Hurricane Irma Preparedness at Ayo and Iken
Previously published by the American Bar Association Law Practice Today Journal
When you run a small to mid-sized legal practice, business continuity is everything. For a firm like Ayo & Iken, which has established itself in Florida, with a good market position and a practice that’s growing at a respectable rate, the one thing that can truly hurt the firm’s bottom line is a business interruption. Even small interruptions can drain finances enough to cause concern, while major, catastrophic events can easily be the death knell of a practice if its leaders have not planned ahead and taken steps to set up automatic business continuity processes.
Cloud-based technology has proven to be invaluable to business continuity planning. In its mature form, the cloud has proven to be scalable and reliable, while offering a high depth of functionality, in essence allowing firms to create a virtual business online. Everything you previously did on site or manually with disparate systems can now be done virtually with a cloud platform—desktop applications, document management, time and billing, new client or case intake, document creation, and even your phone system can all exist in the cloud. Once it’s all there, you can enjoy the high availability cloud vendors provide, but none of the cost of highly capable networks, servers, software and staff. And as long as you have an Internet connection, you can access your entire operation from anywhere.
While this certainly may sound attractive in the abstract, the recent spate of natural disasters around our country has had a serious potential to cripple businesses, and has truly put cloud technologies to the test. Ayo & Iken is a prime example of how operating in the cloud can make all the difference when business continuity is threatened by matters beyond your control.
When the Cloud Meets the Hurricane
Six years ago, Ayo & Iken decided to get rid of all local software and move everything possible to the cloud. The firm had begun branching out and opening additional offices around Florida, and needed to find a solution that would give scattered employees access to all the firm’s systems. The previous setup had involved local servers stored in a giant rack at one location. It simply wasn’t scalable to account for expansion, with no assurance of integrity in backup measures if something were to go wrong.
Despite what some may say, moving to the cloud isn’t always the cheapest or easiest route. You need to put as much thought and work into implementing it properly as you would local server technology. Also, cloud-based services are subscription-based, so you must manage those costs and ensure that you’re not adding on subscriptions for things you do not need. Once you’ve implemented it properly, however, that’s when you can begin to reap the real cost-saving and efficiency benefits.
In the fall of 2017, Ayo & Iken eliminated its very last app that was hosted on a local server. With its case management system, document storage, private messaging system and phone system all based in the cloud and distributed across multiple offices, Ayo & Iken has the ability to create a fully functional office from anywhere that has an Internet connection.
As Hurricane Irma barreled toward the Florida coast in September 2017, the firm’s cloud-based systems were about to be tested in ways they had never been before. Not only was the hurricane’s ability to inflict damage expected to reach unprecedented levels, the firm was facing the most potential exposure it had ever had. With four staffed and four satellite offices spread out across the state, and all of Florida in a potential damage zone depending on the storm’s path, the firm could not avoid damage or loss of operations at least somewhere.
Because avoiding losses entirely was impossible, the firm’s disaster recovery plan consisted of waiting out the storm, taking inventory of all offices after it passed, and then, once it determined that people were safe, directing staff to where they could work with power and Internet access. If need be, the firm would rent out (preferably air-conditioned) warehouse space.
As the storm rolled through, Howard Iken was able to use the firm’s remote desktop control program, along with its cloud-based alarm and security camera systems, as a status panel for the offices to see what was still standing and what had lost power. Various offices went dark as the night went on, but thankfully the firm’s main office in Tampa stayed secure, never losing power or Internet. The following morning, he texted all of his employees, offering to get them food and water if they needed it, and then made plans for everyone to either work from home if they could, or come into the main office where there was extra space.
In short, having the firm’s entire infrastructure accessible via the cloud enabled Ayo & Iken to keep working in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Because the court systems generally have superior resources, they were only closed for one business day following the storm. Many smaller businesses that relied on traditional infrastructure were unable to do work for a week. Not operating for that long while the courts were open for business would have seriously impacted the firm’s existence, not to mention jeopardizing many of its client relationships.
Achieving Business Continuity With the Cloud
The cloud allowed Ayo & Iken to stay in business during one of the worst hurricanes Florida has ever seen. Had the firm still been relying on the systems it had in place before migrating everything to the cloud, it would have lost data and all access to calendars, case information, documents, and billing systems. It would have been at the mercy of the utilities and unable to conduct business until all power was back. For some offices, three full business days would have been needed to regain power, which was still much faster than had potentially been predicted given the magnitude of the storm. Aside from very large firms, most law offices would suffer significant financial losses from being down for that long.
While the firm had long been a believer in the cloud, the experience with Hurricane Irma reaffirmed those beliefs. The believer became the disciple, and the firm will never move away from the cloud now.
Cloud-hosted technologies go a long way toward preventing loss of data and functionality, and can make recovery much less painful when incidents do happen. Part of any company’s migration to the cloud should be implementing a disaster recovery plan. What are your most critical business processes that need to be operational first? What systems, staff and facilities are required to support those processes? What types of disasters are you most likely to face and how will your plan change based on the type of disaster? Detail your organization’s responses to support your critical business processes based on the disaster scenarios that you come up with. The benefit of the cloud is that you don’t have to rely on local infrastructure to begin that process—you can start it from anywhere that has power and Internet access.
While catastrophic events certainly highlight the power of cloud-based systems, it doesn’t take a natural disaster for the benefits of the cloud to be seen. If a construction crew cuts the power to your office one day, or even if you happen to lose your laptop, business continuity can be disrupted. By using disaster planning and business continuity as the impetus for restructuring your firm to be cloud-based, your firm can eliminate the costs of IT infrastructure and staff, be operating on the latest version of platforms without the disruption of making updates, be able to scale on a moment’s notice and can offer greater access to important business systems.