The law firm, Seiger Gfeller Laurie LLP of West Hartford, Connecticut had a huge challenge. They decided to depart from their parent firm that provided their information technology infrastructure, and they needed to get on their own systems as quickly as possible. The current systems were “state of the art” IT solutions for the legal world. No expense had been spared in selecting server, communications, and office hardware; and the software choices were modern and considered among the best.
In my interviews with the partners, I found that while they had these great systems in place, they often referenced their limitations, not their capabilities. Slow was often used in describing email, and remote access was often described as painful. Quite a shame since these attorneys spend a good deal of time on the road traveling both domestically and internationally.
Seiger Gfeller Laurie LLP (SGL) is a law firm founded on the principle of doing things differently and better. In contrast to the traditional law firm model, focused on billable house and staffing matters based on a hierarchical pyramid, SGL’s focus is on obtaining results for its clients in the most efficient ways possible. Today, SGL is comprised of 8 experienced and tenacious litigators from some of the largest international law firms in the world.
Its existing IT solutions consisted of Microsoft Exchange Server, Hummingbird DM, Time Matters, Equitracs, and Blackberry phones. Their branch office was connected to the main office via a T1 and the applications were hosted either in the main office or on a local server. For example, the Exchange Server was hosted at the main office. Remote access was provided by connecting to the local server and then routing over the internal network from the office in West Hartford, Connecticut, to the main office several states away. Other applications resided in the local office. So, the users always had to connect via the local office. As well, since they were accessing their network via a virtual private network (VPN), they couldn’t easily access Exchange via Outlook Web Access nor run Outlook on more than one machine outside the office. Every application had to pass through the VPN.
SGL needed to deploy their new IT solutions rapidly, manage costs, and have excellent remote access. A traditional approach would work, but also reproduce the limitations that they had with their current IT infrastructure. It was time for a different approach and an opportunity to get out of the business of leasing and managing servers, communications hardware, and several complex software licenses and upgrade programs.
I talked to the partners about the multiple benefits of using the Internet and Internet-based solutions for their business. These type of modern solutions are called Software as Services or SaaS. The category as a whole is often referred to as cloud computing where the cloud is the Internet. Cloud computing, according to the Wikipedia, is a style of computing in which dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources are provided as a service over the Internet. Users need not have knowledge of, expertise in, or control over the technology infrastructure in the "cloud" that supports them. My job was to identify, test, select, and implement applications that would solve SGL’s IT requirements.
In the world of technology, major advancements occur that enable newer, and often times, better approaches to solving the same problem. Things that we now take for granted, were once recognized as major advances. In the 1980s, most business computers were large and complex. They were called mainframe and mini computers. Users accessed business applications via character-based terminals. These computers cost thousands of dollars, and were very complex to operate and support. In the 1990’s, these computers were replaced by lower cost PC-based servers and clients running graphical operating systems. This drove down the cost of business computing and made it much more accessible. But is still had a fair amount of complexity in that the systems required specialized software running on the client as well as the server. Today, while this model of computing is still in broad use, the client/server model is being replaced by a newer model which doesn’t require specialize software on the client, and the server is maintained by a 3rd party on a fee per use basis. The client accesses the business application through an Internet browser. This simplifies the configuration significantly as the business no longer needs to maintain complex servers and the client configuration is dramatically simpler. In truth, the clients still needs to run applications like Microsoft Office and utilities like virus protection software. But these are off the shelf applications. As a testament to the validity of this approach to computing, millions of people are already using Internet hosted applications in the form of Gmail, Amazon, Google, E*TRADE, and the list goes on and on.
Calendar and Messaging. The first application that we selected for SGL was Microsoft Exchange Server. But rather than purchasing hardware and software licenses, we selected a vendor that provides what is called hosted Microsoft Exchange Server. To setup the service, we pointed SGL’s MX record to the right DNS, setup accounts, and configured Outlook on each workstation. Even better, our hosting vendor offers full support for Windows Mobile, Blackberry, and iPhone synchronization as well as modern SPAM and virus protection. Deployment was rapid and without fault. Each employee had access to Outlook on all of their PCs, Outlook Web Access, and an iPhones with full support for mail, calendar, and contacts.
