I recently read a news item about a group of Wall Street firms considering migrating from a traditional, well-established messaging platform that uses proprietary technology to a new, open-source solution they can tailor to their specific needs. The report was striking to me because I’ve worked in the financial services sector and I know firsthand that major technological changes like this don’t happen every day in that industry. Naturally, because of the industry I now work in, this news got me thinking about open and closed approaches to legal eBilling.

First some clarification on what this means. While the terminology around open and closed technology may be new to some, the distinction is one we’ve all become accustomed to on the consumer side. Mobile devices are a common example. The technology used by Apple in their mobile products is considered to be closed. Only Apple devices run the iOS operating system; and you can only buy software for iOS-based devices through the Apple App Store, after it’s been reviewed and approved by Apple. A company like Google, on the other hand, offers open technology. Google’s Android operating system runs on many mobile devices from various manufacturers. And there are numerous sources for apps to run on these devices. If you have the inclination, you can even access the source code that the Android operating system is comprised of.

Which type of technology is better for you depends on the kind of consumer you are. For example, if you want certainty that your existing apps will adapt seamlessly when you update to a newer version of your current smartphone, then Apple’s technology is a good choice. However, if your paramount concern is being able to run the same apps on your smartphone, tablet, and laptop, even if those devices are made by different companies, Google’s technology would likely suit you better.

But what’s true for consumer markets, isn’t necessarily true in the business world. So what about eBilling? There are a number of solutions on the market, each taking a different approach to receiving legal invoices from law firms and presenting them to clients. Some systems use proprietary invoice formats (closed technology) that must be precisely integrated with specific law firm time and billing software in order for the two systems to “talk to” one another. Others leverage industry standards, achieving integration without the need for any custom development.

In the case of eBilling, it’s clear to me that open technologies offer more flexibility, customizability, and value to clients. The ecosystem that exists between law firms and corporate legal departments works best when workflows are smoothly integrated and best practices are easily adhered to. When a firm submits invoices through a time and billing system, no matter how high quality that system is, if it doesn’t integrate into the client’s eBilling solution, then the process is bifurcated. Much more work is required to complete an intermediate step where an invoice is “translated” from the time and billing system’s proprietary “language” into that of the eBilling system. This can lead to invoice submission errors, less timely information exchange, lack of transparency, and increased risk for both parties.

Open technologies allow for greater linkages between time and billing systems, eBilling platforms and other Enterprise Legal Management tools. With even the notoriously traditionalist financial services industry recognizing the potential of open technologies,  all companies should be sure to keep in mind how open solutions might improve their workflow and better support their best practices.