Nigel Wright - founder and managing director of ConvergeTS - explains what all the fuss is about cloud computing.

“The cloud” is one of those buzzwords that will often dominate technology discussions today; it’s a catch-all term for computer services and data storage via the web. But, if you think it’s something that your law firm doesn’t need to worry about, think again.

Recent research pointed out that while only 10% of UK law firms currently use hosted cloud services, by 2018 the figure will rise to close to 90%. The question is whether you will be one of the 90% operating with greater flexibility, reduced capital outlay and improved security of data, or one of the 10% left behind?

Benefits for law firms of moving to the cloud

Firstly, cloud enables staff to work from anywhere, anytime, on any device and, has proven to boost staff productivity. At our recent innovation forum, managing partners, FDs, CEOs and heads of IT from 20 law firms were in unanimous agreement that an agile workforce, where staff do not require office space and instead are powered by IT, enables imaginative use of skilled people and results in more time dedicated to generating revenue than spending time travelling.

The reality is that there is a growing expectation amongst potential recruits that firms will automatically be agile; those that aren’t will lose out on attracting new talent and retaining existing talent.

Secondly, operating via the cloud brings automatic business continuity features meaning that if the worst happens then your staff can continue to work almost immediately from any internet enabled device.

Imagine this scenario: A member of staff opens an email from HMRC offering a tax refund. The ensuing virus encrypts every document you have, corrupting ten years of case files.

The email arrives with a ransom note and deadline to pay and all staff are locked out of the system until it is paid.

Unlikely? This is a real scenario from the infamous Crypto Locker virus that impacted businesses globally and a large number of law firms last year. Happily, the results are not real, as this firm had a comprehensive disaster recovery plan in place.

However, when disaster strikes, being able to easily open and find crucial documents can make the difference between a few hours in lost fees or days, and keeping your reputation intact too.

Accessible and affordable for all size of firms

The cloud is in essence, pay on demand IT. This means you can pay for what you use and scale up or down when you need to, to meet changing market needs. It is a great example of IT becoming a profit centre rather than a cost centre, as it enables firms to reap the benefits of space cost savings, high staff retention and more time dedicated to clients. Much of the cloud-based technology enjoyed by larger firms is just as accessible for smaller firms on a cost per user, per month basis.

Cloud also includes all your server hardware and Microsoft licensing so you can avoid the high unpredictable financial costs associated with hardware and software upgrades. Beware any firm operating on Microsoft’s Windows Server 2003 as Microsoft will no longer support it from 14th July 2015. This will place confidential information at much greater risk from hackers and malware attacks, and could bring down core systems such as case and practice management and email, making it impossible to trade.

Questions to ask of a prospective cloud provider

• Does the provider use UK data centres and are they ISO 27001?
• Does the provider understand your compliance requirements and meet or exceed them with their cloud offering?
• Does the cloud service include disaster recovery and business continuity as standard?
• Is the cloud provider a specialist, i.e. they should have a significant number of law firm clients with available testimonials and the majority of their revenues should come from cloud contracts.
• Will the cloud provider meet your target service levels…always read the small print in their terms and conditions?
• Does the provider have experience of hosting your case and practice management and other sector specific applications?
Our booklet: “Cloud and Compliance: Your questions answered”, download it here.