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.

5 Red Flags in your Cloud Partner

Now that you’ve asked all of the right questions of your prospective cloud partners (Questions to Ask – Part 1, Questions to Ask – Part 2), you’re ready to go back to your leadership team and make recommendations, right?! As you comb through your partner’s answers, here are some red flags that may indicate they’re not the right partner for your organization:

  1. They ask you to sign a long-term contract without termination for convenience. 

    A reputable cloud provider should include a reasonable exit clause, sometimes called “termination for convenience.” This clause stipulates that your organization can terminate the contract at any time for any reason if you are unsatisfied.

  1. They have limited or no experience working with legal practices. 

    Legal organizations have unique needs and require specialized support and services. Cloud providers that haven’t worked in legal likely do not have experience working with your applications, such as ProLaw or iManage. They have experience supporting customers but may not understand the urgent response times needed by firms. They also may not sign Business Associate Agreements (BAA).

  1. They are a young company. 

    A new cloud provider may be able to meet all your needs, but without having a background in hosting for organizations similar to yours, it’s best to proceed with caution. It becomes even more important for you to understand how many team members the organization is made up of, how they manage their infrastructure, what support is provided, etc. Small, start-up cloud providers present risk in employee turnover and inexperience.

  1. They don’t have references similar to your practice. 

    References are extremely valuable when choosing a cloud provider. They give you a good look at what it will be like to be a client of the provider. If the cloud provider has any hesitation in providing client references or testimonials, you may need to reconsider.

  1. They don’t ask about your desired business outcomes. 

    Cloud providers should be focusing on what you want to get out of your IT infrastructure, ultimately asking what your desirable business outcomes are. Your cloud experience will be most successful when you and your service partner understand the overarching goals of the practice.

Choosing a cloud partner may be the most important decision your organization makes this year. The security of your data, the experience of your users, and the productivity of your firm depends on it. Choose wisely.

7 More Questions to Ask a Prospective Cloud Partner to Ensure Project Success

Last week, we explored seven questions to ask your prospective cloud providers as you’re doing your due diligence for your leadership team.

This week, we’re going to explore seven more questions. Ensuring you ask the right questions will help ensure your project is a success. Next week, watch for our blog on red flags to watch for in your cloud provider search.

  1. How can we minimize disruptions to our firm as our applications are migrated to your platform?

    It’s important to know that the transition to a cloud provider will go smoothly. Make sure the cloud provider has experience migrating firms like yours and can perform the migration with minimal disruption to your practice. Discuss the migration experience with references, if possible.A successful migration involves a knowledgeable, experienced cloud provider and a well-prepared firm. When the cloud provider and firm understand the overarching business objectives of the project, they can operate from the same playbook and communicate effectively throughout the process.
  2. How do you calculate your fees? What costs are outside the scope of your cloud services?

    Costs are calculated differently for cloud providers, but it’s important to understand how you will be charged. Is it based on number of users, applications, storage, or server resources?You will also want to understand what costs fall outside of the scope of your cloud services so you can budget accordingly. Some providers consider events like emergency support, software upgrades, or local network support as out-of-scope while other providers provide these services within their cloud offering.
  3. Describe your company’s approach to support. Will we have a dedicated support team that is familiar with our applications and environment?Businesses need quick, easy access to support when issues arise. Your cloud provider should keep your users productive and focused on their primary duty of serving clients. Support hours and levels of service should be outlined in the SLA so you understand what’s in-scope.It’s ideal for your cloud provider to offer a dedicated support team for your organization. This may mean that there are focused support teams dedicated to specific clients based on what vertical they’re in. Dedicated support teams allow your firm to experience more personal connections with the support staff, more specialized service, and shorter wait times.
  4. Do you have a Service Level Agreement (SLA) designed to meet your unique needs?Data availability is vital to law firms. A hosting provider’s Service Level Agreement (SLA) should detail the organization’s availability standards, response times, and support services. What is the average response time? Is any financial credit offered if availability drops below the threshold outlined? When are the provider’s maintenance windows and can these be customized for my firm? Be sure to carefully read the SLA and ask questions in any areas needing additional clarification.Negotiating an SLA is possible with the right cloud provider and should be one of the first terms discussed during your cloud evaluation process. Small details in your SLA can mean a better experience for your users, more value for your practice’s budget, and a cloud environment that is customized for your practice’s unique needs.
  5. Will our data be stored in a private cloud environment? Do you use any public cloud partners to deliver your cloud services?Take the time to understand where your data will be stored – a private or public cloud.The public cloud shares infrastructure resources across many types of clients, industries, and workloads. Some cloud providers partner with hyper-scale clouds like Amazon Web Services or Azure. If the provider uses the public cloud, ask questions about the public services to determine and assess the security of your data.

