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George Blair Interview

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There is no doubt Cloud computing is all the rage and it has been steadily gaining momentum over the last three years. The problem is that, as with all new ideas, everyone seems to have a different definition of what Cloud computing actually is.

However, behind all the hype there is lots there of genuine substance worth exploring – specifically for legal firms.

Here, Denovo’s founder George Blair addresses the typical questions that lawyers want to know the answers to when they are considering taking their firm onto The Cloud.

1. What is Cloud Computing?

George Blair: The best place to start is to confirm what cloud computing is not. It is not, as some cynics suggest, just a question of repackaging internet computing and reselling it to gullible people that already possess it.

At Denovo we think of The Cloud as an updated version of utility computing. This means: harnessing the capacity of external servers and with it a massive potential for increased efficiency and profitability, remote working and access to your data in real-time anywhere in the world with an internet connection and a phone, laptop or PC.

As a result you can look forward to increased flexibility in terms of where and how you work, better time management, better personnel deployment and also new marketing streams that exploit both new leads and also opportunities that lie hidden within existing your client files – opportunities that, as our client, we can show you how to exploit and profit from.

All this is achieved by accessing and utilising your secure data and services that are held on virtual servers (The Cloud). You personally connect to The Cloud using any internet-ready device like a laptop, tablet, phone or desktop computer.

Cloud computing offers legal firms a low-cost, dynamic alternative to storing and processing their large volumes of documents, data and software on their office computers and local server.

Instead, data and software is stored and processed remotely in the cloud provider’s secure datacentre that is accessed by you via the internet using encrypted software.

One of the main benefits of cloud computing is that it is paid for on an ongoing service basis with cost based on your usage and capacity, just like every other utility.

This means: no need for high initial capital investment and no ongoing upgrade fees associated with both software licensing or your own expensive internal IT.

And, as you know, these fixed costs can be crippling for small and expanding law firms, in particular.

Other benefits the cloud offers include increased flexibility for the user, the availability of support and maintenance on tap, the ability to respond more quickly to your own and other employees’ IT demands as your business changes.

You also get the consolidation and simplification of a unified IT system where each user works from the same editions of software (such as word, outlook and dictation software) and collaborates through using all the same systems in common.

This also means that there is always an accountable entity to turn to if ever anything goes wrong. Denovo’s commitment to clients is ongoing and includes training, aftercare and most importantly technical support and software updates as you need them.

Cloud computing, as an ideal, usually comes sharply into focus for lawyers when they consider what their firm’s IT provision needs to do for them to be able to work effectively – and of course, that is something that changes over time.

For most lawyers a desire for change is usually a response to a change in the firm, an expansion or the fact that the existing IT has reached the end of its lifespan, perhaps underlined by an incident such as downtime or a breach of security.

A general desire for change may occur, for example, when a firm needs the means to increase capacity (to cope with increased workload or extra staff), add flexible working from remote locations, or co-opt in new capabilities (such as say a new case management system, a money-saving virtual cashroom or an estate agency function) all of which we can provide.

Cloud computing covers any subscription-based or pay-per-use service that, when it is used in real time over the Internet, actually extends what businesses’ or individuals’ can achieve using their existing internal IT capabilities.

Considering a cloud-based solution can be a very good fix, especially when it is set against the cost of investing in new and prohibitively expensive infrastructure, or the cost of extensive training, or employing additional staff, that you may not need.

Denovo are a private cloud solutions provider. This means you get better continuity with one provider (Denovo) supporting you and fully understanding and integrating your systems and data.

There is comfort to be taken from the fact that a private cloud is just that – private. And also that there is no access or sharing of your data to anyone outside of our network and specifically, no-one within the public domain.
Another key saving comes from the fact that you require less IT in-house and fewer technical staff on site as your IT provision can all be managed remotely by using our partner Rise’s external data centre.

My view, as someone who has worked through 35 years of non-stop technological advances in the legal sector, is that embracing the cloud is essential if the profession is to meet the challenge posed by both hard to manage client expectations, Law Society compliance issues, and the new, looming competitive threats that are always present within a fast-changing legal market place.

Law firms of all sizes must become more agile. They must also be cost-effectively resourced without any loss of service quality to those that pay their fees.

This coming commercial reality is something that law firms should plan for now and Cloud computing is very much the biggest piece of the jigsaw for progressive firms who see opportunities as well as threats in the shifting sands of the legal marketplace.

