A Series on Technology: What's Up With the Cloud?
For some, this recent crisis was manageable because they were already accustomed to working remotely. For others, it’s proven a nightmare. This is our first installment on technology. You can bury your head in the sand and wait for all this to pass or you can embrace the new technology available for your practice. It doesn’t require an IT degree or an IT department. Incorporating advances in technology into your practice is easier now than it has ever been. Even if you had stuck your toe in the sea of new technology, now is the time to wade in a little deeper. How can technology help your practice? How hard is it?
First, let’s talk about the cloud.
Advances in technology have revolutionized the practice of law in the last 20 years, and the pace of change has only increased. Practicing in a solo or small firm is now more practical than ever. But large firms can benefit as well. With more people (including courts) relying on digital communications, the days of expensive on-site document generation, reproduction, and storage are gone. With improvements in security, digital storage no longer must be on-site. And all of these changes make working remotely possible and make you and your firm more efficient and more secure. Severing these tethers to overhead also allows you to use your office space more efficiently thus reducing the size of your physical footprint and support. It also allows you to be more efficient, secure, and mobile.
Before we talk about software and data management, let’s talk about where your options for housing it. Consider the cloud. What is it? It isn’t one location or one thing. It is the process of storing digital data (programs and/or data that they use and access) on offsite servers hosted, owned and managed by third-party providers.
Many of you have probably invested in servers. And if you’ve been at it a little while, re-invested in servers. You’ve replaced servers. You’ve bought more servers. You’ve increased your storage capacity. All at substantial cost with some inconvenience thrown in. Perhaps you even have a relationship with a great IT support person or even one on staff to help you with the servers and what they house. They sell and/or manage servers. Most will be quick to tell you that you don’t want to store things in “the cloud” because all kinds of nasty things can happen there.
Well, all the nasties that can occur in the cloud are MUCH MORE LIKELY to occur with your own servers!
A large, well-capitalized, publicly traded company that is in the business of selling off-site digital storage is much better at protecting your data than you are in-house. They employ the best and the brightest to make sure that there is no downtime, that all data is stored in secure locations (with multiple backups), and that their servers are protected from hackers. They have a MUCH better track record with hackers than companies and firms which handle their own security – even large ones. This is true especially if you use a reputable provider where you maintain ownership of your data, your data is encrypted before it is uploaded, and you hold the key to the encryption. In other words, they are simply storing encrypted bits and bytes. They cannot access your data if they wanted to, thus neither can someone who were to get into their system.
How hard is it to store things in the cloud versus on your server?
From a user’s perspective, it looks exactly the same. Think of your cloud storage provider as a directory on your server. That is what it will look like to you. It will be right there in your list of destinations where you store documents in all of your programs. And within it you can organize your files just like you do on your servers. You are still storing your data on servers they just aren’t down the hall. You are seamlessly accessing the servers over the internet instead of over your (hackable) network. And you are seamlessly encrypting your files before transmitting them to those servers. And those servers have multiple backups located throughout the country in uber-secure locations.
No more servers. No more server upgrades. No more server crashes. No more malware. No more viruses.
Not only is the cloud a great place for storing your data, it can also house most of your software. Using cloud-based software means no installation and no updates/upgrades. They are done automatically and seamlessly.
An added benefit to using the cloud?
You can access your information from anywhere that you can access the internet – without having to do a VPN (remote hookup to your desktop), which is slow, clunky and not very secure.
But what if the internet is down? I can’t access my software or my data. That’s not necessarily the case. If you have enough storage space on your computer (hopefully laptop), you can work on your files whenever wherever. I work from my laptop. I can easily work whether I’m online or not. My files seamlessly sync when I am connected to the internet. And when I am not on the internet, they are available on my laptop.