The news that Tikit has jumped into bed with NetDocuments as its preferred strategic document management solution partner – ending all iManage sales going forward – should really be a surprise to no-one.

Once iManage’s leading reseller, the three have made unhappy bedfellows since Tikit made the surprise announcement that it would support NetDocuments in July 2016.

While Tikit said at the time of that announcement that it aspired to give its customers complete choice – far from a ridiculous aspiration – in practical terms the bitter rivalry between iManage and NetDocuments was never going to sit well.

NetDocuments could, at one time, have happily been pitched as the cloud-based DMS alternative to iManage’s on premise offering. But by the time Tikit announced its new relationship, iManage had got serious and launched its own, compelling cloud offering, with the picture becoming entirely muddled for everybody.

The writing was on the wall for the demise of the Tikit-iManage partnership in April, when Tikit stopped support and maintenance for the market leader.

For law firms, this meant finding another supplier for support by 1 November – a logistical headache that takes time but has no immediate palpable benefit, and in many cases the irritation has been obvious.

At this stage, Tikit still maintained that it could continue selling iManage, although the big question was whether clients would really turn to Tikit for sales and another vendor for ongoing support.

In Tikit’s favour? It’s reputation, established relationships and bandwidth, versus the lesser known quantity of many of its hungry, newer competitors such as Ascertus and Tiger Eye.

But clients’ demands for clarity have won the day, and it is unsurprising.

Tikit’s comms around the iManage changes have been unrealistically optimistic and confusion has palpably grown. Tikit announced an uptick in iManage work right before stopping sales and support, and it announced an iManage breakfast seminar almost immediately after, which set the Legal IT Insider hotline alight with cries of ‘what exactly is going on?’

The legal market does shades of grey very badly. It likes its flexible arrangements to be precisely defined.

So, the fallout is now final and it is highly unlikely that this is where, with that first announcement in July 2016, Tikit hoped it would end up – although it must have recognised the risks.

Speaking to Tikit’s CEO Katherine Ainley about this latest twist, she says the decision to back NetDocuments has been driven by the strength of its cloud-first technology, mirroring Tikit’s own strategy and vision for the law firm of the future.

It’s a bold move. NetDocuments is making good ground in the United States where it now counts Orrick and King & Spalding among its clients but in the UK, has yet to make any headway in the UK top 50 (Farrer & Co, in the top 60, is the largest known DMS client to date). But Ainley says: “What we are committed to do as Tikit is being the market leader and being an innovator – to an extent our job and our duty is to make that call earlier and be bold on that rather than wait to the point where the market is saturated.

“When you dig underneath the two products the NetDocuments cloud proposition is incredibly strong and there is a big difference in the way they are architected,” she adds.

Tikit clearly has a comprehensive cloud-first strategy and as well as working closely with NetDocuments, it has taken strategic steps to help law firms boost their workflow mobility and business agility through partnerships with cloud-based CRM provider Introhive and marketing and data platform provider Legal Publish, not to mention Microsoft.

Ainley said in a statement yesterday (6 June): “Our clients are clear that a fully integrated mobile working environment is critical to law firms’ future success, with cloud-based solutions at the heart of that strategy for the vast majority. Tikit has, over the past two years, developed a clear strategy and invested heavily this both in the development of its own solutions and in its selection of strategic partners. Tikit’s release of Carpe Diem in the cloud with its single, device-independent HTML5 interface, partnering with NetDocuments for cloud-based document management and recent partnerships with other cloud-first providers such as Introhive and Legal Publish all support our vision for the law firm of the future.”

She adds: “We’ve completed and are part way through a number of successful NetDocuments implementations globally this year and both our clients and our implementation teams have been thrilled with the product, how it works and how simple it is to use and install. NetDocuments clients see high levels of user adoption, and NetDocuments’ significant levels of investment behind their cloud-first strategy continue to impress us. The year ahead looks very exciting with additional integrations to be announced between Tikit and NetDocuments products.”

There is no doubt that NetDocuments has, in Tikit, found a fairly formidable partner that, now freed of any conflicts, will inevitably help it to increase market share.

How long it will take to build up UK business is anyone’s guess and it is likely that early gains will come among smaller, less conservative and more agile law firms, where Tikit will be able to offer cloud-based document management, time keeping, financial management and workflow tools, potentially within a Microsoft Office 365 environment.

In the medium and long term, those wins are very likely to grow in size alongside cloud adoption rates but what is certain is that to lose all of iManage’s work in the space of a year could have had serious financial repercussions for a business not owned by BT.

There are only really two surprises in all of this. One, how fast the 15-year Tikit iManage partnership has completely unravelled. And two, that Tikit ever thought it could be a strategic DMS supplier to both vendors.