Exploiting the Cloud to Increase Law Firm Productivity

In this latest of a series of thought leadership articles first published in the November/December Orange Rag, Nick Martin, managing director of digital transformation consultancy SystemsUp, says that simply adding cloud technologies into any organisation doesn’t work. To achieve real gains in productivity, transformation has to be approached strategically.
An increase in productivity is what we all want for the UK economy. The good news is that it has finally started to pick up, according to the Office of National Statistics.
The less good news is that the ONS’s data shows that in the medium-term, productivity is growing at a much slower rate than we would want.
In the legal sector one of the key productivity challenges is how to increase billable time for lawyers and support staff – enabling them to work more efficiently by giving them access to information wherever and whenever they need it. One of the ways this can be achieved is through the exploitation of cloud technologies and yet so many law firms are reluctant to make the move. This is despite the fact that many, and perhaps even most firms, are already using the cloud through Software as a Service (SaaS) – through the range of applications being used for activities such as document management and expenses. So, what do we need to do to change perceptions?
Changing the language
We can stop regarding cloud as a blocker and instead recognise it as an enabler for greater productivity. We also need to address the security issue by understanding that when correctly implemented, cloud can be even more secure than existing on-premise legacy systems.
Technologies such as Office 365 and cloud secured Windows 10 for instance, can allow fee earners to collaborate and work from wherever they happen to be on any given day. There is no doubt that by exploiting cloud platforms, lawyers can access important information faster and improve knowledge-sharing with colleagues, resulting in a higher quality and more secure service to clients.
So how do you move to the cloud safely and securely? The key questions The most important part of planning your journey to the cloud is to outline in detail what you want to achieve and then understand the change that needs to take place to make it happen. A key set of questions need to be asked:

What is the business outcome we want?
How do we need to evolve in terms of skills and processes to support this outcome?
What is the current status of our application portfolio?
What level of change can we as a business absorb and equally as an IT team?
What new partnerships should we forge as part of this journey?
How effective are we at change management?
How self-sufficient do we need to be to support our vision?
Do we have the approach and resources to deal with on-going cloud “feature releases” and how they might impact on Business As Usual service delivery?

As you can see, a complex mix of technological transformation and organisational change is involved.
However by having the answers to these questions you will be able to overcome some significant hurdles and achieve great business outcomes.
Investing in your network
One area that is often overlooked in the journey to the cloud is the investment required in networking and the associated skills needed to ensure connectivity. This is what I call your ‘cloud plumbing’ and it has to be addressed early on.
Firewalls, security, Wi-Fi – it is all part of taking that first step to successful cloud exploitation.
Investing in your people
It’s also a fallacy to see cloud purely as a cost saving measure. What you actually need is to make a greater investment in people if you want to fully exploit it for business advantage, both in terms of your headcount and the skills brought to the table. Automation clearly brings advantages and leads to time saving but, in my experience, it tends to be a cost neutral IT resource as costs tend to increase compared to traditional operations salaries, particularly in London where the demand for cloud skilled people is high.
One of the platforms for cloud success is where key staff are backfilled so they can fully immerse themselves in the change. This approach, for which we have a unique delivery model, ensures that the IT team is fully self-sufficient once the move to the cloud has been made.
Investing in your applications
What to do with your application portfolio is another critical area. For this you need to take a really in-depth look, first of all at the business level. Understanding how critical the apps are, how often they are used, the future roadmap, the vendor status and the security requirements, will help you to decide on the right migration approach. For instance, we often discover several apps performing similar functions during this process – this leads to a discussion about whether to consolidate or upgrade them. So formal discovery at the business level is the first step. We sometimes find that only 10% of the application portfolio needs a closer technical discovery – the rest can be consolidated, kept where they are (if they are nearing the end of their lifespan), or migrated in a structured manner to the cloud.
Simply adding cloud technologies into any organisation doesn’t work. To achieve real gains in productivity, transformation has to be approached strategically. Management and staff need to understand why change is happening and buy in to the gains it will bring them in their everyday working lives.
Having a skilled team, using the right cloud technologies in the right way, is the secret to a more productive law firm. By not thinking it through properly you will affect your bottom line.