Time for a (Cloud) Change: Poor Performance and Outages Aren’t “Normal”

Originally published September 28, 2020, by Bill Sorenson, VP of Product, Netgain at www.elite.com.

2020 has been painful at best—changing how law firms interact with clients, access core applications, files, and confidential information, and remain productive even when working remotely. With guidelines changing on a near-weekly basis, it’s hard to define what our “new normal” is or will be. But there are two things that shouldn’t be part of it: application performance delays and outages.

But if that’s exactly what you’re experiencing, you may believe that it’s just part of the COVID tax that comes from working remotely. The short answer is no. Instead, it’s a sign that your
current IT infrastructure is poorly equipped to handle current demands, and that’s a burden you don’t have to bear.

The truth is that you aren’t alone. While some firms were able to adjust very quickly, switching to an all-remote work environment with relative ease, many others struggled to maintain productivity and, in some cases, forced to maintain some onsite staff despite physical distancing recommendations.

What was the difference? Overwhelmingly for small to mid-sized firms with limited internal IT resources, we find that firms that have embraced the cloud for their IT needs were far more able to adapt quickly and enable their staff to work completely remotely.

On-premises IT

Typically located onsite at the main office, on-premises IT environments rely on internally maintained servers, storage arrays arranged in a storage area network, and local backups. While such environments can support remote workers through remote connectivity, performance degrades quickly as employees have to connect back to the main office location to get their normal services.

Organizations with this footprint have had to resort to heroic efforts to try to immediately increase connectivity capacity while at the same time implement new hardware or configurations that would allow the capacity needed for everyone to work at home—all while trying not to disrupt what productivity the team was able to achieve.

Cloud-based IT

In contrast, firms that have embraced the cloud as an integral, if not primary, part of their IT strategy had a significantly easier time adjusting to remote work. With cloud infrastructure, productivity is largely maintained (at least technologically) because the setup was already designed to support the number of employees working. Your team effectively sees no difference between working remotely or in the office, even when they are working with critical applications such as your document and case management systems or practice management solutions such as Firm Central and ProLaw®.

Taking the Fear of Change Out of Cloud IT

One way to deploy cloud IT is through virtual desktops or “workspaces” that mimic the desktops your team uses today. Following a migration (which for the majority of the firm will be practically invisible), firm partners often express surprise that their virtual desktop looks just as it did prior to the move.

Using virtual desktops eliminates the need to “retrain” staff to access things in a different way while ensuring a consistent and reliable performance experience for your team. It also significantly improves your firm’s security posture.

This spring, firms that relied on virtual desktops were able to focus on other huge issues related to the pandemic. This group immediately allowed their employees to work at home with minimal notice and provided a significant increase in cybersecurity capabilities, whether the employee was working on their own computer or a firm’s computer.

They could keep production up, address new needs of their clients, and focus on strategic direction for the firm in light of the economic environment. They weren’t distracted by IT issues, limitations, or security risks, but could concentrate on their clients and their business. This differentiation was huge in the response to this crisis.

Firms that have been experiencing poor performance and outages should reconsider their current IT environment. For practices with limited IT resources (perhaps just one or two IT staff, or in some cases none at all), cloud IT can seem daunting, especially in the midst of COVID-era distancing. But it doesn’t need to be.

Making the Switch

The flexibility needed for organizations in today’s world, during and post COVID-19, have significantly increased the focus on public cloud desktop solutions. The ability to have your work desktop hosted in the cloud and the ability for every employee to be able to get to that environment from anywhere has provided significant value to clients. With each user getting their own customized environment, secured with the industry’s best security, and delivered and managed by a trusted partner, cloud desktops deliver better than any other solution in the work-at-home environment.

To help with the process of setting up and managing your cloud IT, you can work with a managed services provider (MSP) that partners with you to understand your business and recommend the optimal setup, taking into account both business flexibility / needs and cost effectiveness. Such an approach often has the added benefit of freeing your internal team from time-consuming tasks such as software updates and hardware maintenance. Instead they can focus more of their time on high-value initiatives that align your IT strategy with your long-term firm vision.

It can seem daunting to switch out your IT infrastructure in the midst of a crisis, but for many organizations, the cost of NOT doing so is even greater. As we continue to navigate this crisis, unsure of when it will end, it has become critically important that we figure out how to be at our most productive during this time.

Tips and Tricks – Microsoft Word Track Changes and Document Comparison

Recently, the Afinety University Webinar Series looked at “tips and tricks” regarding the track changes and document comparison features in Microsoft Word. Led by Diana Baker, Afinety’s Macro Developer and Trainer, the webinar covered best practices when tracking changes, options for markup and displaying changes, printing with or without markup, and features when comparing or combining documents in MS Word. Diana’s background in the legal field allowed for great insight and practical tips that can be easily applied when working with legal documents.  Here’s an overview of a few of the key features, but you’ll want to watch the webinar for a full walkthrough.

Getting Started with Track Changes

For quick access to turning the track changes feature on or off, there is a shortcut key, “CTRL+ Shift + E”.

One of the most common complaints about track changes is many say they are unable to see changes that have been made, especially when using an upgraded version of Microsoft Word. When opening a document that contains tracked changes, the default Display for Review is set to “simple markup”. Simple markup displays a red line in the left margin, letting the author know something has changed within that paragraph, although it doesn’t show the specific changes. In order to see the specific changes, it’s really as simple as clicking the drop-down in the Display for Review field and selecting the “All Markup” option.

Track Changes with Multiple Authors

If a document has been modified by multiple people, changes will display in a different color based on which author made the changes. Selecting the option, “show revisions in balloons”, displays the name of the author together with the author’s respective changes. Users can easily display the document showing a specific author’s changes using the “Specific People” option in the Show Markup settings.

Advanced Options

The Track Changes Options dialog box contains various options that control what edits show in the document, what shows in Balloons and a choice to have the Reviewing Pane on or off.  The color and format of inserted and deleted text can also be changed in the Advanced Options.

Protecting Track Changes When Collaborating on a Document with Others

In order to make sure Track Changes is kept on when collaborating on a Word document, the document can be locked with a password.  This will prevent others from turning Track Changes off.

Warn Before Printing, Saving or Sending

Since Word allows users to view a document in original or no markup mode, in which case it does not display tracked changes, it is not uncommon for users to be unaware of the fact that they are tracking changes or that changes have not been accepted or rejected.  Alerts can also be set up when starting to save or send a document that contains tracked changes.

Printing with Track Changes On or Off

Users have the option to print with or without tracked changes on their document.  Set the Display for Review to “No Mark” to print the document as if all changes have been accepted.  Set the Display for Review to “All Markup” to print the document with the Tracked Changes.

Differentiating Between Comparing and Combining a Document

The difference between the compare and combine features has to do with the two documents being worked on. For example, the “Compare” feature would be used to compare two files that do not have track changes turned on.  The “Compare” feature will note changes between the two files as “tracked changes.”  The original document is compared to a revised version of the document.

The “Combine” feature would be used to compare two documents that do contain tracked changes.  As an example, let’s say you made some changes to a document and tracked those changes.  Then, the document is sent to another person, and that person makes changes and tracked them.  There are now two versions of the document, each with their own tracked changes.  The “Combine” feature would be used to view a document that combines all tracked changes.

Comparing a Word Doc to a PDF

Comparing a Word Document to a PDF can have some challenges. This is partly due to the styles in a particular document. Word takes the PDF and puts it into an editable Word document. The resulting comparison of the original Word document and PDF that was converted to Word, will show all styles in the original Word document as formatting changes.

For additional tips and tricks on the software programs you use most, register for an upcoming webinar.