Technology is evolving at an exponential rate, changing the way we live and work. Today, lawyers are not confined by the walls of their offices, often working from home and on the go. Everyone in the firm uses multiple systems and applications to get their job done, including tools for client management, time and billing, document assembly, collaboration, research, and communications. Professionals need to be fully productive anytime and anywhere, yet still maintain the highest level of security for their work.
How Did We Get Here?
Only 25 years ago, in the early 1990s, it was rare to see more than one or two computers at a law firm—typically they were used only for banking or billing purposes. As computers grew more powerful and less expensive, they began to appear on every desk, and people began doing more and more of their job using them. As the cycle continued, computers became paramount to doing business and new needs arose, such as remote access, backup, and disaster recovery.
Business needs change quickly and data accumulates, requiring upgrades, more storage, more accessibility, and better security. Add the legal profession’s unique needs for legal, ethical, financial, and compliance requirements, and doing business becomes a very complex situation, requiring new solutions.
The Cloud and Data Centers
The cloud allows data and programs to be stored online and accessed over the Internet, rather than a local desktop or server. The physical places where cloud systems reside are data centers: facilities that house the business-critical applications and information. Data centers have uninterruptible power and telecommunications, high security, environmental controls, and more. The importance of a data center lies in the how it is designed, how it is secured, and how it is connected: infrastructure, reliability and overall service, including security, uptime, support, capacity, and redundancy. Data center servers are designed to never go down, enabling “always on” connectivity to the internet and availability of the systems they house.
New Needs Arise
As telecommunications progressed, and our computers and other devices became always connected to the cloud through fiber optics and other broadband technologies, it made sense to have the systems that run on these devices live in the cloud. In fact, most law firms have realized that it makes sense to put parts of their business in the cloud—email, phone, document management, time and billing, financial, and file sharing systems, to name just a few. But the future for law firms is more than just moving a handful of applications and services to the cloud.
Desktop as a Service
One of the more recent technological developments is Desktop as a Service (DaaS) where the most critical components—desktop PCs—move to the cloud. Users log in using any connected device to virtual machines supported by a third party, who also manages all of the back-end responsibilities, including backups, security, and patches. Probably the most important feature is that it’s the same experience for the user, regardless of where they are or what device they’re on. Users gain access to their desktop, their data and applications seamlessly, and pick up exactly where they previously left off.
Migration to the Cloud
The law firm of tomorrow runs completely in the cloud—from the data to the desktops, security to servers, and programs to phones. From the user perspective, it doesn’t feel or look different, and that’s the goal: firms still have many applications and users can still have their own programs tailored to their specific job functions. When done properly, working in the cloud does not inhibit functionality or creativity. In fact, it enhances it.
Benefits of the Cloud
A firm realizes many benefits when it moves to the cloud: the dreaded blue screen and hard drive crashes become things of the past. Natural disasters no longer take a firm offline. People can work from home, another office or the local coffee shop, since everything they need to work is still up and running in the cloud. Firm leaders no longer face IT decisions, upgrades or repairs, and instead, focus on clients and growing the business.
Security and reliability are top concerns for any business. Most of the time, a cloud-based setup is more secure than internally managed servers and applications. Data centers are highly protected facilities that are monitored 24/7/365 by experts whose only job is to keep the center secure and running. Hardware and software redundancy is built in to protect firms from data loss.
One of the greatest benefits that lawyers and other employees will realize is the integration of various programs and applications in a single cloud. As previously mentioned, most law firms have already moved a handful of programs or functions to the cloud. The problem with this model is that typically these applications are sitting on separate clouds or trying to access data stored locally, which poses hurdles that often cannot be overcome. When the entire firm moves to the cloud, programs and data easily integrate and work together. This, coupled with the ability to log in from any connected device, translates to increased productivity.
Technology advances are often the impetus for change. To stay competitive in the future, law firms need the flexibility, security, and reliability that the cloud offers. Firm leaders owe it to themselves, their employees and their clients to explore the latest IT advances. The cloud and new technologies will bring benefits to law firms, enabling leaders to focus more on law and less on IT.
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