What challenges were you faced with prior to working with Laws.Africa?
We were required to create and maintain our own library of relevant legislation in order to create the legal references we need to link to the compliance requirements. Doing this is very time-consuming, and hence expensive.
Although we have access to updated legislation provided by a major commercial on-line publisher, this source is unsatisfactory for our purposes for the following reasons:
- The subscription agreements of commercial on-line publishers prohibit subscribers making the legislation available to other users (i.e. SpotOn may not make it available to its clients);
- the subscription fees are expensive and are payable per user which mean that even if the publisher consented to SpotOn providing its users with access to their legislation, it would be prohibitively expensive to do so (SpotOn charges per client site and does not charge for additional users); and
- commercial publishers intentionally formatted the legislation that they provide in ways that make it difficult and time consuming to reformat it so that it can be read by a computer, manipulated to create the specific legal references we require (e.g. a specific subparagraph of a section) and made available via the SpotOn online platform.
Prior to working with Law.Africa and using the Indigo platform we had to convert PDFs of legislation to Word format, check for errors, reformat them and then cut and paste the relevant portions into the SpotOn system in order to create the legal references.
Why did you choose to work with Laws.Africa and the Indigo platform?
The initial impetus was to save time and costs in formatting legislation so that it could be used to create the legal references. The Indigo platform was very useful in that regard but required SpotOn to employ people who were skilled in using it. The subsequent outsourcing of that function to the specialists employed by Laws.Africa has been an important step forward in the collaboration.
Our business is based on selling our specialist legal expertise via an on-line platform and backing it up with support by specialist attorneys. SpotOn is not an on-line publisher of legislation, and does not aspire to be one. Access to updated legislation is a necessary but incidental aspect of our software-as-service business which involves analyzing all applicable legislation and explaining in plain language what the law requires and what practical steps should be taken to comply with it. We would prefer not to have to go to the expense of reviewing the Government Gazettes each week in order to identify changes to legislation and then maintain updated versions of that legislation. It is uneconomic for a small business to do so and we only did so because it was necessary in order to provide the service that we offer and we didn’t have a better option.
Although it will take some time for Laws.Africa to add all the legislation that we require to their database, once we can source all the legislation that we need, in an updated and machine-readable form, from Laws.Africa, it will be very beneficial to our business. In particular it will enable us to focus on our core business of using our professional expertise to add value.
How does Laws.Africa help you achieve your overall strategy?
We share the belief that legislation should be freely available to everyone who is required to comply with it, and believe that this will become the norm in future. Consequently, we want the SpotOn business to be based on open-access rather than proprietary legislation (although this can only be done progressively.) It is beneficial to SpotOn to collaborate with an organization that is part of this global movement.
We are also very supportive of the development of the Akoma Ntoso standard for machine readable legal text. This will enable the development of software tools that can be used in different jurisdictions, and will make it easier to scale-up businesses cost-effectively. The fact that Laws.Africa are a part of that process, keep up to date with developments in that regard, and can provide advice to our software developer, are important additional benefits.
The existence of Laws.Africa as a reliable, low-cost, provider of machine-readable legislation provides a foundation on which business like ours can build a variety of innovative service offerings. However it will require significant donor or other investment in Laws.Africa in order to enable it to scale-up the volume of legislation in its database and to keep it updated.
How has Laws.Africa helped your business?
This partnership has enabled us to increase efficiency and reduce costs as a consequence of not having to format all the legislation that we require in order to create the legal references we need.
As Laws.Africa adds more of the laws we require to their database we anticipate that we will be able to replace all the references that we currently use, and provide all SpotOn users with access to a curated library of the legislation relevant to their site.
We also have plans to restructure the architecture of our software to take full advantage of the possibilities that access to machine-readable legislation libraries offer but do not yet have the funding to implement these plans.
What are you able to do now that was not possible before?
Our software developer was able to build a software tool that makes it faster and easier for us to create legal references from the machine readable legislation provided by Laws.Africa. We can now create well-formatted legal references to link to the legal requirements much more quickly and accurately.
We anticipate that once Laws.Africa has added more legislation to their database, we will be able to offer SpotOn clients an additional service by providing curated libraries of open-access legislation from Laws.Africa for each of our client sites.
We can develop software based on an international standard (Akoma Ntoso) which will mean that it can be used much more easily in multiple jurisdictions, which will facilitate the development of the business.
How has this helped you to meet the needs of your users?
The benefits of our collaboration with Laws.Africa have not yet had an impact on how we meet the needs of our users. We anticipate that it will eventually benefit our users as a consequence of: reduced subscription costs (which we will be able to offer as a consequence of the efficiency gains referred to above) and additional services (e.g. access to libraries of selected legislation).
How will this help your business respond to future opportunities and challenges?
We believe that the ability of our business to remain competitive, to respond to future opportunities and challenges and to continue innovating in the provision of on-line legal services is substantially enhanced by our collaborative partnership with Laws.Africa. We firmly believe that the availability of open-source legislation will increase rapidly throughout the world and that in the longer term, businesses that embrace this reality and take advantage of the opportunities which this creates, will be better placed than those which rely on proprietary legislation.