Stepping up to the cloud

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A recent report by IT Intelligence Markets predicts that legal practice management software will experience a steady annual growth of 14% up until 2021, with cloud-based services representing a primary proportion of this growth. Just a few years ago, the idea of migrating a law firm’s document management system (DMS) to the cloud was in many cases met with suspicion, uncertainty or outright dismissal by its senior management. Today however, alongside data security, the cloud is one of the most discussed topics amongst law firms, with most planning to move their DMS to the cloud at some point in the next few years.

As a naturally risk-averse profession, it’s fair to say that the legal sector has been slower than other industries in cloud adoption, with data residency, security and privacy concerns being cited as the biggest barriers. However, the landscape is changing rapidly, and a ‘cloud-first’ strategy is being adopted by CIOs and IT Directors of many law firms and corporate IT. The study by IT Intelligence Markets also highlighted that the flexibility cloud integration offers such as scaling up and down and also a reduction of costs surrounding in-house IT and maintenance has meant law firms are now able to focus on other proficiencies. Yet, the biggest challenge in adopting this approach has traditionally been around how to demonstrate and convince the wider firm that this is a low-risk approach and the right strategy.

So, what considerations need to be made by a law firm on its journey to the cloud?

  1. Form a strategic cloud plan

The success of your journey to the cloud will be largely determined by the plan put in place at the offset. This needs to consider a current state analysis, inter-office collaboration and library design, data residency and hosting, and both logical and physical security. Ultimately, the objective of this design stage is to get clarity on where data is going to be hosted, how it will be accessed, and what integration rework will be required. Take time to understand collaboration processes and patterns between departments and offices; jurisdictional restrictions on data; and clients’ agreed terms for cloud hosting. Maximise efficiency by having a clear goal in mind and designing a prioritised roadmap that will outline each key stage of the process and the involvement required. Finally, appoint a project team, who can ensure buy-in from all of the necessary departments to minimise obstacles and enable any challenges that do arise to be quickly solved along the way.

  1. On premise vs hybrid cloud

Consider whether a full cloud-only approach is the best way forward for the firm, or whether a hybrid solution might be more suitable. Are you looking for a solution with direct SQL access, flexible reporting options and simple integrations? Or can these be reworked to take advantage of the lower management overheads, infrastructure costs and enhanced security offered by cloud solutions? The same solution won’t work for all law firms, so understanding the firm-specific challenges needing to be addressed will help to inform this decision.

  1. Engage the business and understand cloud data regulations

Business engagement is a crucial stage to gain ‘buy-in’ for cloud acceptance across the firm. Within the legal sector, stakeholders are likely to be risk-averse, resistant to change and have a mixed perception of the issues. Where this is the case, make sure that communications to stakeholders address these concerns. Educate them that cloud does not mean the firm compromises security or control of data, and that the needs of the client will be considered at every stage of the journey.

Understanding where your data should be located is critical, as is examining specific regulations that apply in different global regions to ensure you know which regulations apply in which jurisdiction. As part of engaging the rest of the business with your cloud strategy, make sure you feedback your findings to stakeholders so you can provide reassurance that you would not fall foul of any regulatory restrictions.

  1. Respect client requirements

Most law firms would be unwilling to turn away work if a client has specific requests around their data. A critical element of your move to the cloud must therefore be to identify which, if any, of your clients might be cloud-averse. Review your contractual terms and identify any clauses regarding data governance, residency, transfer and use of third parties to ensure your new system is able to respect these requirements. Often these restrictions are historical and can be refreshed without compromising the client relationship.

  1. Costing the cloud

By understanding client data requirements and how these map to your data, you should be able to understand and present both the commercial benefits and cost efficiencies to the wider business. Calculate the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for different hosting options – including server costs, software licencing, future upgrades, and other relevant costs – in order to ensure final business case signoff is a smooth process.

Continuous learnings

The journey to the cloud needn’t be complicated as long as the process begins with clearly defined aims, realistic scope and a clear roadmap of how you expect the journey to unfold. Have a clear understanding of both your clients and stakeholders, ensuring you are ready to address any concerns they may have about information security. Lastly, have an exit strategy in place. Most firms move to the cloud successfully and never look back, but you need to be prepared for all eventualities.

Cloud hosting is now the primary hosting model for DMS’s. Are you ready?

David Malkinson, Technical Director, Phoenix Business Solutions

https://www.phoenixbs.com/