Embracing the cloud, Doug Hargrove, Advanced Legal

This article was also featured as a column in the May 2016 issue of LPM. To read the issue in full, download LPM.

The emergence of the cloud is the single biggest shift in the IT paradigm since the move from mainframe to client-server technology. The cloud isn’t simply an iteration of this decentralisation but has created a seismic shift in how IT workers need to operate. Some IT teams have realised this and made the big changes required, but many are struggling to adapt and are applying old approaches to the new world.

With its popularity on the rise, the cloud is being adopted by organisations of all sizes from across the legal market. Whatever the firm’s focus or business model there is some fit (and benefit) to using the cloud - and it doesn’t have to be ‘all or nothing’ as many would have you believe – a blended approach of local and cloud infrastructure is becoming increasingly popular. Whether adoption is through public or private cloud services, software as a service (SaaS), or any of the other ever-increasing aaS options, few organisations are without some cloud component with their IT systems. But in spite of its rising popularity, many IT departments are still illprepared to manage the new order efficiently. And there is good reason for that.

Cloud computing was initially met with scepticism by IT departments, who logically feared jobs would be lost as operational activities were effectively outsourced to cloud providers to realise cost savings. The reality though is that staffing levels are not being decimated in the way I anticipated. In fact, in many organisations the dependence on IT has increased to deal with the digital realm and the adoption of multiple applications and cloud solutions.

We only need to read the press to see the diversity of views about the cloud, and this diversity inevitably creates an atmosphere of fear, uncertainty and doubt. Given that cloud adoption is being driven directly by business leaders, there is a need within the IT function to not simply accept, but to embrace the change needed to realise the benefits of the cloud.

This is where the firm’s management team can help. They need to lead cloud adoption by developing and articulating the firm’s IT strategy, both within the IT department (if such a team exists) and across the rest of the firm. This approach has to include working closely with the existing staff involved in IT to address often emotional reactions, creating structured training programmes to enable staff to develop the skills they will need. Existing staff have a store of valuable domain-based knowledge and this is critical information that will help connect effectively to the cloud. Their techniques and operational knowledge will need nurturing but this development will be exponentially assisted if experience is built upon rather than staff replaced.

It may seem counter-intuitive to suggest it, but training IT staff is one of the key activities to help cloud adoption. Routine operations may be outsourced to cloud providers but the need to create unified management tools and aggregated data solutions are becoming increasingly important. Locating key systems in the cloud may provide an organisation with flexible, cost effective and up-to-date solutions but if the data is scattered across multiple systems it is worth less to the organisation than data that can be aggregated and analysed effectively.

Another key barrier to successful cloud adoption is that, traditionally, IT departments have seen themselves as ‘solution providers’, whose function has been to fulfil requirements from business leaders and deliver appropriate technology to meet their needs. The nature of the cloud is such that business leaders are now able to bypass the IT workers and simply buy in solutions directly.

IT are no longer the problem solvers that they have long positioned themselves as being – instead, they need to see their roles as unifiers, bringing together the myriad of platforms and environments (both cloud and local) that now co-exist in a firm’s IT infrastructure to deliver something much greater than the parts that make it up. That’s where the real value of IT now resides.

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