Technology has revolutionized the way today’s attorneys practice law, and few things have made as big an impact as the evolution of the cloud. Cloud solutions have broad applications across the legal field, thanks to their ability to offer lawyers access to their data anytime, anywhere. One of the biggest areas where cloud technology has changed the legal landscape is document management.
Many firms have already made the decision to migrate their document management to the cloud, and those which haven’t yet likely considered it. Migrating to cloud-based document management may seem like a daunting task, but with the right information and approach, it doesn’t have to be. Here are some things every lawyer should consider when making the decision of whether to move document management to the cloud.
The Benefits of Cloud-Based Document Management
Both on-premises and cloud-based document management systems are continuing to evolve. What is increasingly setting the two options apart, however, is cost. The way providers are bundling document management systems these days, firms are generally able to access more features and functionality in the cloud than they could potentially have on-site for a smaller economic footprint. Simply put, today’s cloud-based document management solutions have more bells and whistles than most firms could ever hope to implement on-premises purely due to cost.
Cloud solutions also offer the benefit of unrivaled accessibility. One of the main reasons that the cloud became so popular so quickly is that it allows you to access your data anytime, anywhere, as long as you have an internet connection. In a profession like law where you’re expected to be available on the go at all times of the day or night, cloud solutions make a real difference.
Making the Move to the Cloud
Once you’ve decided to make the move to the cloud, where do you start? There’s a lot that goes into a migration. The important thing is to look at the entire solution and what’s involved rather than simply viewing your transition as a wholesale move. While most firms have document management systems, every firm uses those systems differently. Workflows are not one-size-fits-all, so, not surprisingly, strategies around migrating them are going to differ from firm to firm.
A successful migration to the cloud involves three main steps: 1) create a migration plan, 2) consider your data, and 3) evaluate the costs.
Start with a Plan
Any successful migration starts with a plan. The first thing you should do when undertaking a move to the cloud is to create a checklist that evaluates the solution you have on-premises today and outlines the benefits you want to gain by moving to the cloud.
You should also define your migration strategy. Are you looking to do a full rip and replace of your current document management system, or would a phased migration be better for your firm? There are tools and third-party vendors that will help you pursue either strategy.
Some firms might prefer to test and validate the migration with a specific practice or group and make sure all the details are properly working. Your internet capabilities are also a big factor in choosing your migration approach. For example, if you’re a small firm with a single connection that’s used for internet, email, and phones, you probably won’t be able to do a wholesale migration all at once and still have a fully functioning office. The important thing to think about is what approach will be best for your users and practices.
Know Your Data
Your current data footprint has a huge impact on your migration, and it’s a factor that many firms tend to overlook. As the saying goes, garbage in, garbage out. While you can take your on-premises solution and simply move it to the cloud as is, a better approach is to look at how you’re currently using your document management data and see if there’s room to implement new workflows and updated processes that will help you better manage that data and handle data that’s become stale.
Data storage costs in the cloud may be low, but as your data repository continues to grow over time, storage costs will also grow, which is something you should keep in mind when migrating your data. If you already have a data maintenance strategy in place when you start your migration, it will be an embedded process in your new solution, setting you up for success from the start.
Consider the Cost
At first glance, your monthly spend for cloud solutions may be a little higher, but what you need to evaluate is your overall cost in the long run. What are you currently spending for on-premises hardware, hardware maintenance, power, utilities, security and IT working space? While the cloud may cost more initially, you can mitigate that cost by eliminating all your on-premises costs, perhaps making the cloud a cheaper option in the big picture.
For many firms, evaluating this cost/benefit ratio is the basis for making the decision to migrate. The decision also often comes when it’s time for a hardware refresh. When facing the decision between keeping your document management on-premises and rebuilding your hardware infrastructure or moving to the cloud, the latter is often the more cost-effective option.
Choosing the Right Cloud Environment
When choosing a cloud provider, it’s crucial that you understand where your data will sit, how it will be stored and who will have access to it. For that reason, going with a public cloud provider like Amazon Web Services or Google is usually not the best idea, because your data will be commingled with the data of everyone else in the world, which has dangerous implications for sensitive law firm information.
The adequacy of a cloud provider will generally depend on how it is regulated. Migrating presents the perfect opportunity to rethink your governance and security standpoint. What worked six years ago when you implemented your current document management system might not work today, as your firm, processes, and workflows have evolved. Choosing the right cloud provider is an opportunity to enhance the security posture of your data.
Prepare for Common Migration Challenges
Because migration isn’t a one-size-fits-all process, there are always challenges. Experienced third-party vendors and tools exist to help you conquer those challenges. After all, it’s much easier to pull off a successful migration when you’re not reinventing the wheel.
Working with an outside provider that has done migrations to the cloud specifically in law firms is the best way to make the process less daunting. An experienced vendor can help you move your data while putting new processes and structures into place that make sense with the amount of data you have to shift. Larger amounts of data will take much longer to migrate, so it’s important to have the right strategies and methodologies in place to ensure that your on-premises data matches your cloud data at various checkpoints along the way.
Migration is not just about making a move to the cloud, but also offers a great opportunity to look for ways to gain efficiencies and make more effective use of your data and processes. Having a strategy and knowing your high-level goals are key to accomplishing a successful migration and getting the most out of your new cloud-based document management system.