    Providers delivering a private cloud, where the IT infrastructure is dedicated to one organization, deliver benefits including enhanced security and performance as well as a high degree of flexibility and customization. These benefits lead organizations to choose private cloud platforms over the cookie-cutter nature of the public cloud.

  6. What kind of user training or orientation do you provide post-migration?Once your environment has migrated, users need to understand how to access the applications they use. Ask the cloud provider what training will be provided and what training is out of scope.
  7. Can you provide references from 2-3 practices of similar size or specialty to my organization?Speaking with references is the most effective way to understand how the cloud provider is performing. Are they keeping other organizations’ data secure? Are they providing the support they expected? Do they have knowledgeable staff? References offer valuable, candid feedback.If there is a specific application that you plan to host with the cloud provider, ask to speak to references running the same application.

If you have questions about evaluating cloud partners or what your organization could be like in a cloud environment, feel free to schedule a consultation with our team of cloud experts.

Choosing a Cloud Partner? These Are the Questions to Ask.

Choosing a cloud partner is the single most important decision you’ll make in your cloud journey. The cloud provider has the ability to make or break the project, the user experience, and the overall success of the cloud services.

Based on our over two decades of cloud experience, we’ve compiled an extensive list of questions your law firm should ask when evaluating cloud partners.  This week, we’ll explore the first set of questions. Be sure to check back next week for the second set of questions, and watch for our list of red flags to watch for as you evaluate cloud partners.

  1. What other legal services firms do you provide cloud services for? 

    Law firms have unique needs and compliance requirements, making it important to find a cloud provider with experience helping organizations navigate complex technology challenges and increasing regulations.

  2. Do you have experience supporting firms of our similar size and specialty? 

    What’s going to happen to your IT environment and the support provided if team members take vacation or sick time, or the company experiences turnover? Your cloud provider’s team should be made up of multiple group members so that you know you will always be covered. It’s also important to understand the cloud provider’s commitment to staff continuity, and what efforts they make to retain team members.If you work with a smaller cloud provider, make sure they have partners who specialize in areas you need further assistance in. The partner may be able to manage certain aspects of your environment.

  3. How long has your company been providing cloud services? 

    The rapid adoption of the cloud has resulted in an uptick of technology providers offering varying degrees of cloud services. Take the time to understand how long they have been in existence and specifically how long they have been providing cloud services.While the cloud may feel new, some providers have been serving clients for decades.  Experienced cloud providers will have a deeper understanding of the technology required to offer the levels of performance and availability your practice needs.

  4. How is your company different than other cloud providers? 

    Some cloud providers are just a service at the end of the wire while others focus on building a relationship with you, understanding your challenges, and achieving your desired outcomes.Ask the cloud provider what makes them stand out. Are they legal focused? Can they host all of your applications, not just your email? Will they advise you on what telecom solutions you should use? Do they offer telecom support?

  5. How does your security protocol keep our clients’ data secure? 

    Your cloud partner should provide core security services that include identity-based security and encryption. In the legal world security is incredibly important, so make sure they reach or exceed that level.

  6. Provide your company’s disaster recovery and business continuity plan. 

    Discuss how the hosting provider will continue supporting your environment in the event that a natural disaster takes down data center operations. This plan should include backup processes that include daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly backups and their corresponding retention policies. Experienced cloud providers even provide continuous snapshots throughout the day at intervals of 15-30 minutes, providing even greater coverage in the event of a disaster. A provider should assist in recovery due to major power outages or natural disasters. Make sure they will help you maintain redundant systems and manage automatic failovers (cutover to a secondary server should the first one fail).

