Taylor Wessing talks Microsoft Azure: “The role of IT has changed”

Taylor Wessing has collaborated with Microsoft on a video documenting its journey into Azure, as the top 20 law firm reaches the half-way point in its three-year migration plan. You can watch the 2:50 minute video below, in which chief information officer Kevin Harris and co-head of the international corporate practice, David Mardle, describe some of the wholesale cultural changes that have already resulted from the shift.
We spoke separately below to chief information officer Kevin Harris and enterprise architect Richard Skinner about how they got to this stage of their cloud-first journey, including overcoming fears around client approval – the burning issue for many firms and a barrier to cloud adoption.

Infrastructure as a service
Taylor Wessing began its cloud-first journey a year and a half ago, beginning in year one with utilizing Azure’s infrastructure as a service platform, moving its development and test centre to Azure. In the summer of 2016, anything new in production was put into Azure and the plan later this year is to move low priority production servers. Year three, 2018, will see a final shift for ‘anything else that can be moved.’
Speaking to Legal IT Insider this week (18 October), Skinner said: “We’re in the process of implementing Azure’s recovery as a service. While things are running on premises we will replicate it in Azure and take advantage of not having to pay for hardware testing.”
Software as a service
In terms of software as a service, Taylor Wessing’s UK and Hong Kong offices in the Spring completed their migration to Exchange Online, which is part of the Microsoft Office 365 suite of products. Paris and Dubai will migrate across next year, with Germany, which has strict data protection laws, to remain on premises.
The firm is also using the Skype for Business part of Office 365 and StaffHub, an Office 365 application launched in January, which is designed to help staff workers manage their workday—with schedule management, information sharing and the ability to connect to other work-related apps and resources.
Core systems
With regard to its core document and practice management systems, Taylor Wessing is assessing its options and Skinner said: “We are becoming ‘cloud-first’ so we’re in discussions with iManage around moving to the cloud. This isn’t just about IaaS, which gives us benefits but you still have to manage a lot yourself, so where possible we will move to a SaaS model.”
The firm, which uses Aderant Expert on premises, has an Aderant environment running in Azure for its Hong Kong office, which is said to be working well, although the PMS is not on the list of immediate priorities.
Harris said: “There will still be data left on premises, we haven’t set out from the beginning to remove our data centre, but where it makes sense we will move data.”
Where does the data reside?
Taylor Wessing is using Microsoft’s West Europe data centre, in the Netherlands. Skinner says: “When we started our Azure migration, the UK data centre hadn’t been announced but even knowing the UK one exists, I would recommend the Netherlands because when any new Microsoft features come out they come out there first. Also it is lower cost. A lot of the services more expensive to run in the UK, and because we don’t have that need to run them in the UK it made sense.”
The internal process and client approval
As many Top 50 law firms struggle to gain internal adoption for a cloud-first strategy, Harris says: “We had to go through our international risk committee and explain our journey, as well as obtain approval from data protection lawyers in various jurisdictions. Luckily our risk partners have been very supportive. We haven’t had the same issues as some other firms.”
Taylor Wessing is a Mimecast customer and already states in its engagement letter that it uses third parties to host its data. It is currently refreshing that wording.
Harris said: “The process has been about making ourselves comfortable and because of the cloud piece we have come out with far better security than we had before. We use all the tools that Microsoft has, which is better than anything we could provide ourselves.”
He adds: “A few of our large, high profile clients are now promoting the fact that they use Azure and over time more big names will join them.”
Skinner says: “It’s getting to the stage where if you’re not in the cloud it will be a disadvantage for the client.”
Client-facing projects
One of the impacts that Taylor Wessing says it has enjoyed so far in its move to the cloud is that IT staff are becoming more involved with lawyers on client-facing projects.
Skinner told us: “There are a couple of new client facing projects we’re working on at the moment. We’re making use of the platform as a service model and something that prior to the cloud would have taken months with the procurement of hardware, we’re now using PaaS for so can build these apps and environments for clients in a couple of hours, so we are far more agile in getting these things up and running.
Harris added: “What’s tending to happen is that as the infrastructure is becoming that much easier, we can concentrate on the solution and providing client value.”
As Mardle says in the video: “The most exciting thing is that the role of the IT team has changed.” In a cross-department client team, Mardle adds, “The most significant contribution will be from IT.”