Moving to the Cloud: Opportunities and Pitfalls
Law firms as a rule are resistant to swift changes in the way they work, but the value added by more efficient technologies is too great for most to ignore. This is especially true for upgrading data management through the cloud.
In this special feature, QuoStar CEO Robert Rutherford outlines the process involved in switching systems to the cloud and how law firms can ensure the best possible transition.
The legal sector’s move to cloud-based computing has been a long time coming, but in our post-pandemic world, there are fewer and fewer reasons for law firms not to already be in the cloud, let alone to just be considering it.
Though on-premises systems might still have their place for a small minority of cases, the cloud brings a wealth of benefits for legal firms. So, what exactly are these benefits and how can legal firms overcome some of the challenges that they might face when moving onto the cloud?
Why Move to the Cloud?
In the past, legal firms might have been concerned about the cybersecurity implications of placing confidential data online, but the reality is that the cloud will often be a more secure option than on-premises IT infrastructure. Providers typically have a larger budget, plus more robust security controls and governance than most legal firms, who quite often sail close to the wind in terms of their management of risk from an IT perspective. This is where cloud providers help, as they cover many areas of cybersecurity, which can dovetail with a firm’s own security systems and governance structures.
In fact, legal firms are notorious for building up technical debt within their IT environments. This brings risk and typically hampers transformation strategies. Cloud providers often take a very different approach, ensuring their IT platforms are always up to date with streamlined processes that smooth the upgrade cycle significantly and remove the need for forklift upgrades. Additionally, cloud environments in the main are significantly more resilient to failure when compared to on-premises solutions, protected by the scale and architecture of platforms that cloud providers usually run.
Like much of the world, the UK is experiencing an IT skills shortage and it is getting harder for firms to attract and retain the talent they require to run their IT systems effectively and securely. As a result, the skills and experience required to run the on-premises back-end infrastructure of a modern law firm just are no longer there. This is another area where the cloud can help firms significantly by moving the task of dealing with the complexities of managing all their hardware and associated IT systems to the provider. The firm can then focus their internal IT teams on better management and transformation of their legal application sets, which is where they can usually find real and measurable business gains.
Though on-premises systems might still have their place for a small minority of cases, the cloud brings a wealth of benefits for legal firms.
The cloud does not just ease the IT burden and improve security, but it can even be a more cost-effective solution for legal firms – particularly when compared to IT environments that are run internally. Too often, firms simply focus on the capital expenditure of their IT systems; they can miss the mounting soft costs, including people overheads, risk reduction, power supply and cooling costs that the cloud simply does not demand.
Getting Everyone on Board
Clearly, the cloud can bring many benefits for legal firms, but when it comes to making the transition, there are some key challenges and considerations that should be kept in mind.
One issue IT teams can so often encounter is the appetite for spending within the firm, particularly from a partnership level when decision-makers are only looking at the specific hard costs rather than the associated softer costs. As such, it is crucial that the true business case of shifting to the cloud is established and communicated clearly, right from the start.
Moving to the cloud is typically married to a full transformation journey and it is crucially important that staff are factored into that plan. This is especially true in the legal sector, where change can be a bit slower. Any and all communications to staff need real consideration before, during and after the project, and the key to success is ensuring that the IT team and partners are joined up on this journey.
From Plan to Progress
Once the wider team is committed to the move to the cloud, it is vital that everyone involved really considers the strategy and programme to deliver this business transformation. Many firms often proceed with their journey to the cloud without having a real strategy, leaving out business-focused requirements or failing to map projects onto a clear roadmap. This only serves to create delays in the transition, in some cases by a year or more as they struggle with interoperability and performance issues.
Part of the solution can be found in finding an IT partner to assist in the transition, but it is equally vital that the chosen partner is both reputable and experienced in the legal sector. On the one side, cloud providers often simply focus on getting a deal over the line and do not spend enough time with the client to consider how it gets delivered in practice. However, on the other side, many buyers are often too focused on flat costs. Time after time, we are bought in as consultants to unpick the situation that one or both parties have created by rushing deals, which means significant additional time and costs for the firm.
In addition to that, many legal firms believe having their systems in the cloud means they do not need to consider disaster recovery, business continuity and IT security. But these are all key areas that must be given real focus before any decision is made. Firms cannot outsource ultimate accountability for risk; it must be identified, assessed and controlled. It is the firm’s partners, the regulators, who will look to when things go wrong.
Ensuring a Smooth Transition
So, how can firms better ensure a smooth transition to the cloud? There are a few key considerations that firms can take into account on their journey:
- Getting the pricing right. It is important to ensure that the cloud environment that is quoted equates to the price paid once the firm has migrated to the cloud. If IT and cloud providers miss out on sizing the environment correctly, for example, the firm can end up paying significantly more than they budgeted for. Once the firm has migrated into a cloud platform it is not easy to back out, so it is critical to get some guarantees around costs beforehand.
- Finding a matching partner. Choosing a provider does not always mean picking the one that is cheapest on paper, but the one which really understands the sector. That will ensure they can start to recognise the needs of the businesses and what, if any, legacy systems could act as barriers to moving. One size does not fit all when it comes to the cloud and every firm is different in terms of its application stacks, such as CMS or dictation or document management. It is therefore also important to consider which cloud platform is the right one – be it public, private, hybrid or multi-cloud – for each firm specifically.
- Going through the right testing. Testing the platform and applications before going live is essential to prevent issues around user experience and systems’ performance.. Issues might not necessarily be spotted through only a few people testing in an ad-hoc, which is why a documented and thoroughly detailed testing plan should be in place. It is also important to ensure a clear fail-back plan is in place should something go wrong during migration to a cloud platform.
- Spending time for licensing. It is worth spending time looking at licensing, particularly around the Microsoft stack. Microsoft makes regular changes to licensing, particularly around cloud-based services; some small adjustments can deliver significant savings within a cloud estate. It is also worth noting that many organisations unintentionally double up on licensing, particularly when using Azure and Microsoft licensing together, which means savings of up to 80% are possible.
- Supporting the legal software. It is important to talk to the legal software vendors as early as possible to check that they will support the application stack in specific cloud environments and configurations. Legal software is often problematic due to being badly written, ancient, or because it has poor support, so firms want to ensure they have their vendors on side as soon as they can to avoid any issues.
Moving to the cloud is more available and cost-effective than ever before. It also provides an opportunity for law firms to simplify their IT estates and systems, providing a fresh start, plus hopefully removing the traditional upgrade cycle they have learnt to avoid. When done right, moving to the cloud provides firms with a flexible, future-proof, robust, productive and secure IT platform at a sensible cost.
Robert Rutherford, CEO
Waverley House, 115-119 Holdenhurst Road, Bournemouth, BH8 8DY
Tel: +44 01202 055400
Robert Rutherford is an IT industry leader with over 24 years of experience working with IT and business systems. He leads QuoStar by providing strategy and vision for the business whilst also remaining active with clients, providing insight and solutions for their various business challenges and opportunities.
QuoStar is a full-service IT provider that delivers fully managed IT support, consultancy, co-sourcing and cloud services alongside a range of other offerings for businesses with 50 to 1500 staff. QuoStar has a track record of helping mid-sized law firms to grow and gain a competitive advantage by delivering specialist IT support, consultancy and security services in the sector.