  7. How are storage, server or compute resources scaled? 

    The legal landscape changes rapidly, and a cloud provider should have the flexibility to adapt just as quickly. As your practice grows and changes, your storage, server, and processor needs will also change. How quickly can your cloud provider accommodate? What are the associated costs? Hosting fees are typically calculated based on the number of users and consumption of resources. This monthly fee structure provides budget predictability and stability.Cloud providers can mitigate this cost and enhance performance by offering tiered storage solutions that archive data based on its recovery and availability needs. Check if your cloud provider offers tiered storage as a way to curb storage costs.

Asking these questions will give you a really good feel for how the cloud provider will serve you now and into the future. Next week, we’re going to explore seven more questions — focusing on the right questions to ask so that you can ensure your project is a success.

Stepping Up Your Cyber Security Game – Protecting Your Assets

Originally published June 26, 2020, by Bill Sorenson, VP of Product, Netgain at www.elite.com.


Learning from the COVID-19 Impact

We’ve seen a dramatic change over the last four months in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. One of the significant places that have impacted most firms is the work-at-home requirements placed across the country. Some firms were able to respond quickly, and others struggled for a significant time to enable their employees to work. One of the large impacts has been the increased risk exposure associated with cybersecurity. How you handle this impacts your firm’s value, both overall as well as in the marketplace.

Risk Management at the Heart: Protecting Your Assets

It all gets back to risk. In our industry, most of what we do and the decisions we make are related to risk and risk mitigation. When we look at cybersecurity, there’s no difference. Expanding your risk footprint with work-at-home employees dramatically increased your risk. The question is, is it short-term or not?

  • Running Your Technical Environment: First let’s look at your technical environment and, as an example, how you run 3E® or ProLaw® and your other applications. You may run it internally with your own equipment, in a computer center somewhere else, or in the public cloud. Each implementation has different risks and productivity considerations for your employees and the firm. For the firms that have run it and the rest of their applications in the cloud, the move to work-at-home was simple. They were already used to the idea that their employees could work from anywhere. For the other firms, the move to work-at-home created a hectic environment with a struggle to get everyone working at the same time, the performance was horrible, and security became an immediate concern.
  • Cybersecurity as a Base: When we look at cybersecurity and the extension of a firm’s environment to each employees’ home, many things raise red flags. First, simply locking down employees’ technology to restrict confidential information exposure has been key. Additionally, in many situations, the computers people use at home are shared. This dramatically increases the exposure to the firm. By implementing key controls around the devices that employees use, firms have been able to reduce this risk exposure quickly. Make sure you’ve reviewed the risks specific to your firm and have implemented controls to keep your firm’s data secure.
  • Coming to Grips with Reality: Going forward, there will now be an increased focus on disaster recovery, business continuity, and cybersecurity. Focusing on those protections related to your employees and the remote workforce will significantly level-up your overall security. In a time when there is a dramatic focus on hacking each of your employees, there is no time to waste to secure your environment.

Protections Needed Now

  • Work-at-Home: You need to implement technical controls on each user’s device and put in place additional policies and procedures around work-at-home, bring your own device, and possibly, confidential information exposure.
  • Disaster Recovery / Business Continuity: You need to review your disaster recovery and business continuity plans and look at how they were implemented with COVID-19 and adjust.
  • The Human Element: Training, training, training. It is time to step up and help your employees protect you. If you haven’t already rolled out cybersecurity training, it’s time to do that now. And this includes partners. Partners are really the focus of phishing attempts and, many times, are greenfield for hackers. By training employees, you increase the sentries that are protecting the firm.
  • Direction to the Cloud: One thing COVID-19 has shown us is that firms that had already adopted the cloud were well prepared. They made those decisions based on cybersecurity, costs, and productivity gains for the firm. It is time for you to look at that as an adoption rather than a review.  By choosing Amazon® AWS, or Microsoft® Azure®, you’re able to leverage the best in the world at costs you can afford. The key piece is finding a partner who’s focused on your industry.

