing/accounting program which provides the necessary features is a BAD choice.
Based on the above - is your firm "in the cloud"? Do you need to be? Come back to see what the new generation of practice management programs have to offer as the series begins with one of the most promising new features: Workflows.