6 ways your firm can gain a competitive edge through a managed service approach to IT

Invitation to TenderThe legal sector’s uptake of outsourced IT solutions – services hosted or managed by third parties - has been steady but unspectacular to date. Understandably, the onus so far has been on lightening the administrative and housekeeping load, minimising the need for expensive hardware implementations and maximising valuable time. The emergence of cloud-based services over recent years has added a new dimension to the outsourcing picture, but it’s less clear whether it’s added any dynamism.

The latest Legal IT Landscapes report from Legal Support Network (LSN), Legal IT Landscapes 2015 Top 100 firms report indicates that it could take two years for migration rates of key legal applications to the Cloud (think PMS, CMS, DMS, CRM etc.) to hit the 60% mark. ‘Could’ being the operative word because, in a follow up question, over half of respondents answered either ‘undecided’ or ‘not very likely’ to the question ‘How likely is your firm to adopt Cloud-based solutions for its significant systems?’

But is this hesitancy misguided?  Today, there is a greater motivation than ever for law firms to make the move from on-premise to off-premise IT solutions. And that’s largely because the off-premise proposition has matured to such an extent. Many off-premise providers have been successful in transforming themselves from ‘old school’ IT commodity providers to valued IT partners. Rather than forcing organisations into wholesale adoption of cloud, their focus has been on encouraging the judicious use of multiple services as part of a hybrid on/off premise IT environment.

It's time law firms - and more specifically their IT departments - started taking broader advantage of the richer propositions now available from off-premise/managed specialists operating in the cloud. Here are our top tips, outlining how they can best do this.

1.Be open to new ways of effecting rapid change

If you are a CIO in a law firm or a member of the IT team, you’ll recognise the pressure on the one hand to innovate and differentiate, and on the other to save money and deliver efficiencies. And yet capital constraints and legacy infrastructure are gross inhibitors; lengthy procurement cycles breed inertia, and protracted provisioning undermines confidence and buy-in.

Don’t be blindsided by all of this. Ensure you have the capability and capacity to deliver a pragmatic, urgent response – to effect change rapidly and easily and starting today. And remember all of that may well involve leveraging the richer proposition now available from off premise/managed specialists.

2.Think long-term when it comes to data management

As a member of a legal firm’s IT department, data storage and management will inevitably be one of your biggest headaches and daily aggravations.  It will inevitably be tempting to think about short-term fixes and fall into the trap of treating the symptoms of data management issues – rapid data growth – rather than the cause.

You can invest X now, but in 12 months' time the inexorable mushrooming of data could well outstrip your storage and tape-based or online back-up facilities; worst case scenario is back to the drawing board for a new plan; best case is allocating yet more budget to the problem.

There is however a third way which involves applying more vigour when it comes to data management, and looking seriously at adopting a new more structured approach.

3.Don’t treat all storage exactly the same

Most law firms are guilty of storing too much. They then typically backup anything and everything. Storage is cheaper now than ever but there is still a significant backup cost attached, especially when demands can grow by up to 50% annually. Moreover, you don’t need to back everything to primary or secondary storage. It’s estimated that 70% of files and emails on the average system will not have been accessed for six months or more.

Having said that, there’s also a small amount of data that’s critical for normal operations, which needs to be replicated or backed up and accessible on an almost real-time basis. And in between is about 25% of data which is accessed regularly and is key to the normalcy of everyday working.  Given these different grades of data and their widely-varying value to the business, make sure you treat them differently when it comes to storing and backing them up.

4.Put data tiering in place

Data tiering is a cloud-based service that can be utilised as a simple discrete, one off solution; it can also fit into a longer/broader cloud journey. For any business that’s looking for a more workable, cost-effective and efficient framework for data management, it’s an approach worth considering. After all, here is a solution that leverages technology, policy and business rules to allow for the easy archiving of aged data, reducing the size and cost of the core back up volume, whilst making replication of mission-critical data that more accessible and affordable.

The topline benefits range from reduction of spend on data management; greater control over data growth by classifying and archiving inactive data; reduction of primary and backup data and backup window, shorter disaster recovery times; increased data availability by lessening the load on primary servers and storage; and more resources, money and energy freed up to spend on ‘added value’ projects.

5.Make use of unified communications

Unified communications (UC) is a technology model that is already gaining momentum in legal because it’s seen as an enabler for collaborative effort, but it should be viewed as a more fundamental development than just the addition of some new comms tools.

Today, with cost reduction and efficiency high on the legal agenda, is the ideal time to start looking at UC.  It has the potential to recast the operational landscape, eliminating the waste of time, money and resources inherent in pointless phone calls, redundant emails, myriad devices and offsite meetings. But the challenge is making it happen. On-premise deployment of UC is a major project, big on capital expense and having the right skills in place.

That’s why you should consider an off-premise approach. There are service providers that can deliver the full spectrum of UC capabilities giving you access to every element from a single vendor. They can deliver a converged IP telephony environment; best-of-breed communication and productivity tools; together with fully managed, cloud-based delivery that assumes the burden of risk and cost while assuring the quality of performance and support. As a client, you get a coherent migration strategy: effectively a flexible, fast-track route to the world of UC with nothing to pay other than your per seat per month costs.

6.Plotting a Future Vision of IT

While the migration of law firms to cloud-based off-premise IT solutions has been less than spectacular so far, the available evidence suggests that this will change in the long-term. Legal firms can tap into significant benefits by moving certain key applications like data management and unified communications over to a cloud-based off-premise approach, thereby knocking down the barriers of cost, skilled resource and risk, and its accompanying migration wrap suitably designed to overcome legacy issues and secure a smooth, rapid transition to a new order. It is not a necessity to move wholesale to a cloud-based off-premise approach. You can and should take your time devising your strategy. But there is real merit in having a taste right now.

Filed Under: Technology

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