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IManage: Professional services market embracing cloud services

As cloud computing becomes ubiquitous among professional services firms, vendors like iManage look to meet their business-specific demands.

The professional services market, while once considered cautious toward cloud adoption, has undergone an attitude change, according to work product management vendor iManage.

In the last year and a half, an increased acceptance of the cloud has swept over the space, spanning legal services, accounting, financial services, investment management and insurance firms, said Dan Carmel, chief marketing officer at iManage, based in Chicago. And cloud adoption has been accelerating in 2016, he said.

"We think that professional services firms, like most others, have recognized the economic advantages, the cash flow advantages [and] the business agility advantages of the cloud. So, our cloud business has grown significantly over the past two years." In August 2015, iManage reported its private cloud service had grown by more than 150% year over year.

Carmel noted professional services firms had previously been marked by a hesitancy to move to cloud due to questions about security, since so many of them handle their clients' sensitive information. "We're seeing a pretty strong uptick [in adoption] now, as professional services firms have had their concerns about security and governance of information addressed."

Additionally, having had time to test out minor cloud-based products, such as spam filtering, many firms are satisfied with the results, deciding to transition their mission-critical systems to cloud, he said.

Partners embracing iManage's cloud offering

We think that professional services firms, like most others, have recognized the economic advantages, the cash flow advantages [and] the business agility advantages of the cloud.
Dan Carmelchief marketing officer, iManage

In the last 12 to 18 months, the iManage cloud platform has seen "phenomenal adoption" from managed service providers and reseller partners, said Sandeep Joshi, iManage's vice president of global channels and sales operations. In the professional services market, partners typically act as the IT departments for firms, so by actively promoting and implementing a mission-critical application like iManage, it helps partners become important to their customers, he said. "It just makes them more valuable to organizations."

Doug Hafford, CEO of solution provider Afinety, based in Encino, Calif., agreed. "Because of the way [iManage's] business has changed over the last few years [and] the way their software has changed, it's helped us, as well. All IT vendors are looking for cloud business, because the market demands it," he said. About 95% of Afinety's customers are small or midsize law firms. The company has four staff members that "do nothing but iManage[business] all year round."

"IManage is very much designed for a law firm," Hafford said. "In terms of the deep-dive, technical [components] in a network, law firms are not terribly different than any other type of firm." However, law firms will routinely have 20 different applications from various vendors that, "in one way or another, have to talk to each other," making integration a challenge. "That's why many law firms, at some point, turn to a vendor that's legal-specific," he said.

Professional services market: Fulfilling the new demands

Carmel said professional services firms have unique criteria for cloud services, which iManage strives to meet. Firms need an environment that offers greater governance than usual, as well as "greater assurances about how information will be managed." Given the peripatetic manner in which professionals work, they need easy access to information on mobile devices. And because professionals generally work with large files and documents, they need fast access. "People are busy, and they bill at rather relatively high hourly rates. Keeping them waiting a minute for a download 10 times a day would be considered very frustrating," he said.

Another factor driving cloud adoption is the influx of new user attitudes. As a young generation of professionals enters the field, they bring with them experience working on mobile devices and with collaborative cloud-based apps, such as Google Docs. They expect to continue to work that way. IManage has dubbed this type of user the new professional.

"We see this big trend reshaping the demands on IT in all these firms, because the new professional has an expectation on how technology works," he said. "They're expecting [the technology] to be simple, integrated [and] mobile-friendly."

He noted new user expectations create an interesting tension in many professional service organizations. Not only do the expectations bump up against the traditional enterprise software that doesn't conform to consumer-friendly models, they can open up firms to the use of shadow IT.

Hafford said the typical new law firm user wants to work anywhere on any device, but he added that the younger generation of lawyers aren't necessarily the only ones that prize mobility. "I am shocked and stunned at the number of older attorneys who are adopting this technology because of the mobility aspect of it," he said.

IManage has witnessed the client base is changing, as well. Concerned with security breaches, clients have begun "clamping down more and more and making you fill out longer and longer surveys," Carmel said. These surveys can contain a multitude of restrictions, obligations and requirements, "all of which you have to be prepared to attest to and ... be measured against." Carmel cited the EU's General Data Protection Regulation as an example of legislation that will fine firms that can't prove "proficient controls over customer personal information."

"It's a really interesting and challenging time for professionals," Carmel said. "They want to work a certain way ... and yet ... still keep the firm's name of the front page of the papers."

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