ILTA SharePoint Symposium 2014: Is SharePoint Online Ready for Legal?

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ILTA SharePoint Symposium 2014: Is SharePoint Online Ready for Legal?

After returning from the ILTA SharePoint Symposium and taking the time reflect back on key themes and messages, one particular message continues to stand out to me that should be addressed – SharePoint in the Cloud. For those of you who were unable to attend, the conference was held June 10th-12th in Lombard, Illinois and of course, covered all things SharePoint that were mostly led by law firms themselves. I found this encouraging that so many law firms were breaking away from the traditional methods of operating and adopting new technologies such as SharePoint 2013.

Day 1 of the conference, Scot Hillier from Technical Solutions led an engaging presentation called, Leveraging SharePoint 2013 – Here, There and Everywhere. As the title itself indicates, the focus of the keynote emphasized the rapidly moving trend of migrating to SharePoint Online given its successful implementations and promising future for many organizations. Hillier predicts dramatic shifts to the cloud are expected over the next decade and SharePoint 2013 is on track for success and taking off quickly to the cloud.

Benefits discussed of moving to the cloud for SharePoint included:

• Greater scalability
• Version always up to date
• Fewer support resources
• Less expensive
• Increased accessibility

SharePoint Online may be an easy sell for many industries, but legal possesses a unique set of challenges that I suspect will hinder adoption more so than others. While SharePoint Online does deliver the benefits above, there are several considerations that should be made before deciding to go online versus on-premise. The legal industry as a whole has shown hesitation in moving key IT assets to the cloud for multiple reasons. Let’s take a look at two of the largest concerns:

1. PERCEPTION

A lot of traction has been made in the legal industry creating awareness and comfort around cloud-based technologies when it comes to data security. However, most law firms have not moved key IT assets to the cloud or have any intention of doing so in the near future. It’s usually not the law firm’s IT Managers or CIO’s that are prohibiting cloud implementations – it is often the clients of the law firms that are resistant. The decision to leverage cloud-based technologies, such as SharePoint Online, will present challenges for firms that service clients who are resistant to putting data in the cloud. The comfort level for clients is often not high, especially when firms are incapable of pointing to the physical server in multi-tenant scenarios. The lack of visibility around where data physically resides can be frightening for many clients and firms will continue resisting adopting until client perceptions change. Until then, most sensitive SharePoint data will reside on-premises or in a hybrid solution.

2. LACK OF CONTROL

On-premise SharePoint environments provide a number of knobs that admins can turn up or down to control performance. You have the ability to turn up/down and on/off features, customizations, administrative tools, etc. With SharePoint Online, you have far fewer knobs to turn creating less control over your environment.

Customization:  Mid to large size firms almost always need to customize their environment specific to their firm’s needs. Many already have invested the time and resources customizing their on-premises environment and migrating to the cloud will require additional investment. With SharePoint Online, these customization options are more limited. Branding capabilities are available but custom web parts are built using the new SharePoint App Model and any existing full trust web parts will have to be totally rewritten.

Features and Functionality:  As of this writing there are a number of features that are available on-premises but unavailable in SharePoint Online. To Microsoft’s credit, they are narrowing this gap every day and their goal is feature parity but the time it takes to get there will be measured in years not months.

Click here to view a full list of features included, and not included within SharePoint Online under: SharePoint Feature Availability Across Office 365 Plans.

Access:  The ability to access information in the cloud is critical. With SharePoint Online, firms run the risk of losing access to information if there is an Office 365 outage or if the firm’s internet access is down. This unpredictability is a hard pill to swallow for busy attorneys.  This is also a perception issue because every SharePoint environment experiences downtime and Office 365 has proven to as reliable as most on-premise implementations.

As a Microsoft enthusiast and business owner passionate about delivering SharePoint solutions to the legal industry, I want to see SharePoint Online succeed, and more so, I want to see my clients happy. Fulfilling both objectives at this time with SharePoint Online is not possible in all cases. Microsoft has been making dramatic shifts in their product offerings to further cater to the specific needs of their consumers. I’m confident their commitment will continue to be demonstrated in future product enhancements, bridging the gap between legal needs and what SharePoint Online offers. Until then, remaining on-premises or adopting a hybrid solution is the safest option for firms that have more complex requirements. For firms that have less complex requirements, SharePoint Online could be the answer today. Finding a partner with Office 365 experience to do a needs analysis is the best way to determine feasibility.

SharePoint Online is one of five products within Microsoft Office 365, an incredibly powerful and game-changing tool for many firms. Not all products are created equally when it comes to legal.

What is your experience with SharePoint Online?

Have you experienced similar challenges?  

What is your expectation for the future with SharePoint Online?  

Take a minute to comment below.  We love to hear from you!

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