I remember, many moons ago, when my family moved from a townhouse in the city to a house in the suburbs. No longer did we need items like a storage unit, subway card and to go through the hassle of attempting to hold the parking spot in front of our unit. But we now required items such as a lawn mower, snowblower and large SUV to cart tons of construction supplies back from the local home improvement center.
Well, much in the same manner, supporting a law firm’s technology operations — whether you move applications, data, infrastructure or any combination of these services to the cloud — once they reside in the cloud, this requires a new strategy and new skills.
Here are some quick tips on the types of adjustments a law firm technology manager may wish to consider after moving a significant chunk of data or services to the cloud.
To kick things off, understand that working with cloud-based vendors is fundamentally different than overseeing on-prem servers and infrastructure. Engineering skill is still important, as level checking whatever a vendor communicates from a technology perspective is still critical. They are not always right!
“Soft skills” are increasingly important when working with cloud vendors. One common task is working with service provider on initial agreements such as a Master Service Agreement (MSA) Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) and potentially Statements Of Work (SOW). In most relationships, there are also periodic (weekly or monthly) operational status calls as well as sessions to work with vendors to communicate feature requests. And problem resolution tasks generally rely heavily on both verbal and written communication between a law firm and the cloud vendor relationship manager for the account.
To make a long story short, a law firm’s technology support team needs to have both technical acumen and strong business skills to be most effective in a cloud-based environment.
Cloud vendor security is a second vital topic one must view through a different prism. In the “on-prem” world, as we all know, tech leader must be operationally focused on backups, patching, employee training, vulnerability/penetration testing, data loss protection and associated topics.
But when data and services are in the cloud, to borrow a phrase from President Ronald Reagan, law firm technology management is in more of a “trust but verify” mode. In the cloud vendor model, are law firms literally responsible for backups and patching? Certainly not. But is it essential we confirm those activities are occurring with operational excellence? Of course we are.
So what should a law firm do on this front? First and foremost, be sure to have the conversation and try to build some backup/store testing or validation into a SLA. Consider selecting only those vendors with the appropriate SOC ( System and Organization Controls Report) or ISO (International Organization for Standardization) accreditation for their service offering. And finally, stay in close contact with a vendor touching on security topics with some level of regularity to keep familiar with evolving processes.
Simply put, it is almost by definition the case that a cloud-based law firm will have lower level of local hardware and more remote services. Thus, the most obvious result of this service shift is that Internet connectivity is even more important. Be absolutely sure you have adequate bandwidth in place. Also strongly consider a secondary backup line for your office. Or, if that is not possible, think about other contingency plans such as an alternative work location, mifi’s, etc.
On the flip side, server room space and cooling requirements will likely be diminished. If possible, scale back in those areas to cover the cost of upgrading connection speeds and backup lines.
This is more of a suggestion than anything else, but once a law firm moves to the cloud and systems and data are more accessible, it is not unreasonable to expect a bit more off-hours types of access by employees.
For the reason, it’s not the worst idea in the world to consider technology support organizations which are more of a 24×7 type shop — meaning companies in the managed services or first level help desk spaces. Signing up with an external monitoring company (one example is Alertsite offered by Smartbear) to constantly check a network is a good idea as well. One never knows when vendor monitoring might fail and, of course, anyone supporting mission critical systems prefers to learn about problems from monitoring services rather than by an end user!
New Releases And Builds
In the on-prem world, local technology groups decide when to deploy new releases and builds to software. This is a bit different in the cloud. Sometimes, releases will just come down without a law firm’s knowledge, despite best efforts to control that. That’s not great, for in those instances it can put a law firm into a bit of a scramble mode. Scramble mode is entertaining to watch if you are a Seahawks fan soaking in the exploits of Russell Wilson, a bit less so in the area of technology support!
Whenever possible, try to get out in front of those concerns by being aware of upcoming updates, whenever possible attempting to deploy them to a small test group, have a test plan available for each application (including verification of unique interfaces or customized functionality) and try to have a rollback procedure in place, whenever feasible.
There’s no getting beyond this, there is a reduction in application and technology control when a law firm moves to the cloud. Do understand you might not get everything you want all the time and that your law firm is likely a small fish in a big pond.
It’s not all bad news. Many times, a law firm will benefit from more of the standard features included in new software releases, but it is a given you will not get everything you want all the time.
Influence is important in attempting to deal with this. Understand each company’s support models. Document feature requests and issues into a vendor’s ticketing system. Try to get these items escalated via meetings and relationships with thought leaders within a cloud software company.
I’m not an accountant, but it is important to discern between the on-prem and cloud architectures when evaluating the costs of the two different deployment strategies.
Generally speaking, the cloud operates on a licensing model (initial purchase plus annual maintenance) for on-prem, with a significant amount of internal cost (your I.T. Department) also factored into the support grid. The cloud model is fundamentally different, in this scenario one is working in a subscription model with a professional services element bolt-on to determine the costs for those services.
Impossible to say which is “cheaper”, but it is important to define the different classes of expenses to facilitate an intelligent discussion about the total cost of ownership (TCO) of a law firm’s tech portfolio.
Changing one’s environment, be it your residence or your technology stack, is a catalyst for a sea change in one’s life. Resolving to be malleable in response to the new environments — whether you need to learn some basic plumbing or electrical skills in your house or some new management skills at work — is all part of the game. Those who are willing to embrace such change will be most successful.