2. So far so good, but why do we need it as law firms? What does this increased capacity mean?

George Blair: In one respect, The Cloud revolution is already established through the popular use of iPhones, tablets, android devices and Office365 for an example. It is an unstoppable force.

Anecdotally, we have found that the early adopters of cloud-based services are most often small to mid-size firms who immediately seize upon the cost-saving and income generating benefits of external outsourcing such as say, our virtual cashroom and legal accountants provision.

Other clients are responding to a need to work leaner, meaner and cheaper in the prevalent market conditions where every penny is a prisoner.

Many more firms are embracing the cloud as their businesses expand, particularly over multiple offices or where fee earners demonstrate their need to work remotely and access the firm’s documents and data on the move.
Most firms are coming to consider the cloud as the obvious next step solution when their current IT provision reaches either its capacity or the end of its natural life.

The one grey area, and issue for discussion amongst firms’ partners, is in reaching agreement as to exactly when the time for change has come.

Although theoretically all of the systems and applications used by a law firm can be moved to the cloud there are several factors every firm must consider when deciding what type of service to adopt.

Cloud computing offers a cash-flow friendly pay-as-you-go approach avoiding expensive capital investment in hardware and software licensing or ongoing maintenance and upgrade fees.

When compared to a traditional IT set-up based on your own internal servers, the argument for cloud computing is very compelling financially.

Law practices can reduce their existing costs whether on training, additional staffing or simply in terms of being able to more flexibly deploy their existing personnel to new or different tasks.

Equally attractive is the opportunity to turn a fixed cost for IT into a flexible one where a firm can grow their requirements in a flexible way as they expand.

Moving to The Cloud can start with a step as small as one solitary user in a firm and by the process of a phased roll-out that can take place at an agreed pace and as cash-flow permits it.

3. What are Denovo’s specific credentials in terms of providing software solutions for the legal sector?

George Blair: Denovo Business Intelligence is a software house that develops software solely for the legal market.

It is a market I have worked in all my working life having started out at Olivetti in 1980 and also through roles at Burroughs and NCR.

In 1982, I formed Denovo and we have been working in our chosen sector ever since.

The aim then as now is to provide law firms with software business solutions that boost the bottom line, improve office efficiency and maintain Law Society compliance.

During my time, I have seen and provided solutions for all the major challenges and changes that the legal profession has faced. And as with every business challenge I have seen that time and again winning firms always find that the key to success lies in managing their risks effectively on the one hand while grabbing the many exciting opportunities that arise from change on the other.

I see the transition to The Cloud as part of a continuum that in my career started with the era of ledger cards and dictation machines to faxes and word processing, case management software, the desktop email revolution and now the era of mobile communication powered by I-phones, tablets, gmail and social media.

Many law firms will perhaps be questioning the need to make an investment in Cloud computing in what is clearly a difficult financial climate. Others may be worried about the security implications for their sensitive data held on servers other than their own. These are sensible concerns and the questions they throw up are sensible ones too.
These questions also illustrate exactly why you need a true expert, like Denovo, supporting you. We are a local business that works solely in the sector you also work in as a Scottish lawyer.

We decided to offer hosted services partly due to client demand and partly due to the fact that we recognised that a lot of our clients have a common problem.

Many legal firms up and down the country have more than one office and communications capabilities between those offices are sometimes difficult using the old, traditional in-house server format.

The Cloud environment enables us to alleviate that problem simply because the communication to a secure, central datacentre is much more stable and faster for lawyers working remotely, at home, in a court environment say, across multiple offices – or indeed, from anywhere on the globe as long as there is an internet signal.

This quality of working is far superior to any form of remote working that you might have experienced before, such as through a so-called Virtual Private Network.

Working in The Cloud is significantly faster, more streamlined and more efficient. There are none of the limiting factors of a VPN such as variable speed and connectivity problems, not to mention the disastrous reality that can arise when someone simply turns off your office PC, preventing you from accessing your network.

4. I am worried about the integrity and security of my sensitive legal data in The Cloud. Can it be hacked or stolen for example, just how safe is it?

George Blair: it is apparent that issues around data security are one of the biggest concerns about using the cloud. Lawyers are not unique in their concerns. Time and again, research highlights the same key fear over cloud adoption.
It is important to remember though, that cloud providers have all heavily invested in the security of their datacentres and infrastructure precisely because their reputation-based business model relies on it. The reality is that remote datacentres will engage a higher standard of security than any average law firm ever could. Regardless, the supposed pros and cons of internal servers versus in the cloud security is largely an illusion anyway in real and practical terms.

