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By taking advantage of innovative capabilities in Windows Azure and assistance from Microsoft Services, LexisNexis developed its next-generation Time Matters Mobility service 25 percent faster than planned, delivering added value to customers and improving subscription retention rates as a result.
"We were able to use the versatility of Windows Azure to quickly build a mobile solution that transforms the way our customers access case and client data on the go."
LexisNexis is a pioneer in the legal information services business and serves customers in more than 100 countries. The independent software vendor (ISV) specializes in delivering innovative content-enabled workflow solutions designed to help law firms increase efficiency and minimize administrative costs. “We offer software solutions that help law firms better manage the business of law, so they can focus more effectively on the practice of law,” says Jonah Paransky, Vice President and General Manager of the Law Firm Practice Management business unit at LexisNexis.
The company has enjoyed widespread adoption—on the order of tens of thousands of law firms—of its flagship practice management solution called Time Matters. This desktop application combines contact, document, and matter management capabilities with tools for tracking billable hours and generating client billing statements. Law firms access the software through a perpetual license agreement and have the option to subscribe to an annual maintenance plan, which provides upgrade, technical support, and training benefits.
As executives at LexisNexis looked at ways to extend the value of Time Matters, they noted two related industry trends. First, lawyers rely increasingly on their mobile devices to stay productive while away from the office; they want the ability to securely access their firm’s data and documents from anywhere. Second, law firms are providing staff with greater freedom of choice when it comes to which mobile devices they can use for work.
Although LexisNexis had previously developed a Time Matters mobile application, customers could only use it on BlackBerry and some Palm smartphones. This application required users to manually perform hard sync operations to retrieve updated information from the servers inside their firms’ networks. This meant that lawyers working remotely—while in court, for example—lacked real-time access to content stored in the Time Matters database. “To adapt to how the industry was evolving, we wanted to deliver Time Matters to more devices, including a wider range of smartphones and tablet PCs,” says Paransky. “And we knew that it was critical to provide a mobile app that would enable lawyers to instantly connect to their firm’s data while on the go.”
As the company evaluated additional requirements for a new Time Matters mobile app, executives wanted to minimize the infrastructure needed to support it. “Our mission is to help law firms focus more time on their clients and spend less time on managing the business or worrying about technology,” says Paransky.
The executives recognized that many firms that use the desktop version of Time Matters have limited internal IT resources. Because LexisNexis intended to include the mobile app as an incentive for subscribing to or renewing the maintenance plan for Time Matters, it wanted to eliminate the need for customers to invest in additional hardware. Executives were also acutely aware of the duty that law firms have in safeguarding client confidentiality. In developing its new mobile app, it needed to balance infrastructure efficiency with access control and encryption concerns.
LexisNexis weighed several options, including using Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud services and hosting the application in its own data center. The company ultimately decided to useWindows Azure, the Microsoft cloud services development, hosting, and management environment, to deliver its new Time Matters app for mobile devices, which is called Time Matters Mobility. Time Matters Mobility from LexisNexis supports numerous mobile operating systems, including Android, BlackBerry OS, iOS, and Windows Phone 7.
LexisNexis executives considered a number of factors in making the decision to adopt Windows Azure over other alternatives. “We quickly realized that, with Windows Azure, we could gain the on-demand scalability we needed in a much more cost-effective way than if we attempted to build out our own multitier infrastructure,” says Paransky. “Plus, the Microsoft solution offers much more than just redundant hardware; it provides a complete set of familiar tools to manage the entire development lifecycle. And it gave us the chance to work directly with the people who know the technology best to make sure we got our application to market as fast as possible.”
To help architect and develop its next-generation Time Matters Mobility offering, the company engaged Microsoft Services. The Microsoft Services team first met with senior executives from LexisNexis to identify the company’s top strategic and business goals, in addition to project requirements and constraints. Based on this analysis, experts from Microsoft created a comprehensive solution framework in consultation with the company’s architecture and security teams.
During the next six months, technical professionals from Microsoft Services worked closely with developers from LexisNexis to create a sophisticated multitier web application that uses a number of components of Windows Azure. Developers used the Microsoft ASP.NET web application framework to create the Time Matters mobile website. They then configured a web role in Windows Azure to host the site’s user interface and provisioned worker roles to process user registration requests and queries for on-premises case data. Developers used Microsoft SQL Azure, which provides cloud-based relational database capabilities built on Microsoft SQL Server technologies, as a resource for managing user logon credentials and endpoint identity information.
The team also took full advantage of the Windows Azure Service Bus to ensure scalable, reliable messaging between application components hosted in the cloud and workloads running on-premises. Part of Windows Azure, the Service Bus enables direct connectivity to services running behind firewalls and network address translation devices. With help from Microsoft Services, LexisNexis also incorporated rigorous claims-based authorization capabilities into the application by using the Windows Azure Access Control service.
Once registered users log on, they can use their mobile devices to communicate directly with the on-premises version of the Time Matters application to view and edit contacts, manage dockets, and input time and expense data. “Although users are interacting directly with their firms’ network resources, none of the information they retrieve is actually stored in the cloud at any point during their sessions, so they don’t need to worry about potential security threats or data loss,” explains Paransky.
By taking advantage of the rich platform-as-a-service (PaaS) capabilities of Windows Azure, and by working closely with Microsoft Services throughout the product development process, LexisNexis delivered its revolutionary Time Matters Mobility solution to market 25 percent faster than projected. In addition to extending the value of an existing solution to strengthen customer retention, the company has widened its edge over competitors. “We were able to use the versatility of Windows Azure to quickly build a mobile solution that transforms the way our customers access case and client data on the go,” says Paransky.
Through its engagement with Microsoft Services, which provided strategy consulting and end-to-end solution development guidance, LexisNexis was able to trim three months from its original development estimate. “Microsoft Services provided the kind of domain expertise that would have been very difficult to find elsewhere, particularly around integrating on-premises and cloud-based infrastructure,” says Paransky. LexisNexis was ultimately able to deliver Time Matters Mobility to market in nine months—25 percent faster than company leaders had projected.
With its Time Matters Mobility solution, LexisNexis offers a services-based legal practice management application that helps customers avoid the need to invest in additional on-premises infrastructure. The company is eager to take advantage of the PaaS capabilities of Windows Azure to extend functionality in its existing mobile solution. And executives are evaluating the option to deliver additional solutions as cloud services running on Windows Azure in the coming months.
Beyond achieving fast time-to-market and reducing development costs, executives at LexisNexis knew it was critical to deliver a mobile solution that offered significant value to customers. The company was able to build on the innovative features of Windows Azure to meet rigorous industry standards and customer-specific requirements for data protection. “The Service Bus and Access Control capabilities in Windows Azure are the key to enabling delivery of real-time case data to lawyers through our Time Matters Mobility solution, without compromising security protocols,” says Paransky.
Since it started offering the mobile app, LexisNexis has benefitted from a significant improvement in annual maintenance plan retention rates. “Time Matters Mobility is a critical driver of this success, and we know that we couldn’t have gotten to this point this quickly without Windows Azure,” says Paransky.