Part II in a continuing series on adoption of cloud-based systems by law firms.
Part I: 5 Things to Consider
Whether your firm is going to be fully automated, with cloud-based practice management software and full paperless implementation, or if you’re just checking out the option of storing your electronic documents with a third-party service such as Dropbox, the VERY first thing you need to do is make sure that your office’s internet infrastructure can handle it.
Most people know that they need to have WiFi routers or sufficient ethernet connections to plug in to. However, neither will matter much without sufficient internet service from your ISP. If you don’t check your internet connection, your transition to the cloud could bring the operation of your firm to a screeching halt.
For addressing the ever-growing problem of what to do with all the data your business accumulates, adopting cloud-based services can be a cost-effective solution. Want to know just how much data your office accumulates? Just look at how big your own Outlook data file is, and you’ll get a glimpse of how much is being stored on your firm’s servers. Now that you’ve decided to move to the cloud, all that data has to be able to move smoothly from your third-party vendor to your office’s computers and your mobile devices via your firm’s internet connection.
Ok, I get it. We need to have sufficient internet. So… how do I know what is sufficient internet?
Now is when we get a little technical, so try to stick with me. Your internet connection really comes down to two things: 1) Bandwidth, and 2) Latency.
Bandwidth, the number of bits a device or connection can transfer every second, is the number you’re probably most familiar with. How do you usually measure how effective your internet is? By how much data it downloads per second, of course! Most residential or personal high-speed internet providers advertise download speeds of around 10 MB per second. (They don’t tell you that you’re likely to never see actual download speeds anywhere near that, but that’s an argument for another article. Once the shutdown ends, you can see a national map of broadband speeds here.) There is also upload speed to consider, particularly since you have to upload all of those documents to the cloud before you can access them.
Recognizing problems with bandwidth tend to be particularly easy, primarily because the effects of restricted bandwidth are obvious. Websites that load really slowly or not at all. Download speeds that make you feel like watching paint dry would be an exciting diversion. Four people all downloading from the same router experiencing massive slow-down.
Regardless, measuring bandwidth tends to be easy because it’s the concept everyone is familiar with. The second part of your internet connection, on the other hand…
Latency, a measure of the time it takes your message to arrive at its destination, is one that most are not (as) familiar with. Latency measures how long it takes any message you send to arrive at its destination. Ever hear your IT people, or the other nerds in your life (I’m one of those nerds) talk about “pings”? That’s latency: how long it takes for the “packets” that transmit information over the internet, to get to their destination.
While the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of your internet connection’s speed is usually readily apparent – either your stuff downloads quickly or slowly, latency problems have significant variety, and can be obvious or subtle. The first way latency issues can be noticed, particularly if you utilize video conferencing, is a basic delay in receiving transmissions.
Less obvious is long download times for files of significant size. When you download a file, it is usually sent in small packets of information. Once a packet is sent, a web server waits to hear back from your computer that it completed one packet before sending another. The time it takes communications to travel between your office and the web servers will have an impact on the speed of your connection. If your latency is really bad (as it was at my office with a previous internet service provider), it can effectively prevent you from accessing most of the internet. Ever gotten a “timed-out” notice? Your computer will only wait so long for a packet to be delivered.
Check your internet connection
Now that you understand what you’re looking for, it’s important to know how to find it! There are numerous available speed test sites online and in app form, that allow you to check the quality of your internet connection. To the right, I’ve included a screen shot of a report on my office’s WiFi connection (much improved over some of the previous readings. It measures the Ping (latency) at 31 milliseconds, the download speed at 19.98 MB/s, and is in the process of measuring the upload speed, averaging 2.13 MB/s.
I strongly recommend you check both your desktop units and your WiFi, especially if your desktop units are connected via Ethernet cable. That way, you can ensure that you’re wired and wireless networks are adequately connected and able to handle the amount of data that your new cloud-based system uses.
Now that you know what the numbers mean, how much do you need?
Well, I get to use the favorite answer for attorneys: It Depends!
What are you going to use? If the extent of your firm’s cloud-based activity is email, then you’re probably not looking for too much. The more users you have, the more bandwidth you need. Plan on doing a lot of video conferencing, particularly for depositions and court? Well then, you probably need a much better latency number then.
Your cloud-based service provider should be able to provide you with what comparable companies have required in the past, so ask them. If you’re not getting the bandwidth you think you’re paying for, better talk to your ISP. If you haven’t already, consider upgrading to a business package with more bandwidth. If you’re using video, make sure that your latency is less than 100 milliseconds, or you’re going to end up with a lot of connectivity problems.
Your cloud-based service will only operate smoothly if it is running on a network capable of supporting a much greater level of BOTH uploads and downloads than your current network requires. The last thing you want to happen after going through all this trouble is to open up your iPad, try to open a file, and have to wait 5 minutes for it to download.