Data loss – whether it is the result of a hard drive crashing, human error or someone hacking into your systems can occur regardless of whether your data is on-site or in the cloud. And of course, there is nothing at all secure about loose files and paper documents that can be stolen, copied, damaged, lost or simply mislaid by even momentarily distracted staff.

The reality for most people, particularly lawyers, is that they favour what they already know and take the so-called path of least resistance. In this case though, the path of least resistance is almost certainly the least secure path when it comes to protecting your data.

In a Cloud solution, all your data is stored in a secure central place. In reality that is much more secure than your office.

It is natural that, as a lawyer, you would want to maintain physical contact with all your sensitive legal data housed in the form of an in-house server you can see and touch. However, that sense of secure ownership is actually an illusion.

The reality is that if someone is determined to do so they can break into your office and walk out with your server in a wheelbarrow just as they could remove a filing cabinet full of files. Equally a determined criminal can still hack your system externally and we have been called in to deal with this very reality where a now client firm had their in house data held to ransom by cyber criminals. The fact is, your vital data is far safer housed in a secure datacentre than it is sitting in a server in your office.

5. Compliance, in terms of maintaining my practicing certificate, is a massive issue. What is your status with The Law Society for example and am I likely to be compromised by using your software?

George Blair: the Law Society of Scotland has issued a fairly detailed advice note aimed at helping law firms determine whether (or not) cloud computing is right for them.

This offers practical guidance as to how firms can minimise their risks associated with moving to a cloud based system.

As the first company in Scotland to offer cloud solutions for specifically Scottish law firms we pride ourselves on being and staying fully ahead of the game. That’s not just in terms of the technology or software but also in terms of changes in the law and changes in the practice and culture of law firms that we need to be abreast of.

For instance, our virtual cashroom software is fully up to date to take account of the latest money laundering legislation just as our cashroom accountants carry the SOLAS accreditation that is essential for compliance with the rules governing a practicing certificate.

As Scotland’s law firms have always been the sole focus of our business since we started out in 1982, I think it is fair to say that we are the clear experts in our chosen niche.

Anecdotally, I am told that we are well thought of by the legal community generally and the authorities specifically. I also know we have picked up particular clients on the back of ‘off the record’ recommendations from well-placed people within The Law Society who appreciate the quality of work we do and also the efforts we go to in order to ensure that our software keeps lawyers compliant with the conditions of their practicing certificates.

6. Can you give us some practical examples of some particular products you offer and what they can do for lawyers?

George Blair: Denovo Business Intelligence provides advanced IT solutions for legal firms throughout the UK.

Our integrated solution for lawyers combines desirable Practice Management facilities alongside a suite of desirable tools like Office and Voice Dictation.

The key benefits of Denovo’s hosted software solution are simple: reduced cost more efficient time management and on tap support.

By utilising the RISE Device Capability On Demand we give lawyers secure, accessible data that is backed up every day. Their data can be accessed via desktops, laptops, iPads, iPhones, Android, Microsoft Mobile computers and phones. Meanwhile Microsoft Exchange services, hosted on the cloud platform, keeps legal communication flowing between lawyers and practices throughout the World 24/7.

Denovo also supplies every element of legal firm’s IT requirements.

Our provision covers everything from initial consultancy to advice on complex data transfer and initiating in-house legacy systems. We also provide support and training alongside an audit designed to maximise each clients’ return on their IT investment with our company.

Denovo’s latest innovation, introduced in 2013, is an “Outsourced Cashroom” facility for legal firms.

This cost effective legal cashier solution facilitates lawyers’ complex cashroom functions using Denovo’s Law Society Qualified Bookkeepers. Having a secure cashroom solution in place is a prerequisite of being accredited to practice law.

Denovo’s Intelligent Accounts module maintains client’s records of work and generates invoices as required in real-time.

The cashroom to work in an elegant fashion providing all of the firm’s essential daily/weekly/monthly Key Performance Indicators that they must demonstrate to maintain their Law Society Practicing Certification.

Additionally, it had become evident to us that legal firms, particularly smaller, niche firms, often struggle to justify the staff costs of a larger firm.

