If you’ve been using Practice Management and Accounting software for as long as we have, odds are good that your data is stored in a variety of arcane ways. Traditionally, most software is put together like a car - each model looks unique on the surface but is built using a collection of standardized components from various manufacturers. Although some software is written entirely from scratch, most - especially niche market products like Practice Management software - minimize their development costs by licensing major components such as the database. They then build their unique product design on top of that platform.
Since this “unique product design” is usually complex and proprietary, your data ends up locked away in silos to which you have limited access. If you want access to your data, you have to use whatever tools the software developer built into the program. If you want a report that isn’t built into the program, good luck! Your options are:
hope they have a report builder….
hope that it’s flexible enough to make what you need or
send off a plea to the developer and
ask them to create the report for you ($$$!), or
hope they build it into their next version.
But, good news! For the past few years a growing number of programs have been switching to SQL or at least offering it as an option. SQL databases have been around for a long time, but were traditionally only used by large-scale applications due to steep licensing fees and/or complex and costly setup. But recently Microsoft created a family of products using their SQL engine set at varying price points - including a free “Express” version! Microsoft alsoset up a partner program to encourage developers to use their platform. Since then many software developers have been taking advantage of being able to build affordable applications that use the powerful Microsoft SQL as their back end.
Here are just a few of the benefits available to firms like yours when using SQL-based products:
- Stability : Years ago, unless you were performing regular maintenance, a busy law firm would likely have to deal with database corruption problems. Woe to those who put off fixing a faulty backup system or, even worse, hadn’t been doing backups at all! SQL relieves this issue. it performs many maintenance routines automatically in the background to keep your data in tip top shape.
- Power : SQL will use whatever power you give it. If you have a fast, powerful server with lots of memory, SQL will take advantage of it. If the size of your firm doubles, SQL scales up to match it. IT pros call this “scalability”. Many of the largest websites and data centres run on a SQL database back-end for precisely this reason.
- Ease of access : Your data is no longer locked away in a silo. If you want to, you can access it directly through the standard Microsoft SQL interface. Being a major industry standard, most report writers and other data tools have built in tools for accessing SQL databases. If you need a report and your software doesn’t have it, it can be created for you. You can even use the SQL engine to add features your software lacks such as emailing out reminders about upcoming tasks or alerts for missed deadlines.
If your firm is still running an old version of Amicus or PCLaw or Time Matters - one that doesn’t use SQL as it’s back-end - it might be time to consider an upgrade. You stand to gain stability and the power to DO MORE with your data.
We would be happy to discuss the possibilities with you.