The Transition Back

As the pandemic progresses and different states begin to transition industries back to a more normal work life, it’ll be time for you to look at transitioning your firm back. As you’re making that decision, take into account the lessons you’ve learned during the pandemic. Key takeaways from this article for you and your core partners to review include:

  • Staffing Lessons: How did our staff respond, and how did we help them?
  • Client Lessons: Were we able to provide what our clients needed and expand our services in response to the pandemic? If not, could we have?
  • Technical Lessons: Were we prepared for this emergency? Did we use our disaster recovery plan, or did we take it for granted? Do we need more focus on moving to the cloud now to protect us from this type of situation going forward?
  • Firm Lessons: Was our mindset one of quick response and focus on where we could help, or was it reactive and overwhelming? Would we be better served by spending time walking through realistic examples and responses? Can we be better prepared?

Set up some time with the firm leaders and take the time needed to go through your new normal.  As you are reviewing the past months, be open to input, criticism, new methods, and ideas from all levels. Many people have been impacted in several different manners. Understand how you can step forward and help your partners, staff, and your clients now and in the future.

Case Study – AlvaradoSmith Reaches the Cloud With Afinety

AlvaradoSmith Saw 25% Cost Reduction With Afinety Cloud Platform

The legal world has changed a lot over the years, notably in how legal professionals do their jobs and interact with clients. Cloud platforms have impacted virtually every industry and promise to bring a multitude of benefits to those that adopt the technology. The question for law firms is, how can they take advantage of the cloud in a secure, productive way? Law firm AlvaradoSmith experienced the viability and the power of the cloud first-hand.

IT Network Changed To Afinety Cloud Platform To Achieve Goals

With 3 offices and 57 users, AlvaradoSmith represents defendants and plaintiffs with respective civil litigation, corporate and intellectual property cases. The firm handles employment and mortgage matters as well, supporting businesses of all sizes as well as individuals. With so many different kinds of clients and cases that could come through their doors, it was important to keep files confidential while also ensuring that AlvaradoSmith staff could easily access necessary information.

File cabinets and large folders are no longer viable for modern law firms. Papers can easily be misplaced, stolen or destroyed. The cloud has increasingly become the answer to these issues, providing an online platform for accessibility, mobility and flexibility. Office Coordinator, Gianna Stover, noted that data security is a major concern in the law industry, particularly as ransomware becomes a more prevalent threat. Clients want to ensure that their documents and information are protected, making it necessary to adopt a platform that can meet these needs. That’s where Afinety has made the greatest impact.

Migrating To Afinety Cloud Platform (ACP)

When it came to upgrading the existing on-premises network, AlvaradoSmith wanted to increase mobility for attorneys and ensure security across the board. Many AlvaradoSmith attorneys travel, and the fact that they could get on a laptop outside of the office without an on- premises network was a major advantage. Stover and the firm’s partners met with the Afinety team and discussed what life would be like once the Afinety Cloud Platform Network, powered by AWS would be implemented. They believed it sounded too simple and too good to be true, but once the solution was rolled out, their perception changed.

“The nicest part, which was one of our key selling points, was that we didn’t have to reinvent how we were practicing and what we were doing,” Stover said. “Our programs translated over into the Afinety Cloud Platform seamlessly. We were able to function as we did in the on-premises network and we didn’t have to change every piece that we used.  We just simply transitioned over.”

With Afinety, AlvaradoSmith was able to maintain and improve productivity. Afinety experts walked the organization through the migration step by step, and with diligent, methodical planning, the project progressed to completion without a scramble to get everything done. With their previous network, Stover described how each person was connected to the onsite servers. If one computer was affected by an outage, all users would be affected, creating an issue in rebuilding the workstation and getting everyone back online. The Afinety Cloud Platform runs on Amazon Web Services and provides a separate cloud workspace for every user, thus eliminating the possibility of one workstation affecting another.  If issues do arise, Afinety’s experts provide faster troubleshooting support to eliminate lag time and enable easier login processes.

Measurable Results Gained From ACP

Seeing the benefits of the Afinety Cloud Platform first-hand demonstrates the technology’s true power and serves as an example for how other law firms can reap these same advantages. Stover noted that the solution is more cost-effective than their previous setup, saving the firm over 25 percent compared to an onsite network! In addition, productivity has noticeably improved. Legal professionals at AlvaradoSmith now have faster, more secure remote flexibility that wasn’t available before. They can work remotely when they need to, not even thinking about the network. That’s the true experience of a solid cloud network.

