I know. There are several reasons why the cloud is an alarming topic for law firms. It’s true that there are a number of aspects about the cloud that should raise a few eyebrows amongst partners. For example, who owns our data? Where is it stored? What if there is a security breach?
But, ignoring Cloud is – in my view – just ask risky as blindly embracing it.
Law firms are inherently risk averse and though some law firms (particularly smaller/arguably more agile practices) are throwing caution to the wind – from my experience many others are avoiding the topic of cloud altogether – here’s why I think that’s a really bad thing:
1. Cloud doesn’t necessarily equal a loss of control
Assigning all that is risky and harmful and evil under “the cloud” umbrella is the equivalent of stating that all air travel is dangerous because planes can crash. True – planes do occasionally crash, but the risk is negligible when compared to say strapping on a set of wings and throwing yourself off the top floor of your building. One might argue that hanging on to your own IT infrastructure while the world moves online could be likened to just that!
When discussing Cloud keep in mind you might only wish to procure a little bit of Cloud rather than your entire IT system.
Let’s take security as an example. A traditional firm may opt to maintain security internally by way of purchasing firewalls and antivirus software. Yet what we’re seeing in the Cloud are highly advanced identity management solutions that are run and maintained by major security firms and are not at risk of internal meddling. With this sort of approach a new threat can be identified en-masse and resolved within a matter of hours with your firm being an instant beneficiary. Furthermore, no confidential data has changed hands.
Another example is Microsoft Office 365 which is a cloud replacement for the traditional Microsoft Office and carries a number of features and benefits (updated on what seems like a daily basis) and can be zoned to store your documents here in Australia. That’s a good thing if you subscribe to the belief that storing documents offshore makes you non-compliant in some way. The documents you store in ‘365 are also synced across as many devices as you like so the fear of losing data or control is not a realistic risk in many cases.
2. Cloud can help your firm scale (and shrink)
In the old method of buying computer systems and software your firm may have purchased 50, 100 or 500 software licenses along the way. Many firms I encounter are in fact over-licensed having purchased capacity in anticipation of growth. When that growth failed to materialise the firm is stuck with the cost. Equally a purchasing error in the IT department can leave the firm with thousands of dollars of unreturnable software.
Many other firms are heavily under-licensed and have found themselves subject to costly Microsoft audits which they must comply with.
In the Cloud model, licenses are sold on a per user/per use basis so if your firm hires a round of interns for 3 months it can elect the programs that intern needs to use and rent the required licenses. When the staffing requirements reduce so does the licensing cost. Likewise, it’s near-impossible to be under-licensed and therefore dramatically reduces your risk of failing an audit.
3. Cloud can reduce your costs
Law firms must take advantage of technology in order to reduce costs. In a hyper-competitive marketplace there is only so much you can do to increase revenues but there is still some ways to manage your costs.
Aside from the convenience of pay-as-you-go licensing there are other major cost savings to be had by shifting some of your IT system to the Cloud.
An example I often use is the firm that decides to host its own email system in-house. This type of technology can require 1 or more servers to be purchased, maintained and routinely updated. Conversely, few firms would have ever considered hosting their own website when website hosting is already so reliable and almost always more cost effective when hosted online by somebody else.
One of the biggest reductions in IT infrastructure and maintenance you can make is to host your email elsewhere and there are literally hundreds of service providers and major vendors who can do this for you.
Contrary to popular belief when aspects of your IT system are outsourced to Cloud you should expect your IT to be more reliable.
When you select a reliable cloud provider you should expect guaranteed uptime periods and guaranteed support response times – unlike hardware and software that is essentially your responsibility. When your firm is no longer managing complex IT systems you should expect your existing IT staff / service provider to be deployed on more valuable functions such as digital and technology strategy, vendor procurement that delivers the most value to the business and employee training. These will either drive your costs down, make you more competitive or increase your productivity – ideally all three.
4. You could get left behind
..And it won’t be easy to catch up.
Every single major technology provider on earth have made their intentions clear and that is to put Cloud First in their strategy. Technology behemoths such as Microsoft, Apple, Google, HP, IBM, Oracle all have a clear intention to design their products in the cloud and by doing so reduce their efforts in the “on premise” world of IT. In other words, even if you buy a modern computer system today with a view to look at cloud 5 years now, chances are your investment won’t keep up with the major advances in Cloud technology and you’ll be left behind.
Features in Microsoft Office pale in comparison to its aforementioned Cloud counterpart “Office 365”. New features that improve productivity, management reporting and ease of access are added literally every day of the week. The installed version on the other hand “is what it is and does what it does” until you buy the next copy usually a few years later. The perpetual nature of Cloud software means one day you have an instantaneous new feature that your nearest competitor may not.
We’re seeing the competitive divide between the haves and have nots widen in the same way that firms who refused to adopt practice management software were outrun by their tech-savvy peers.
If you’re holding back and waiting for Cloud to evolve – you might find that the leap could be likened to shifting from a typewriter to an iPad!
5. Risk takers are history makers..
It is prudent to be risk averse and as a law firm it’s your duty to be cautious. However as a business it’s wise to think outside the box – the Cloud isn’t going away and many aspects deliver substantial benefit to every business – not just entrepreneurial ones.
Firms that are thinking about Cloud as an all encompassing “risky” technology are in danger of missing out on the technologies that could benefit the practice immensely.
Businesses – not just law firms – must consider ways to deliver better productivity, stronger communication with clients and a happier work environment for employees.
Does your law firm embrace or ignore the Cloud?
About the Author: James Vickery is the founder and CEO of I Know IT, a transformative IT services provider. James connects law leaders to their strategy through technology with a firm belief that lawyers must re-enter their profession as innovators, thinking and acting as technology companies do in order to survive, compete and prosper in a digital economy.
James enables this new way of thinking and executing through consulting, coaching and delivery of technology solutions to Australian and international organisations. More from this author.