By the end of 2016, end-user spending on cloud migration, computing, and services is expected to surpass $180 billion. Four out of five cloud adopters report significant process improvements within six months of moving to the cloud, while 82% indicate substantial cost savings.
But while cloud computing has become almost commonplace for business users, many law firms remain reluctant to migrate to the cloud due to continued concerns about the security of client data, the reliability of mission-critical applications, and potential legal liabilities stemming from data privacy regulations.
Let’s start by taking a look at the advantages the cloud offers, which are numerous. As with other small business users, the cloud offers law firms an effective means for storing massive amounts of data in an easily accessible, cost-effective manner. Properly implemented, the cloud enables attorneys to work from anywhere, which translates into increased productivity and an enhanced work-life balance. Most cloud services also offer mobile apps, meaning the user is not restricted by which device is available. And because documents can be accessed and shared anytime from anywhere, collaboration among attorneys can be significantly improved.
The cloud also offers potential cost savings. Because the cloud reduces the need for in-house servers, the high cost of hardware can be vastly reduced. Less infrastructure translates into less need for in-house computer expertise and capabilities. In addition, many services and software updates are available free or at a low cost directly from the cloud provider, as opposed to running and maintaining these applications on the firm’s own server. Maintenance typically is included in these offerings, so there may be no need to worry about keeping up with updates since they are installed automatically.
Because cloud services typically are sold on demand, they provide added flexibility. A firm can purchase as little as it needs on a regular basis, recognizing that it can ramp up and add storage, computing capability, or other new features if the need arises. Conversely, services which are not being used can be dropped.
Finally, so long as the firm is dealing with a reputable provider, the cloud will provide increased stability and security. Reputable providers employ the most up-to-date security measures, including sophisticated tools to manage the system and monitor unauthorized access. Such providers also offer robust disaster recovery and business continuity features which are more powerful and effective than most law firms are likely to have in-house.
While there are decided benefits, the shift to the cloud is not necessarily a “no brainer.” A major cloud provider known for handling prestigious customers, for example, is much more likely to be the target of a cyberattack aimed at disrupting customers’ operations or accessing their critical information. In addition, attorneys are subject to stringent ethical rules that may impede their ability to use certain types of cloud services or store specific kinds of information in the cloud.
As a result, law firms should begin their search for a cloud provider by considering its security measures. Because confidentiality is so important to the attorney-client relationship, cloud providers must meet international best practices with respect to rigorous enterprise security and control standards. Cloud solutions should also integrate security with business processes and workflow.
For this reason, law firms need to understand the different types of clouds available (public, in which the entire cloud is available for public use; private, in which the cloud is used by only one entity; or community, in which the cloud is shared by several organizations, usually in the same industry). In virtually all cases, a private cloud is the preferable option for a law firm.
Firms also need to consider data privacy regulations and the implications of the legal domains in which cloud content is stored. Because many countries do not allow certain types of data to be stored outside of the country, the firm needs to know where the cloud provider is physically located and whether it provides mitigation strategies to properly safeguard stored data.
Beyond security, connectivity and some form of redundancy are absolutely critical. Because most businesses now run operations around the clock, seven days a week, it is essential to remain connected to the Internet all the time. This is sometimes referred to as five nines (99.999) uptime, with the small percentage of downtime accounting for unforeseen incidents or scheduled maintenance (usually set to take place during times of least impact, like the middle of the night or holiday weekends). If this level of connectivity and redundancy is not a part of the cloud system being considered, look elsewhere for a cloud provider that will ensure that level of uptime.
Considerations about bandwidth go hand in hand with connectivity. When it comes to doing business in the cloud, you can pay for a bigger pipeline and spend less time waiting for uploads and downloads (and, therefore, more time being productive) or work with a lower bandwidth and spend more time just waiting. This is largely a function of how many attorneys are in the firm and likely to be using the cloud simultaneously, but opting for low bandwidth to save a few dollars could translate into slower innovation and missed opportunities. Ultimately, whatever solution is put into place needs to be scalable to accommodate future growth.
Bottom line: moving to the cloud makes good business sense for law firms, regardless of their size. It is important, though, to make the move cautiously and ask questions every step of the way in order to make certain the system chosen provides the greatest benefits for your firm’s specific needs.