Posted by David Espley, technology director of Legal Futures Associate LexisNexis UK
Given the massive global push to take computing off premises, a move to the cloud in the legal sector is inevitable – in fact, it is already happening. We all know about the benefits of cloud – more scalability and elsaticity, reduced IT infrastructure cost, better maintenance and significantly reduced running costs. Crucially, security is better too.
Next generation applications in the cloud
Analysts today are more or less unanimous in predicting that cloud computing will provide the technology foundation for businesses in the near future. According to Forester, we are on the verge of the second wave (application-focused) of cloud computing and we will increasingly find cloud providers focusing on the provision of next-generation applications in the cloud.
The legal sector must partake of this opportunity. The financial services sector – one that is heavily regulated, is fundamentally conservative and for who security is paramount – fully recognises the value of cloud computing and even has confidence in its offer. A recent study shows that 50% of businesses in this sector have migrated one-quarter to half of their IT infrastructure to the cloud.
As law firms revisit the suitability of their existing business systems on premises as well as explore more cost-effective alternative IT infrastructure options, serious considerations to both enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and the cloud make business sense.
This is an opportune time to view infrastructure holistically and strategically. For instance, rather than individually ‘lift and shift’ practice management, time and billing, expense management systems etc to the cloud; a single ERP system that encompasses all the business functionality is a far more cost-effective option.
Also, it eliminates the problems of integrating multiple proprietary systems that have long beleaguered firms and prevented them from successfully creating a seamless business environment across the organisation.
A new way of looking at security
From a security standpoint, already cloud service providers employ some of the best minds in the industry and they are investing huge amount of resources into building secure offerings, more than any individual end-user organisation can ever hope to match.
Only recently, Microsoft announced that it was investing $10bn on data centres to expand its Azure offering. This is a significant amount even in the technology world and Microsoft recognises the importance of delivering a secure platform for its own success as a technology provider.
Also for law firms, security is not only easier to administer with a single business management system in the cloud, but also routine. Rather than patching a plethora of individual systems at varying versions of the software, a Windows 10 style, continuous update in perpetuity is a much more secure approach.
But perhaps what makes security of an ERP system robust in the cloud is the responsibility that vendors themselves are taking to minimise risk for customer organisations. Many vendors believe that encryption is the way forward. Ponder this idea: if data is encrypted at all times – in servers, on-premises, in motion and at rest – it doesn’t physically exist, which means it will be inaccessible and therefore unbreachable.
The internet has supported encrypted communications for a long time, but we are increasingly seeing ‘data at rest’ being offered by the major cloud vendors. In fact, forward-thinking law firms now see encryption of data at all stages essential.
ERP in the cloud is a viable option
For law firms, especially those with a presence in multiple geographies and offices, ERP in the cloud delivers both infrastructural and ongoing efficiency and productivity benefits. For instance, with the cloud from an IT perspective, there is no requirement to procure MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) lines for phone connections, or need for measures to ensure that data is ‘synced’ regularly.
It facilitates BYOD (Bring your own device) adoption and removes the need for firms to have big teams of IT specialists, which is a substantial cost saving. From a business standpoint, all the offices have access to the same information in real-time, thereby facilitating timely action and informed decision-making.
There are, of course, different cloud models that firms can adopt – public, privately hosted or hybrid. As firms explore ERP in the cloud, rather than adopt a ‘herd’ mentality, it’s important that they make decisions based on their strategic business requirements. What is right for one firm may not be justified for another. It’s worth being mindful of this.