The Afinety Cloud Platform runs on Amazon Web Services, making it a turnkey, secure solution for law firm needs. Storing data on this platform helps put minds at ease since AWS uses batch encryptions and other security parameters to protect sensitive data effectively. This ensures that client confidentiality can be upheld and that industry regulations are in compliance. Afinety has strong track record serving law firms since 1986, with more and more clients moving to the cloud each day.

 

PRESS RELEASE: Afinety Joins Forces With Netgain Technology To Expand Cloud Offerings And Expertise

Afinety positions to extend legal industry leadership and fund market penetration

Afinety, Inc. logoNetgain Technology: Secure. Specialized. IT. logo

Afinety Acquired By Netgain

Encino, Calif., August 1, 2018 – Afinety, Inc., a leading provider of cloud services and IT resources  to law firms was recently acquired by Netgain Technology, LLC.  Netgain, a leading provider of secure and specialized cloud services to highly regulated industries, continues its aggressive nationwide expansion with the acquisition of Afinety.

Founded in 1986, Afinety combined high-performance cloud solutions with superior customer service to build a strong and loyal client roster.  The Afinety Cloud Platform (“ACP”) is a rapidly growing, market-leading service that gives law firms cloud-based IT scalability, performance and security.

“Netgain is a great partner for us, we couldn’t be more excited to join the team,” said Doug Hafford, CEO of Afinety. “Netgain is dedicated to delivering high-performance, secure, cloud services to specialty vertical markets. Additionally, Netgain thrives on providing superior support to clients, so there was no question they were the right partners to help fuel our expansion in the legal services IT space.”

Afinety will leverage this transaction to extend market reach and penetration with legal practices nationwide while expanding product and service offerings for Afinety’s existing clientele.

“Afinety eliminates IT concerns for the legal practices it serves. The ACP service just works,” said Kevin Lynch, CEO at Netgain. “Afinety perfectly fit our strategy to offer purpose driven cloud services to compliance driven vertical industries in healthcare, financial services and now legal.”

Afinety will continue to operate out of the existing offices in Encino, California and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

This acquisition comes shortly after the recent acquisition by Netgain of iManaged Solutions, a cloud services provider in the optometry sector. Netgain continues to seek acquisition opportunities in IT-as-a-Service (ITaaS) companies specializing in serving healthcare, RIA, CPA and legal industry verticals.

Netgain’s strategy is supported by Bluff Point Associates, a private equity firm focused on growth-stage investing in the healthcare and financial services IT space. This transaction represents the third opportunity on which Netgain’s management and Bluff Point have collaborated in the past two years.

The financial terms of the acquisition were undisclosed.

Madison Park Group acted as investment banking advisor to Netgain on this transaction. Afinety was represented by Reynolds Advisory Partners, a Los Angeles-based boutique investment bank.

About Netgain Technology, LLC

Netgain Technology, LLC, a secure and specialized cloud services and technology provider, was founded in 2000 and serves highly regulated mid-market organizations, nationwide. Netgain provides highly specialized services and solutions that simplify the cloud and take the pain out of IT so highly regulated organizations can worry less about the security and reliability of their IT and return their focus to growing their practices and firms. For more information, visit https://netgaincloud.com.

About Afinety, Inc.

Since 1986, Afinety has been providing full range of IT services for small and medium size businesses. Specializing in law firms, Afinety services include cloud and on-premise networks, consultation, design, implementation, monitoring, system security, disaster recovery systems, training, macros and templates for law firms, anti-SPAM and virus screening, remote and onsite tech support and help desk services. Afinety’s business model is simple: Provide the best IT support and services with tested solutions that simply work. For more information, visit https://afinety.com.

About Bluff Point Associates

Bluff Point Associates is a private equity firm based in Westport, Conn. Bluff Point actively invests in information services companies supporting the banking, trust, securities, retirement and wealth management sectors of the financial services industry, as well as the healthcare information services sector. Bluff Point’s team collectively has decades of experience in recognizing a company’s growth potential and working with its management to reach that potential. For more information, visit http://www.bluffpt.com.