Cloud adoption has increased steadily over the last several years since we last forecast an Increasingly Cloudy outlook for law firms in 2017. The most recent industry data, ILTA’s 2019 Technology Survey finds that 72 percent of those surveyed across the law firm landscape will expand their use of Cloud based technologies in 2020. That is up from 62 percent in 2016. Based on my own observances, sentiment around the technology has clearly changed over the last decade from skepticism to general adoption.
ILTA Annual Technology Survey – 2019
The once thunderous clap of resistance has subsided, but according to the ILTA survey, a few subtle headwinds persist. The two areas of concern have grown for some law firms despite the overall uptick in adoption; cost and performance. The infrastructural easing for technology professionals moving to the Cloud and not having to maintain hardware and software, including the pesky but massively important patches, is an enormous benefit. The primary issue, the cost of converting that IT function to the Cloud has created some consternation, the survey finding cost concerns up to 50 percent from 37 percent four years ago. I will dive into the likely rationale for concern and the promise ahead in a moment. Performance anxiety is up slightly year over year, but still hovers around 30 performance historically. What has improved in overall sentiment is security and reliability. Both progressed as people understand the intrinsic positive benefit related to Cloud acceptance.
ILTA Annual Technology Survey – 2019A deeper dive in the Cloud
The Cloud is a nebulous term. To fully understand what the ILTA survey captured, let’s dive a bit deeper into the technology. Most often people think of the Cloud as a place to store files. This is certainly true and is likely the dominate use case for most law firms. Having secure, universally accessible files in the office or remotely is imperative, now more than ever. The tools and services enabling files everywhere has proliferated, which may have exacerbated the concern surrounding cost. Based on my experience, multiple factors are at play. Increasingly, legal technology vendors are offering their version of their particular service ‘in the cloud’. If a firm has 30 products, all offering a Cloud solution, frequently add-on fees for additional storage can accumulate, generating trepidation in the Chief Information Officer.
One new solution to this cost dilemma is starting to emerge. The standard rule is to choose trusted, very well-established providers. In the Business of Law, operations space, Elite 3E would be an example. Storing information off-site can create agita on face value for anyone, but storing it with a lesser known, cheaper alternative, could prove risky. In addition, another baseline perspective states that it behooves a firm to mirror data with at least two different Cloud hosting companies for redundancy.
With that as a backdrop, the proposed emerging solution, still in its infancy, leverages a Legal Platform. Platforms have existed for ages and in many forms. Simply put, they create an ecosystem or environment that allow people and business to participate if they abide by rules, meet standards, and ultimately this confluence creates a network effect for the community. These platforms are new and developing in legal. In theory, law firm applications downloaded from a ‘Legal App Store’ would sit inside this platform and be able to use the same datastore. This could reduce the number of data Cloud providers and the implicit cost associated with them. The concept here is that a law firm would have a Platform where all practitioners and administrators would work. With Single Sign-on (SSO) each user would have access to all permitted applications and tools, as well as the underlining data. The ability to drive workflow and share data securely, all leveraging various components of Cloud technology would simplify and decrease overall Cloud cost.
Beyond merely storing files, several other areas of Cloud use will increase in the future. As more firms start to leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms, the ability to use processing power hosted in the Cloud should proliferate. Instead of having massive computing power, as with a large numbers of expensive computers inside the organization, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) could be leveraged in the Cloud. What this means is that an IT professional could spin up and command access to X number of computers processing power capacity in seconds—meaning they could rent processors in the Cloud to crush large volumes of data (what AI does) very quickly and inexpensively.
The irony of IaaS and moving to the Cloud is that in-house or contractor-based System Integrators (SIs) are increasingly important. These are individuals who oversee the vast array of Cloud infrastructure that will only grow over time. Whilst an initial benefit of Cloud was fewer IT employees, the complexity of the web of Cloud connections is buoying specialty positions to support this new frontier.
The shift to Cloud technologies has happened. Law firms will increasingly adopt a more robust utilization of these services. With expanding integration across the Legal Platform, applications driven by interoperability will likely enable streamlining of some Cloud based datastores, increasing security, flexibility, scale, and hopefully making legal services easier to use.