The current #lockdown has forced businesses to #WorkFromAnywhere in an attempt to maintain #BusinessAsUsual. This article focuses on the technological challenges faced in migrating to the cloud.
First, it is suitable to deal with some terminology in order to get clarity on what we are dealing with.
Broadband internet – often a cable based solution such as ADSL or Fibre dependent on physical infrastructure. Terminates in a local router, which makes the internet locally available. 3G/4G/5G/LTE are wireless cellular network data carrier protocols, with 5G being the latest, and fastest, but with a shorter range.
Cloud – The Cloud refers to any number of internet linked servers which provide a variety of services. In a certain sense just another name for services available on the internet. Typically this could refer to application software, services and resources.
Online – means to be connected to the internet. As opposed to offline which means a resource is available without an internet connection.
SaaS Software as a Service – A specific online licensing model where software use is controlled by the vendor and typically limits the number of simultaneous connections.
Server – Typically a computer running a Linux Operating System, or a Windows computer running a Microsoft Small Business Server Operating System. Windows workstations require special software to connect to a Linux file server. Apple iOS devices are not readily compatible with either Linux or Windows and similarly require additional software to connect.
Serverless – A cloud based model, where a remote server is maintained, but from the perspective of the end-user there is no on site server.
VPN – a Virtual Private Network – a solution which simulates a computer network over a large geographical area. International companies typically run their own VPNs. If it were affordable and easy to set up and maintain, this would be the go-to solution.
WiFi – a short range internet connection, from router or base station, distributing a signal over a local area. WiFi is the local access for incoming broadband internet.
Typically law firms operate on a model where operations are conducted in a central office with a shared computer network. All users access the same resources, no work gets done outside the office. Previously the accountant would come into the office and sit at a designated desk, processing transactions and generating reports. Staff would produce documents and print these for perusal and correction, and eventually final hard copies for signature. Data security was heavily dependent on physical access control. Access to the office premises presented the first line in security.
Everything has changed.
The current situation has forced law firms to send employees home, forcing a re-assessment of resources, people and responsibilities. The ability to type is suddenly an everyday necessity, and no longer a job requirement. Physical restrictions on the availability of printers and paper mean that documents remain in digital format for longer, with paper being used only for the final step. Collaborating requires sharing information and documents with a specific audience in a largely uncontrolled environment, where those documents may be opened and edited on a variety of connected devices. Uniformity supports continuity and promotes productivity. Few tasks can be so challenging as to have to first convert any document before it can be read.
More specifically, financial management requires accurate, day to day access. Accounting is generally the responsibility of a single individual or small trusted team. Limiting access to the accounting office, and computer systems used, effectively prevented unauthorised access. Remote work presents serious and unanticipated requirements. Questions such as Who gets access? What exactly do they get access to? and Who controls that access? now require urgent answers.
For some businesses it is as simple as packing the server into the accountants car and sending it home. This allows one person unrestricted access, but presents other challenges: if the server configuration was dependent on other office based resources, will it work when disconnected from the office network? Does the insurance policy cover the relocation of the equipment to a residential address?
The decision to migrate to a cloud based solution cannot be made in a lightly and must meet various professional and economical requirements.
Role players involved should include the responsible attorney personally, the various operational heads, IT support and vendor support. The attorney is ultimately responsible and must authorise and supervise the entire process. The operational heads must ensure that all required resources are migrated successfully, business can only continue if all required resources are available. IT will do the heavy lifting – they should have clear break down of what to do and how. Rework and duplication wastes time and costs money. Software vendors provide the expertise to advise and assist with the migration of proprietary systems.
The more complex solution requires migration to a cloud based solution. This means migrating all the required office based resources onto cloud servers. Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive are generally advanced online data / file storage platforms. Simply copy a document onto the online drive as one would do to a local computer drive. Dropbox is a simpler file storage solution with limited collaboration capability. Be sure to investigate the disclaimers and Terms used by the relevant vendors: To provide these and other features, [Store] accesses, stores, and scans Your Stuff. You give us permission to do those things, and this permission extends to our affiliates and trusted third parties we work with. How does this impact on legal privilege and confidentiality?
Software typically does not run on a file server. This means that the data storage solutions alone will not be enough to install and run application software. Additional cloud servers, such as Amazon’s AWS or Microsoft Azure, offering cloud computing services will be required. This does not mean these are the only available solutions, these are merely the best known. This does not guarantee that the vendor’s software will actually work as expected once installed on a cloud server. Questions should be asked such as Has this been done before? And Which alternatives present themselves?
Once the various sources of data (text files, spreadsheet files, image files and databases) have been identified, IT should confirm with the various vendors, and request support where necessary to migrate the relevant data. Experience has taught that ‘software data’ may be smaller than 1GB in size, while ‘file data’ may easily approach 1TB even for small firms. An accurate assessment will go a long way to map the migration path and estimate costs. It may be faster to request the vendor to assist with the migration of their product than a solo attempt. While the vendor installation is taking place, the file system data may be migrated to its destination.
The sign-off should typically be vendor to IT support, IT support to operational heads and finally operational heads to the the responsible attorney. If any one of the role players is uncomfortable with the end result, this should be communicated and remedied immediately. Complete, accurate data transfer must be guaranteed. Time is of the essence, but data loss may never be mitigated.
Typical risks include
- miscommunication of time frames with data being migrated while it is still in use;
- work flow disruption caused by resources being temporarily unavailable;
- data duplication or omission due to availability on multiple platforms;
- non-intentional data loss – deleting local data based on the flawed assumption that it has already been successfully migrated;
Once all required data has been successfully migrated, operational capacity should be rapidly restored. Failure to reach operational capacity within the expected time frame, probably indicates a problem concerning the migration process. Gaps in the migrated data should be identified and remedied on a high priority basis.
True cloud migration should not merely permit #WorkFromHome, but allow #WorkFromAnywhere.
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