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Making the journey to the cloud

(Image credit: Image Credit: Melpomene / Shutterstock)

Despite cloud-based services experiencing a rapid uptake and research predicting that the use of legal practice management software will continue to grow until 2021, the idea of a law firm migrating its document management system (DMS) has still not become commonplace as they remain stagnant in terms of innovation. The legal sector is known for being risk-averse and client-focused, which is mirrored by the industry’s slower adoption of the technology and why factors such as data residency, privacy and security are named as the biggest barriers to overcome.

But this is all changing - and it’s changing fast. Law firms and corporate IT departments are now not just considering the cloud, but they’re adopting a cloud-first strategy - backed by CIOs and IT Directors. However, this is just the beginning. How can the wider firm be convinced that moving to the cloud doesn’t have to come with high risks and that it’s the right, future-proof strategy bound for success? Adopting a cloud-first strategy can’t happen overnight: it’s all about the journey. David Malkinson, Technical Director, Phoenix Business Solutions, explains what considerations need to be made by a law firm embarking on the transition.

Step one: It all starts with a strategic plan

As with any organisational change, having a plan in place will ensure the firm can stay on track with actions and is aligned with strategic goals. The plan should consider an analysis of the current state of the business, library design, inter-office collaboration, data hosting and residency and security - both logical and physical. It’s important to take the time to gather different viewpoints and to understand the processes and patterns between offices and specific departments, including jurisdictional restrictions on data and clients’ agreed terms for cloud hosting. What helps here is having a roadmap outlined, knowing what actions need to be taken, when and by which individual or team. The project team should be leading this, and an impartial team will be crucial for gaining buy-in from all necessary departments to minimise obstacles and solving any challenges that may arise throughout the journey. Also, if you aren’t planning on moving entirely over to a cloud infrastructure, it is important to first pre-determine a strategy and a solution for what will best suit your firm such as what data will and won’t be switching over to the cloud.

Step two: Make the decision - on-premise or hybrid cloud?

Once a plan is in place, the next thing that needs to be determined is if a full cloud-only or a hybrid solution will be the most suitable for the firm’s needs. The same solution won’t work for all law firms - or all organisations - therefore determining your business structure and goals as well as identifying which specific challenges you seek to address by making this transition is key to informing the decision of which cloud infrastructure will fit your business best. Does the firm need a solution with direct SQL access, simple integrations and flexible reporting? Or would lower management overheads, infrastructure costs and the enhanced security offered by cloud solutions be more advantageous? Consider the implications, advantages and potential challenges of each type of cloud solution to make the decision more straightforward.

Step three: Gaining organisational buy-in

Unfortunately, without ‘buy-in’ for cloud acceptance across the firm, the strategy is unlikely to have a seamless implementation. Stakeholders are likely to be very aware of risks and resistant to change, so it’s essential to make sure communications are clear and consistent to address any concerns they have. Be clear that the cloud does not mean the firm has to compromise the control it has of its data or the level of security held, and that specific regulations in various jurisdictions or global regions will be taken into account. Above all, prepare communications that show the needs of the client will be at the forefront of all decisions at every stage of the journey. Without this buy-in from all affected business units, your organisation may not be ready to adapt or adapt effectively, therefore you must accept that this step may involve risk, time, cost and planning.

Step four: Think about your clients

It might seem obvious, as all firms place meeting client needs as a high priority, but a critical element of moving to the cloud must also identify which clients might be cloud-averse themselves. As a law firm you are not only in charge of the protection of your own data but also confidential client information therefore as with ensuring organisational buy-in, it is also important to work out if a client has a specific request around their data. Start by reviewing contractual terms and identifying any clauses regarding data governance, transfer, residency and use of third parties to ensure the new cloud strategy will align with all requirements, without putting the client relationship in jeopardy.

Step five: Calculating costs

Understanding and presenting both the commercial benefits and cost efficiencies to the wider business is a critical step that can’t be ignored. By calculating the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for different hosting options - including server costs, software licencing and other relevant costs - you can ensure the process of gaining final business sign off is seamless. Therefore, consider whether this approach is financially beneficial for your business, taking into account that although there are short-term costs involved they are routinely off-set by the long term savings such as reducing the need for IT infrastructure. And don’t forget about future-proofing: take future upgrade costs or add-ons into account that will make sure the solution remains efficient for the years to come.

The beginning is the easiest place to start

By following these steps, making the transition to the cloud doesn’t have to be complicated. Start with a roadmap, clearly define goals, set out clear communications and ensure transparency is achieved at each stage of the journey to make the process as smooth as possible. With this comes the ability to be prepared for all situations; whilst most firms move to the cloud and never look back, there is still a need to have a contingency plan in place if it’s needed in order to reap the benefits of an effective cloud system.

David Malkinson, Technical Director, Phoenix Business Solutions (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: Melpomene / Shutterstock

David Malkinson is the Technical Director at Phoenix Business Solutions, the leading global iManage partner.