Cost: $12.95 per user a month including unlimited mailbox size, SPAM and virus protection, and smartphone synchronization.
Document Management. Good document management is a key ingredient in any successful law practice. SGL had been using Hummingbird DM. It provided excellent document storage and retrieval, with integration into Microsoft Office and Outlook. They had it setup on their local server and replicated over their internal network to headquarters. As a client/server application, Hummingbird had to be installed and setup on all PCs that access the system. It was a good solution, yet it required constant supervision and maintenance. Considering that this application is the ‘bread and butter’ of the firm, a move into the clouds had to meet with extremely stringent criteria. It had to be secure, reliable, and offer very similar capabilities to what the firm was used to – easy access, robust search, and Office and Outlook integration. SGL choose a solution that they immediately were able to use. The vendor provided free migration support which went flawlessly - users, client numbers, matter numbers were setup, their document library imported, and they were up and running. To use the product, all you need to do is open a web browser and login. Additional, the product has the ability to create restricted access so that others outside the organization can access documents in the library if needed. So, now they have the ability to dynamically virtualize their organization with external resources. SGL now has all of this combined with the peace of mind knowing that their most important data is maintained and backed up in a secure, world-class data center.
Cost: $30 per user per month.
Time and Billing. The next application we selected for SGL was time and billing. In the past, SGL had used a powerful system that required a server and individual user licenses. The cost of purchase combining hardware and software licenses was very high. As well, remote access into the system required a VPN connection. This can be extremely complicated when 3rd party book keeping and accounting staff need access into the system. SGL looked at a number of solutions and quickly settled on a product that met their requirements. It is available from a web browser so they and their designees, can easily access the system from any place, and their data is safely stored in a state of the art data center.
Cost: $19.95 per user a month.
Benefits of Cloud Computing
- Ease of deployment. Cloud computing is the next evolution in modern computing. Deployment is simplified in that you don’t need a local server, software licenses, and server support and maintenance. Furthermore, applications are accessed through a browser and data is securely maintained and backed up in a state of the art data center. So, client-side configuration is simplified.
- Pay as you go. Fees are typically paid monthly calculated by the number of users. There is no capital expense nor depreciation of expensive server and communications hardware. You are out of the business of software maintenance programs, and installing upgrades and patches.
- Automatic backup. Your data resides in state of the art data centers where is it secure and backed up. Often times, these data centers are in multiple locations and regularly audited by security experts.
- Technical Support. Technical support is provided as part of the business application. There is no special fee for support. Support is part of the product and typically available 7/24/36.
- No software updates. All application improvements are managed by the application hosting company and added in when available. You are no longer in the businesses of patches, hot fixed, and updates.
- Rapid deployment. New application deployment is rapid and can often happen as soon as an account is setup with the application vendor. Users typically have access to an administrative portal where they can add, manage, and delete users. Deployment for new users is typically a simple add user function.
- High availability. Users can access their business applications from anywhere using nearly any computer. When a computer fails, the user can simply move to another computer and get busy without installing and configuring new software.
The senior partner at SGL recently traveled to the UK. He took a brand new netbook, an ASUS 1008HA. To setup the new PC, I installed virus protection, Microsoft Office, Skype, configured Outlook, and setup Office integration software for the document management system. That’s it, nothing else, nothing more. The senior partner was able to connect to the Internet from his hotel in London and access all of his critical applications and data just as if he were in the Office. He’s never been able to do this before. Now, he can simply work anywhere as productively as if he were in the office.
If you are interested in learning more about how cloud computing can integrate and benefit your business, please contact Consider It Fixed.
Contact Info: email@example.comClouding Computer, Legal, Law, Software as Services Saas, NetDocuments, TimeSolv, AppRiver Mailstreet, Legal software, Law Firm software, Law software, document management, time and billing, host Microsoft Exchange Server, Mark Seiger, Charles Gfeller, Robert Laurie, Seiger Gfeller Laurie LLP