[Editor’s note: The cloud document management company NetDocuments held its second-annual Elevate conference Oct. 6-8 in Salt Lake City. I was not able to attend, but e-discovery consultant Brett Burney was there and files this report. Be sure to scroll down for Brett’s video from the conference.]

How many of you would be surprised to hear that the cloud is inevitable? That was certainly a big takeaway from Elevate 2019, the annual user/partner conference hosted by NetDocuments in Salt Lake City Oct. 6-8.

It’s not just because NetDocuments happens to be a cloud-based document management company boasting over 2,700 customers (491 of those added over the past year). The recent 2019 ILTA Tech Survey reported that 72% of law firms predict their use of cloud computing would increase in the coming year with 31% planning to migrate their DMS to the cloud (topped only by email systems at 39%). There’s no denying the trend. There are a lot of law firms floating in the cloud and NetDocuments is enabling the inevitable.

Platinum Anniversary

One reason NetDocuments is successfully leading this charge is because the company is now 20 years strong. The platinum anniversary theme reverberated throughout the sessions, speeches, announcements and awards. Alvin Tedjamulia, NetDocuments’ cofounder and CTO, boldly declared in his keynote that platinum is a metal “more rare, more pure, higher value, more durable, and more stable than gold … just like NetDocuments.”

While there are a few other legal software companies that can trace their history back 20 years, the vast majority are either gone or have been acquired or incorporated into other products. It’s truly significant that any company in this space — much less a cloud-computing company — is not only still in existence but actually thriving more than ever. NetDocuments placed its bets on a new-fangled thing called “cloud-computing” before we even knew what that was, and that decision today shines like platinum.

One way the company celebrated the significant anniversary was by presenting the “Customer Zero” award to a Salt Lake City law firm that signed a contract with it in 1998, before it had even formally rolled out the platform. David Hartvigsen of Smith Hartvigsen, who was there to accept the award, said he was simply looking for an easier way to collaborate with other lawyers at the firm. Twenty years later, they’re still devoted customers.

Cloud-Based Transparency

While there were some big announcements at the conference (e.g. CollabSpaces, ndMail for Office 365, and others), I found the smaller tweaks and practical developments much more interesting that were focused on helping individuals get their work done. This theme was firmly planted in CEO Josh Baxter’s opening comment: “You’ve known [NetDocuments] as a place to manage your documents but it’s way more than that … it’s a place you do work. Let’s get to work.”

In almost every session, it struck me how transparent the company was with providing details about their product roadmaps and development details. Sure, every software company releases bullet points of new features they roll out, but the number of NetDocuments executives, developers, trainers, compliance officers, and product managers who took the stage to provide details and answer questions was remarkable. NetDocuments obviously knows it has a leading product, but there’s always room for improvement and its staff seemed confident in taking questions and constructive criticism directly from the audience.

Dan Hauck, chief product officer, described improvements in the mobile apps for filing documents and announced “SmartView” that will allow users to view more files as “beautiful, crisp, high-fidelity documents” inside the platform so they don’t have to download them.

Bradlee Duncan, senior product manager, discussed the next evolution of ndMail, which was previously limited to filing individual messages, but will soon be expanded to “Conversation Filing.” There will also be an add-in for Microsoft Office 365 giving firms more flexibility over the Microsoft Outlook integration.

JB Trexler, senior director of professional services, shared how even today they’re learning how users utilize Workspaces, one of the main interfaces for NetDocuments. As a result, they continue to tweak the interplay between “Filters,” “Folders,” “Saved Searches,” and “Containers” based on how legal professionals store, organize, and retrieve files. Valerie Connell, director of DMS solutions, then took the stage with Trexler and answered an unfiltered salvo of questions from the audience on current fixes, scheduled refinements, and future plans.

Dave Snow, compliance manager, reiterated the company’s vigorous emphasis on security and compliance so that as a NetDocuments customer, you can offer those same safeguards to your clients. Snow announced a “Compliance Document List” accessible in the NetDocuments Security Center where you can download explanations about security procedures, software development lifecycles, and more.

Practical Platinum

Really as an extension of transparency at the conference, several sessions involved partners, integrators, vendors, and customers who all shared real-life, in-the-field, practical examples (good and bad) of NetDocuments in use.

One of the most approachable sessions was a panel with Gene D’Aversa of Husch Blackwell LLP and Douglass Mitchell of Boies Schiller Flexner. D’Avesa explained how they used NetDocuments to solve the completely inefficient and redundant process of downloading and saving documents from the federal courts’ PACER system. Formerly, they would have associates constantly monitor PACER for new filings, download them at a cost, and then painstakingly distribute them to every member of a litigation team. Each lawyer would then store the filings in their own method and mess.

Working in conjunction with PacerPro to automatically download filings, D’Aversa’s team used the API to pull those downloads into NetDocuments to be the central repository. More importantly, they grabbed the all-important metadata for each filing that would populate dynamic profile fields in NetDocuments so users can filter by judge, docket entry, case title, etc.

Brett Burney provides his video report of the conference.

Security and Compliance Smooth as Platinum

One word that was mentioned in almost every session was “security,” which is a core focus at NetDocuments. In fact, VP of Compliance David Hansen commented to me that he doesn’t view NetDocuments as a document management company. “We are a security company that provides document management services,” he said. And while Hansen could be forgiven for being biased in his role, the focus is unavoidable.

Security-related announcements at the conference included added capabilities to secure Workspaces (in addition to individual files), CollabSpaces to securely share documents with external uses, and more flexibility in where customers can physically store their files in data centers across the world through ndFlexStore Pro. All of these announcements were welcomed with applause from attendees, many of whom are tasked with the responsibility of securing confidential information entrusted to their firms.

While the NetDocuments Elevate 2019 conference was certainly a celebration for customers and partners, there was no denying the emphasis on continued platform improvements, user education, and aggressive security enhancements. Only time can write the next twenty years of NetDocuments’ history, but for the present they are undoubtedly poised to design the future of document management and cloud computing for the legal profession and beyond.

When lawyers need help navigating their eDiscovery questions, they call Brett Burney. Brett works with law firms and corporate legal departments to recommend document review tools, streamline their eDiscovery workflows, and keep litigation costs low. Brett’s website is www.burneyconsultants.com and you can download the free eDiscovery Buyers Guide he authored at www.ediscoverybuyersguide.com. Email Brett at burney@burneyconsultants.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bburney or connect with him on LinkedIn.