ILTA O365 white paper Getting Ready: The Lowdown on Office 365 Compatibility, December 2017

TikitAs more firms think about enabling their attorneys to work on any device at any time, more and more CIOs could make the mistake of assuming that Office 365 will instantly give them everything they need. First you need to understand the limitations of Office 365 before you charge headlong into the cloud.

Let’s not begin by making flawed assumptions. Not all legal firms are thinking about mobile working yet. There may well be many who simply want Office 365 because it provides other advantages. Instead of buying a product in the conventional way, with Office 365, you are just renting it. There’s no more need to live with older versions of Word, Outlook, Excel or PowerPoint until you get around to replacing them. There’s no more need to budget for a big spend every time the firm updates its Microsoft software. With Office 365, you’re subscribing to a service that automatically offers updates to the latest version (although you need not deploy them). And as with any other subscription model, you’re paying a regular fee with no more one-off payments.

If this was why you wanted Office 365, or are contemplating getting it—that’s great. You will continue to have all of the functionality you had before. Your users will see nothing different, and their experience of using the software will not change. Infact nothing will change except the frequency of updates, and how you pay for them.

However, if you want something different from what you have– specifically a way to enable agile working—and you think Office 365 may seamlessly deliver it, think again. In my experience, a surprising number of people don’t understand what Office 365 really is. They don’t understand there will be some roadblocks, restrictions, work-arounds, limitations and compromises ahead—not necessarily caused by Office 365 itself, but by the software you will want to use with it.

And, if you’re curious whether your current supporting software will be compatible with Office 365, the answer is, unfortunately, “It depends!”

The Variables

Whether a given software program is compatible with Office 365 will depend on several things which can be categorised under two headings: the specific version of an application being used and the way it gets onto the machine that’s using it, which I’ll get to later.

For now, what do I mean by the specific version of an application? Well, clearly there is now a wider range of devices that attorneys may want to use for work than ever before. They will probably already have a desktop machine. Increasingly, they will use laptops and will want to use tablets and smartphones. Office 365 enables that. It is important to remember that when I use any of the Office 365 suite of applications—for example, Word—on a desktop, then on a tablet, then on a mobile phone, Word may look and behave in much the same way, however, the device is dictating which specific version of Word I use each time. On the desktop I’m using Word for Windows, on the tablet I’m using Word for an iOS or Android tablet, on my smartphone I’m using Word for an iOS or Android smartphone and so on. And actually each different version offers different functionality.

And it’s not even subtly different functionality. There are some things that I simply won’t be able to do, depending on the version I’m using. (Although broadly speaking, I can do more things, with more choices, in a Windows environment than anywhere else.)

And it’s not even just whether things can or can’t be done. There are also things that are just different. By using Word on an iPad, I can save documents directly to NetDocuments in the cloud. That’s not an option open to me using Word for Windows on any device at the moment, so NetDocuments have worked to ensure this restriction does not impact their users.

The Delivery Model

A further variable is how the software gets on to the device I’m using. Office 365 lets you access software in one of three ways. It can be loaded onto the machine in the conventional way, where it will sit and be used (Windows desktops, tablets and smartphones). It can be downloaded and installed onto the machine by streaming from a server somewhere (this is called “click to run”) and finally, the software can be streamed from the cloud as it is being used, and never downloaded onto the machine or device at any point (Office Online). In this scenario, I could walk into your office, sit down at any PC with internet access and use Office applications on that machine. But when I log off, you can’t then use those applications on that machine, because they’re not there. While this model provides terrific flexibility, it offers the most limited functionality of all the delivery models.

It’s up to the firm, of course, to decide which models to adopt and support.

No matter what decision is made, your supporting software will be confronted by—and have to interact with—a different incarnation of Office for every device or every time software is delivered via a different delivery model.

Does this affect whether your supporting software is compatible with Office 365 in that instance? The answer is yes, it does.

The downside of Office 365’s fantastic flexibility is that the other, less flexible programs you may want to use with Office 365 could struggle to keep up.

How to Respond To the Challenge

In reality, most firms have developed a smorgasbord of supported software over several years that add value when they work in concert with a Microsoft application or applications. Typically this will be software, which compares documents, numbers paragraphs, files email messages, dials telephones or manages documents in a document management system.

Some of these programs will have been developed in-house and some will have been bought from software or legal software vendors. Are they going to be compatible with Office 365? It probably depends on the specific instance of Word, Outlook, Excel or PowerPoint being used, which, as discussed, will vary by device and how it got onto the device.

That might be an unsatisfactory answer, but at least it’s accurate. What legal firm CIOs must do now is see this as an opportunity to revisit and renew their software application estate.

What To Do Now

Perhaps the first thing that CIOs must do is accept that change is coming. Attorneys will increasingly expect to work on a range of devices, in a range of places, and at a range of times. Some firms might have adopted a particular model whereby they have immunity from the march of mobility, but my guess is they will be few and far between. For everyone else, Office 365 will undoubtedly help enable work anytime, anywhere and on any device.

Having accepted the coming reality, the next thing to do is to make it work. Those firms that do will grab a certain degree of firstmover competitive advantage. They’ll be ahead of the firms moving to an Office 365 model at some future date when it may become the only option that Microsoft provides. That probably won’t happen for many years, but it will eventually.

So how do you make Office 365 work for your firm? I suggest that the first thing you do is assess what supporting software you have; then determine how, and if it’s being used and how much you need to keep it. There’s clearly no point in going through the pain of changing something that delivers little value or is seldom used.

Next, once you have a shortlist of the software you really need and really want to keep, determine if it’s in-house or vendor software. If it’s in-house, you need to find out whether you have the skills to redevelop it or can source those skills at a reasonable price, in a reasonable timeframe.

If it’s vendor software, ask your suppliers what their plans are for Office 365 compatibility. And don’t let them fob you off. Many may not be ready to roll out compatible versions yet, but they will increasingly have a roadmap for doing so.

The next thing to do is take a deep breath and compromise. Accept that there will be things you can’t sensibly change but that you can live with. Some functionality, for instance, could be extraordinarily difficult to achieve on a smartphone. But if it’s obtainable elsewhere, assess how much it really matters that it won’t work on smartphones. Then, if you can live with it, you must educate your users on what can and can’t be done on what device. Also tell them broadly why, so they understand you’re not being obstructive.

Attorneys will increasingly want a mobile capability. Younger attorneys will increasingly expect it. And did you know that by 2025— less than ten years from now—75 percent of the global workforce will be made up of so-called Millennials born after 1980? Office 365, which enables mobility, is the future. It’s just understanding what it really is, how it works and getting on board with the adjustments that must be made.


Mark is Chief Technology Officer of Tikit Ltd, a world-leader in technology solutions for law firms and has ultimate responsibility for the development of their Legal IT products including Tikit Carpe Diem, Tikit eMarketing, Tikit Template Management System and Tikit Connect. He would describe himself as a client success manager in development clothing and has always tried to maintain a close relationship with clients, ensuring that Tikit stays attuned to market needs and ahead of the competition in terms of product innovation and development. He can be reached at

This article was originally published in ILTA’s white paper and can be found here.

Associate News is provided by Legal Futures Associates.
Find out about becoming an Associate


Loading animation