loud services are gaining traction among law firms and CPA firms as security becomes less of a concern. Cloud hosted applications can provide your firm with unique methods of collaboration at low-cost, affordable rates for nearly any size organization.
The adoption of cloud services has become increasingly popular in the last decade as organizations demand more efficient means of storing, sharing, and accessing information. Data stored via the cloud is essentially saved on a network of data centers and delivered to your device over the Internet. The cloud allows users to access their data quickly and remotely using any Internet capable device. These benefits are specifically advantageous to law firms and CPA firms who can streamline their processes, cut costs, and provide more efficient services to their clients by switching to the cloud.
Although some firms are reluctant to utilize this technology, the advantages it provides can deliver more stringent security and enhance the organization’s rapport among clients. Programs such as Microsoft Office 365, Skype for Business, and CRM (customer relationship management) technology are only a few examples of tools hosted on the cloud that can be purchased through a cloud services provider (CSP). Described below are a number of ways cloud hosting can help law firms and CPA firms improve their organizations’ workflow, communication, and security without affecting the up-time of their operations.
“There’s a lot of process work involved within CPA firms and law firms. Instead of spending a tremendous amount of money on a vertical application to manage documents, I’ve seen small firms utilize and build a similar system within cloud tools such as SharePoint and OneDrive.”—Jamison West (President of Arterian-subsidiary of Aldridge)
Scaling cloud services
Many law and CPA firms continue to rely upon in-house IT departments to serve their needs. Cloud services are sold on demand by providers and allow for more flexibility when firms are purchasing a plan. This elasticity permits financial and legal organizations to increase or decrease the number of resources included in their services agreement without worrying about inoperability each time a decision is made to add a new feature to the platform. In addition, cloud services are generally offered at a monthly rate which enables a firm to expand the extent of their resources as a flexible operational expense.
A vendor should handle the maintenance and upgrades necessary to run operations smoothly thus reducing the amount of capital expenditures allocated to the software, hardware, licensing, and support technology that otherwise must be purchased when maintaining an in-house IT solution.
Small and medium-size firms reap the most benefit from cloud technology because they often cannot afford to purchase the same equipment and resources as a larger firm with a greater pool of resources. Switching to a CSP can save an organization money and bolster its client relationships. This will foster long-term partnerships with clients by streamlining communication and allowing the firm to focus its time and efforts on more advisory services.
Mobility and synergy of cloud services
Traditional work habits are evolving and more attorneys and accountants are required to do their jobs from various sites outside the office. With the cloud, professionals are able to access their calendars, applications, files, client data, email, etc. from any place, at any time, and on any device capable of connecting to the Internet. This can be particularly helpful when an attorney needs to access a file quickly while in court, or when an accountant requires immediate access to a client’s financial statement while on the go.
Attorneys and accountants are especially receptive to cloud technology because of the collaborative advantages it provides. Cloud programs offer applications that expedite and streamline document management processes for faster and more efficient communication and editing. Tools such as OneDrive and SharePoint allow professionals within the firm to store and author documents concurrently and can be purchased via an Office 365 subscription.
Therefore, if a document is saved on either of these platforms multiple individuals can comment on, revise, and review the work without emailing several versions of the text between editors and creating time-consuming communication silos that can affect production quality and client relationships. The collaboration these tools facilitate help law firms and CPA firms to position themselves as trusted business partners by utilizing a foundation of real-time information to support the workflow of their organizations.
Data continuity and security using the cloud
Many firms are reluctant to adopt the cloud due to concerns of client data security and redundancy. However, a full-time, in-house IT tech may not always be capable of monitoring the security of your client information proactively.
A reputable cloud services provider should implement data encryption, firewalls, intrusion detection monitoring, multi-factor authentication, and a specialized team of cloud experts to update and supervise the firm’s network remotely. The cloud provider will generally have a group of committed support personnel to address system concerns without needing to come on-site and they will work to prevent technology pitfalls from impeding a firm’s productivity.
There’s a common assumption that public cloud providers are less secure than private cloud providers due to a number of preliminary issues that have since been addressed. Firms are worried about issues such as NSA access to their files, storage of files outside of the United States, data ownership and security, etc.
However, programs such as Microsoft Office 365 relieve such concerns via privacy features suited to individual industries. For example, Office 365 implements admin and user controls that help firms meet their compliance requirements and give organizations control over their data and the resources to do their own investigations when incidents occur. If a firm is on an enterprise level scale, Microsoft will allow the firm to select the location of its data center and restrict any data storage outside of the United States.
A CSP should employ transparent operations that allow for the monitoring of data access and actions taken on data files by internal employees and the provider’s support staff. A firm will still own and have the rights to its information when storing data on the cloud, and data will only be accessed for appropriate business purposes specified in the services agreement. All access should be documented and made available to a firm upon request.
The issue of data redundancy also arises when a firm is considering cloud services. Many organizations believe hosting client information on-site is safer than the storing the data through the cloud but forget to consider the risks of internal IT solutions.
If a firm is faced with a natural disaster or power outage that damages an on-site server, its employees will be unable to access the information they need to continue working. In addition, the physical security of the network generally amounts to a locked room in which the servers are stored. A physical threat may result in downtime, destruction of vital data, and an expensive loss of client billing hours.
Cloud vendors, on the other hand, generally operate using multiple data centers that are georedundant. Therefore, when a firm is working through the cloud its employees can continue to serve clients even in an event such as, a hurricane, flood, or stolen internal server. The storage of confidential client information in an external location may be a difficult transition for some organizations, but it’s important to consider the advantages cloud can provide that an in-house IT solution may be unable to match.
Aldridge offers a variety of cloud options to suit the unique needs of your firm and protect the valuable information your professional services entail. Contact an Aldridge representative today to learn how we can help you transform the way you do business.
This blog is part of our series of blogs on IT design. Click the link to learn about IT design and why it’s important.