Attendees to Canadian Lawyer event heard about advantages of moving to cloud-based solutions
If law firms want to employ cloud-enabled solutions to meet their computing needs or even pivot into the world of “cloud-native” systems, do it for the strategic benefits and “not necessarily because you expect it to cost less,” John Sulja, Chief Information Officer with Dye & Durham, told attendees at the Canadian Lawyer Legal Tech Summit Thursday.
“I would say if you’re going to move to the cloud, move to it because of the strategic benefits that we are talking about here, don’t move to it because it’s fashionable, because you will be disappointed,” Sulja said.
He noted that turning to the cloud may end up more expensive than running systems with an on-premises data centre or with a co-location provider, but there are "many other clear advantages."
Sulja, who was with IBM before coming to Dye & Durham, one of the summit’s sponsors, pointed out that those who move to the cloud just “for the sake of moving to the cloud” are not necessarily taking advantage of all its features. “Operating costs are important,” Sulja said, “but agility is why we are taking things to the cloud.”
He added: “Imagine a world with 90 desktop applications, and you need to deploy an update to all your users. That’s a painful process. So, when a customer calls, and we start to talk about a key feature they would like, in our practice management software, we can deploy [those updates] within hours.”
In fact, with some of the firm’s most advanced teams, Sulja says that when a new software developer starts, “we would actually like them to see them deploy something to production on their first day – innovation is also about speed and getting there faster than your competitor.” Emphasizing that agility helps make for a “very easy sales pitch . . . certainly with our customer base of law firms.”
Another element of moving to the cloud with a third-party provider, says Sulja, is resiliency and the ability to access back-ups when needed and not have to worry that there is no one in-house available. In the latter case, “suddenly, you don’t have a backup, and you can’t recover [the data],” he says. “Resiliency is really important.”
Cloud computing becoming an integral part of law firms
Panellists at this session noted that cloud computing is becoming integral for law firms and legal departments, providing mobility, efficiency and cost-effectiveness if used to its full potential. New to the world of cloud solutions are cloud-native platforms.
The difference is that with a cloud-enabled solution, the organization’s application is deployed in the public cloud but still requires a physical server for operations. In contrast, a cloud-native system does not require any computing infrastructure onsite.
Michael Bowmile, Senior Legal Counsel with Coca-Cola Canada Bottling Limited, said that several years ago when the technology was still new, he noticed more resistance to using the cloud in the context of issues related to privacy, especially as he was working in the healthcare sector at the time.
But he added that his position has always been: “You can be resistant, or you can recognize this is where the world is heading. So, the question becomes not ‘Do we move ahead and do it?’ It’s ‘How do we manage risk if we move forward?’”
The answer to that, Bowmile added, is working with IT teams to ensure that security codes are correctly enabled and that “contractual risk” is managed. He noted that there is less resistance to cloud solutions today, but “all the things I talked about a few years ago are still top of mind and front and centre.
“You have to know who you’re dealing with. . ., you still need to make sure you get stakeholder buy-in, and you still need to make sure that you work closely with your IT team to understand the data that’s going into the cloud, and how you manage the information in the cloud. Risks that made people concerned in the first place still exist and need to be managed and mitigated.”
Exploring the possibilities of the cloud and cloud-native platforms
Pratima Enjati, director of legal technology and process and legal, governance and compliance with Sun Life Financial, told summit attendees that technology was never a core strategy for the insurer’s legal operations for many years, but that changed. “Legal technology suddenly became the talk everywhere, and we wanted to invest. We wanted to see if we could work smarter instead of harder and make life easier for lawyers and law clerks.”
Enjati joined Sun Life’s legal operations about seven ago when it launched a “very ambitious” global digital transformation initiative globally across all the satellite offices. She was brought in to join the legal operations team as a digital leader.
However, given the nature of Sun Life’s business, Enjati noted there are strict confidentiality obligations such as health and employee information, so it was often seen as more practical to not move to the cloud. The thinking was, “Let’s just keep it on-premises. It’s safe. We know where the data is, and we have control over it.”
Eventually, Enjati said, a decision was made to explore the possibilities of the cloud. Sun Life also learned it wasn’t an “all or nothing” proposition to move many operations to the cloud and leverage its advantage.
“If you have good solution architects, they will come up with options. You can have a hybrid cloud. You don’t have to use the public-shared cloud. And you also can have a virtual private cloud that you can invest in.”
In making the transition, Enjati said the cost comparisons between keeping on-premise servers and moving to the cloud ultimately showed that the latter was the smart way to go and “we are clearly doing something right.”