Comparing and pricing technology solutions for your law firm is a complex process, particularly when you are considering very different models.
Onsite IT is a familiar solution for many law practices, yet more and more Canadian firms are moving to Cloud IT to stabilize their costs. Because there are fundamental differences in how these services are delivered, it can be quite difficult to achieve an accurate comparison.
To assist you with this process, we’ve broken down the system and service elements of the two solutions.
Upfront vs. Ongoing Expenditures
One major difference between Onsite and Cloud IT is the upfront expenditure. Because of the limited lifespan of system hardware, Onsite IT requires a major upgrade every five years, costing tens of thousands of dollars in capital. Cloud IT eliminates almost all of the upfront capital expenditures, shifting expenses over to the operational category as a fixed monthly fee.
Typical upfront expenditures include physical assets such as servers, switches, networking devices, desktop computers and proprietary software costs such as operating system licenses and maintenance assurances. Computers must be purchased for each user, with applications licensed and installed. Whether your IT management is outsourced or done in-house, labour overhead includes project planning, network set-up, data migration, testing and training.
The initial Cloud onboarding project involves project planning, network set-up, testing, migrations and training.
Operational expenses include software maintenance and upgrades to system hardware and for each user’s computer. Onsite labour for regular maintenance: security patching, system updates, backups, deployments, hardware installations and data storage adjustments. Onsite labour for incident response: equipment breaks, power outages, disrupted connection, and general troubleshooting. If managed in-house, you will need to employ enough IT staff to manage the system and to provide support to firm users. If outsourced, managed services for regular hours and after hours support as well as a helpdesk for firm staff.
A monthly subscription covers all system hardware and software requirements. It also covers labour for system updates, security management, backups and monitoring, and on-call helpdesk support for users. In many cases, firms opt to rent secure and economical thin client terminals in place of desktop computers.
System and Service Elements
The system will be comprised of many different elements, requiring individualized, in-person maintenance and monitoring. All hardware and software updates, upgrades and deployments must be executed in-person, and software must be managed on each firm device, which is a lengthy, labour-intensive process that can be disruptive to users. Unexpected overhead such as additional labour and equipment failure can have significant cost implications.
Hosted on a standardized system, Cloud providers are able to centrally manage all of their client networks, significantly reducing time and overhead costs. Software updates, upgrades and deployments are conducted offsite and are very fast and efficient, enabling them to conduct rapid testing and deployments to all users at once.
All elements of the system’s security will have to be custom planned, built and regularly maintained, including each user’s desktop computer, mobile device and remote access point as they represent a security risk if they are compromised, lost or stolen. Because security onsite management is complex and labour-intensive, there is increased potential for cracks to form in the system.
Servers and system hardware need to be stored in a secure server room with controlled access, temperature stabilization and flood and fire protection.
Firms benefit from improved security through the use of enterprise-class technology at scale, hosted in a professional data centre. Users access their files via a secure virtual desktop, ensuring data never leaves the centre and remains encrypted.
The provider is able to centrally manage all security updates and remotely monitor the system from end-to-end, reducing labour time, user disruption and risk to the firm and clients.
Poorly planned IT doesn’t perform well and leads to rapidly ballooning costs associated with unplanned business requirements, unexpected resources increases, workaround solutions, incompatibilities and product expiries.
Because of the limited lifespan of equipment, firms often try to extend their investment by purchasing additional warranties and maintenance. However, with aging equipment comes performance problems and risk of breakage, compromising productivity and costing the firm.
Owning Onsite IT includes responsibility for maintaining a secure, stable server room. Power outages, clumsy cleaning personnel and overheated equipment are common issues that can cause significant disruption. Remote access is often slow, laggy or unavailable, requiring an onsite computer to be kept on at all times.
Technical best practices and template-driven configurations reduce risk of error, which minimizes interruptions and supports firm productivity. Should hardware fail, multiple levels of redundancy ensure the firm stays running.
Servers and equipment are kept up-to-date by the Cloud provider, ensuring high system performance. Housed offsite in an ISO certified data centre, the system is protected from typical onsite disruptions.
The environment is accessed via a virtual desktop, delivering to users a consistent experience, independent of local computer performance.
Backups & Business Continuity
Lawyers cannot operate without their client data, which is why airtight backups are absolutely essential. Many firms conduct back ups onsite by copying the files to tape or hard drive. Others transfer it to a third-party Cloud provider for storage, known as a “hybrid” approach. Both methods are labor-intensive, requiring vigilance and onsite personnel.
If disaster were to strike the office (eg. flood, fire, power surges), the systems and data would be compromised, paralyzing firm operations. Restoration (assuming all data is intact) and recovery (once replacement hardware is sourced) takes time, is costly for labour, and significantly impacts firm productivity.
By its very nature, Cloud IT’s server virtualization provides a highly reliable and available platform and its facility for multiple redundant levels of backup provide for rapid recovery in scenarios ranging from accidental file deletion to complete data loss.
Because the complete IT infrastructure is housed offsite in a professional facility with flood, fire and power controls, the only IT impact of an office disaster would be lost Internet connection. However, employees can easily access all of their files and applications from offsite, maintaining full firm operation.
Elasticity and Scalability
System capacity and licenses need to be purchased upfront, which requires the firm to accurately predict their business needs up to 5 years in advance. Limited infrastructure expansion is available through purchase of additional equipment and licenses, however costs can’t be reduced should requirements contract.
The elastic nature of a Cloud subscription enables costs to adjust to utilization. If capabilities such as user count, server requirements, or data volume go down, the price goes down as well.
At the end of the day, your firm requires technology that can be counted on to securely and reliably support firm operations. And while cost comparisons can be made between different IT solutions, it can be difficult to put a price on vendor expertise.
Because law firms operate quite differently from other businesses, your IT provider should be deeply knowledgeable about the typical priorities, operations and resources of a modern law practice. Vendor expertise is a critical part of your due diligence checklist, so ensure you've factored it into your bottom-line comparisons.
Are you ready to upgrade your firm to Cloud IT? Begin your checklist with our free eBook, Law Practice in the Cloud: 10 Questions to Ask Providers