To some within the legal technology field, the value of enterprise software vendor app development platforms is not widely appreciated.
This is a function of our industry, one in which many law firm chief information officers (CIOs) or corporate technology managers assigned to legal operations are generally focused on implementing existing applications and tools. Those specializing in building new legal applications — often having to code them from the ground up — is a comparatively small number.
To put that another way, most legal technology leaders generally are working on projects to purchase, configure, and deploy cloud-based apps both from enterprise level software providers, such as Microsoft, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google, or more legal-centric providers in core disciplinary functions such as e-discovery, document management, practice support, time entry, etc.
Even given the impressive portfolio of products in the marketplace today, there are further opportunities to leverage development platforms within the current legal sector. These platforms offer even more utility within the rapidly-changing business climate created by the recent global pandemic.
What is an app development platform?
Simply put, app development platforms are developmental toolkits hosted by large enterprise software vendors. These environments allow for rapid build-outs of new applications within these platforms. The building is usually done by skilled configuration specialists rather than pure software programmers.
Let’s start with an example we all can relate to — our mobile devices. We all get the concept of the Apple App Store (for iOS) or Google Play (for Android) — these are “stores” that allow users to browse and download useful apps for our phones and tablets. Pretty simple concept.
Well, similar marketplaces have emerged for corporate apps rendered within enterprise-level platforms used by the world’s largest companies. Some examples are the Salesforce App Exchange and Oracle Cloud Marketplace. That means that companies who use Salesforce as their customer relationship management (CRM) system or the Oracle database to power their business can access business-related applications in these marketplaces.
Targeting functional areas
Salesforce, for example, offers various functional suites such as a Healthcare Cloud or Financial Services Cloud. The general value premise is that users of their core product — in the case of Salesforce, that’s its sales/business development CRM offering — benefit by using software in other vertical markets which are integrated with CRM data. One example of the anticipated synergies available through these interrelationships is the ability for users to tie their financial applications that manage cash flow to order receivables.
So, how might all of this relate to legal operations? Corporate law departments work on many types of transactions that can be integrated and streamlined within an organization (e.g., contract management, business development and licensing work, real estate transactions, and IP work to name a few.)
You might be thinking, this is interesting, but why can’t a corporate law department just go out and buy off-the-shelf software for these functions? Of course, they can; but app development platforms can offer significant advantages, including:
Rapid Builds — Development platforms such as Oracle Visual Builder or Salesforce Lightning offer skilled technology professionals the opportunity to configure, rather than code, applications from the ground up. It’s a strategy which is near-and-dear to my heart since I spent the past 15 years helping to run a software as a service (SaaS) product with a similar architecture. The ability to build application objects, place them on forms, and develop reports — all without coding — drastically slashes both the cost and time required to build out new applications or enhance feature sets within existing software tools.
Customization — A “build it yourself” model also allows for personalization and customization. At Tanenbaum Keale, we’ve used this approach for years to build out corporate defense case management software for our clients. And even in today’s crisis environment, good opportunities exist to deploy solutions that can target expanding areas of law — like bankruptcy/restructuring, insurance, and privacy/data security. Products like the Google App Engine or the offerings from Salesforce and Oracle all offer customization options beyond the flexibility alternatives offered by many common legal applications in the marketplace today.
Integration — Connecting all the pieces is a huge benefit of app development platforms designed for the corporate legal space. To explain, within the broader legal technology world, standardization bureaus like the Standards Advancement for the Legal Industry (SALI) Alliance strive to provide improved connectivity between different legal platforms that want to exchange data in an efficient manner.
The term interoperability is often used to describe a utopia of sorts in this area. And, although it is not precisely the same concept, deploying legal apps within the enterprise platform of a large organization is certainly barking up the same tree. If a corporate lawyer working on a licensing contract, for example, can share document revisions and associated data within the same “working container” as a company’s business and product development teams, that’s a huge win.
And that’s exactly what the entities pushing for more acceptance of app development platforms are seeking to accomplish.