Considering that an average Legal Bookkeeper costs somewhere in the order of £30K per annum, we recognised that this was a market sector in which Denovo could and should be involved.

We now offer these costly professional services at a fraction of the costs of an in-house Legal Bookkeeper, without compromising a firm’s Law Society Accounts Integrity (which is a condition of firms successfully applying each year for their Practicing Certificate).

The Denovo Intelligent Cashroom was introduced as a cost-effective outsourced cashroom facility. It utilises Denovo’s own Law Society Qualified Bookkeepers to carry out clients’ complex cashroom functions which are an essential condition of their being accredited to practice law.

The cornerstone of Denovo’s in The Cloud proposition is the Legal Intelligence business management system, – in effect, it is a virtual practice manager that ensures that all your data information remains secure, and that your internal processes are integrated smoothly and are 100 per cent reliable.

The Legal Intelligence business management system offers The following benefits:

  • Improved security for large volumes of confidential legal documentation such as case files, client accounts and key legal resources used within your firm.
  • The opportunity to access legal and estate agency documentation from anywhere in the world with any Internet-enabled device.
  • Easy and quick scalability of the IT infrastructure. Your move to The Cloud can start with one solitary user and you can add capacity and additional users in response to your business needs and cashflow.
  • In summary Denovo offers solutions that ensure that legal firms remain fully compliant with their Law Society Accounting, IT and Data rules – all at a cost effective price point, around 1/3 of the cost of competitors’ solutions.

7. You say that the software solutions can actively generate income for my firm as well as save me money and increase efficiency. I like the sound of that and would like to know more about this please?

George Blair: The key to all databases – and legal client databases are no different – is having clean, uniform and sortable data at the very start of the process.

While rival companies provide a data transfer that is effectively a snapshot of your historic records up to the point of moving to the cloud, we actually provide a full and sincere, cleansed data conversion.

This means we have very dynamic, very sortable information on clients, types of casework and the fine detail of how the practice generates its fees.

Access to these effective key performance indicators and client data is the basis for working harder, faster and better at no extra cost to you in terms of your time expended.

What you are doing now and what you ought to be doing better is all available to you at the touch of a button. We have allied this to a dynamic means of creating very targeted marketing campaigns based on clients’ needs, mailshots and newsletters that allow you to generate additional income streams from information you probably don’t even realise you have – that is money lying literally dormant and unclaimed within your system.

With our help we can show you how to access this exciting additional income.

You will appreciate that we will not divulge commercially sensitive information on our website but in partnership with Denovo you can reap the benefits of smart systems and strategies that are named Business Intelligence for a very good reason.

8. How easy is the software to install? What sort of upheaval will it cause the firm and what does it mean for all my pre-existing data – can it be transferred onto the new system? If I invest in your software how future-proofed will it be?

George Blair: Our partnership with the datacentre and hosting provider Rise gives us an extremely fast and efficient deployment capability. We can set up servers on behalf of our clients within a 24 hour timeframe.

Another key benefit that clients really like is scalability. It is something that allows firms to walk before they can run, and take things at their own pace without the upheaval of a wholesale office cultural revolution.

You can start off with a single user system and extend that as you go right up to as many employees as you need, across offices or as your business grows. The Cloud is the perfect solution to manage fast-paced change and also the demands of a growing business as it expands.

There will be no obvious disruption to your business and a handover to The Cloud (even where a whole firm is involved from the off) can be handled as a sensitive transition.

When our rival providers undertake a data transfer of all your historic documentation they are effectively taking a snapshot of your data up to the point of moving to the cloud.

This means that although you can access your historic information in the style of a photocopy or microfiche there is no mechanism to manipulate, sort or interrogate your old data at all. This means that the rich seams of information and opportunity in all your files, practice records and correspondence are lost as far as providing dynamic, usable integrated information is concerned.

At Denovo we actually provide a full and sincere, cleansed data conversion. That means all your data, regardless of age is presented and maintained in the same easily accessible and easily sortable dynamic format. This is extremely useful for all sorts of purposes: finding out where and how you generate your fees, targeted marketing and office efficiency are just three areas of obvious interest that rely on robust, accurate and well-presented historical records.

As our systems are provided on a ‘software as a service’ (SaaS) basis. This means that we take care of the upgrades, updates and legal obligations for compliance as they change. We adjust and refine our systems – so you don’t have to worry about your investment becoming obsolete.

9. What about the competition? Why should we choose Denovo specifically?

George Blair: I think our record speaks for itself in many ways. I have nearly 35 years experience working solely in the Scottish legal sector. Collectively there is over 100 years of experience in this area of software development between myself and two key members of staff here. We have over 2,000 happy users throughout the UK.

We were the first company to provide Cloud solutions specifically for Scottish lawyers and I think this is a testament to our track record of always being ahead of the game and also ahead of the competition.

Despite the fact that I believe we offer the best range of software and also the best aftercare and training we can still offer our products at around 1/3 less than the price of our rivals’. This is a testament to the technical quality of the software we produce and that underpins everything else. This commitment to quality and to our customers has created a very sound foundation for a business that was intentionally built to last and a business that is definitely here to stay.

10. What do I get in terms of aftercare and training if I commit to purchasing a Denovo package. I have heard some horror stories of lawyers being given one day’s free training by software providers and then left high and dry to fend for themselves?

George Blair: Our business model is based on maintaining happy clients and it is a model that has sustained us for almost 35 years.

We are a trusted voice in the sector, arguably the trusted voice, and we operate on the basis that we do things properly and strategically.

In terms of our business objectives, they are very much allied to your goals. We want your business and your experience of our products to be successful and we are a company that enjoys productive and supportive relationships with our clients.

On a personal level, I am probably honest to a fault when it comes to advising clients I will certainly always aim to give a realistic appraisal of their needs whether that is in terms of a level of training that their key people require or in what is required to meet their aims and objectives as a business. In fact, I would rather miss out on a client’s business than win an order by misleading them or being economical with the facts. I have never done that but I can only imagine that approach is nothing but counter-productive in the long term. As a business reliant on client testimonials and operating in a tight-knit sector where everyone knows each other it is in all parties interests to deliver what we say we can deliver and make sure that everyone has realistic expectations.

We put a lot into training, through our class-based instruction for clients with instructors. Denovo’s partnership with RISE enables us to deliver high quality, practical classroom training alongside real-time access to the customer’s server and data based at the RISE datacentre. Training room access to client’s live data allows us to tailor training specifically to each client’s precise needs. For geographically remote clients we offer Lync/Webex meeting software-based training programs.

Often though, it is through using our software on a day to day basis that its real value to clients is revealed and our Business Development manager Sandy Adam provides a key role at Denovo.

Sandy makes sure that our clients can really maximise the benefits of our systems and software, particularly in relation to its profit-generating potential and performance data. With our help, client firms can really effectively evaluate the extent to which they are working efficiently and also highlight areas where there is either room for improvement or the chance to make more from a clear, and previously unseen, commercial opportunity.

11. Obviously, if I am using any internet based product there is obviously a concern with any service downtime or a signal or system that is running slow. Is this an issue for Denovo and if so, is in place as a solution?

George Blair: Additionally, it is important when adopting a new cloud system that there is a sufficient disaster recovery plan. Although law firms generally accept that cloud providers have better resiliency than an individual firm may have, things can still go wrong. A sufficient disaster recovery plan is therefore necessary to reduce recovery time and make sure there is always a back up of the firm’s data.

There are several possible strategies you can put in place to cope with such a disaster, the preferred strategy being that the firm now maintains and updates local hardware as a backup that in an emergency they switch over to and can enable some or all fee earners to continue working as normal.

Lastly, summing up, what are the key benefits law firms can expect from using a Cloud solution from software?
Denovo: What You Need To Know:

  • Denovo have a track record of making law firms more profitable for an unbroken 32 years.
  • Denovo are a solid, dependable and established company who have helped law firms overcome every change-related challenge they have faced over the last three decades.
  • Denovo are the Scottish legal expert providers. We are a Scottish company and we have always been a Scottish company. Our executive ranks are packed with over 100 years of collective experience solely in the Scottish legal sector. This is something none of our competitors can claim.
  • Denovo were the first company to offer Cloud solutions specifically for the Scottish legal market.
  • Denovo’s software has established credibility with The Law Society and all the leading national legal authorities. The reason is because our solutions are designed to be safe, secure, reliable and effective for legal businesses.
  • Denovo’s solutions are around 30 per cent cheaper than our rivals’ equivalent products.
  • Denovo can save you money. We can also make you money because our software will identify and exploit otherwise hidden income streams in your business. Let us show you how…..

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