2017 IT: Where it’s been and Where it’s Headed

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Although we are not even halfway through the year, the world of IT has already changed so much! The Internet of Things, CRM Intelligence, Artificial Intelligence, and Security have been the hottest topics of IT in 2017 thus far. We conducted a survey of more than 200 law firms in Southern California in order to determine the top priorities for IT projects this year as well as the major driving forces in IT spending/budget allocation for 2017. It has been forecasted that businesses and firms will move to a Hybrid Cloud Solution as the primary model, and although this projection is due to advancing security strategies, your best bet for protection will be determined by the training of your staff.

Computerworld’s Forecast 2017 Survey of 196 IT managers, directors, and executives determined that productivity, security and compliance, client satisfaction, new revenue streams, and maintenance of service were all top priorities of which companies were looking to gain from IT in 2017; each category’s importance was dispersed relatively evenly. We however saw a large shift in the response of the 200 law firms that we surveyed, in which security and compliance were the most important priority of what was expected from their 2017 IT strategies. For law firms, this comes as no surprise; security and compliance are top priorities in avoiding any sort of malpractice suit because your clients’ data is precious and valuable. There is a clear pattern as to why security is such a strong concern, especially when adopting new solutions.

The Internet of Things

There has been so much hype around the “Internet of Things” in tech blogs lately, but what exactly is it? The Internet of Things (or IoT, for short) refers to a network of physical objects that feature an IP address of internet connectivity, as well as the communication that occurs between these objects and other internet-enabled devices and systems. Many homes are set up with smart thermostats, security systems, and lighting systems that are all controlled by a mobile device; this is an internet of things. Although currently only 12% of IT managers are actively pursuing an IoT project, it is projected to be more prevalent in the workplace in the near future.

IoT trends are forecasted to move toward more standardized solutions and a more rapid adoption in the consumer market as IoT solutions become more viable. The IoT provides real-time data analytics to the manufacturers of these products and solutions in order to better assess necessary changes based on consumer behavior; this is great for you as a consumer to enjoy a better experience but also has caused some to be leery about utilization of these solutions. It is predicted that as the IoT grows, so will cybercriminals’ attempts to target and compromise your solutions. This should not keep you from enjoying the benefits of an IoT solution, but this does mean that you need to ensure that it is being executed safely, because as attack attempts increase, so will security standards for IoT devices. Such a solution in your workplace may include turning on a light in your break room before you enter it, or having your coffee made before you leave your desk to retrieve it; these may be little things, but they can actually increase productivity and efficiency in the workplace.

CRM Intelligence

For law firms specifically, 2017 has forecasted a major increase of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solutions. For those unfamiliar, at its core a CRM application maintains categorized lists of clients, prospects, and other important contacts. For each one it stores addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, legal needs, and interactions with you, plus a wealth of biographical information. The applications track your interactions with clients and prospects, personalizing your communications. The key features that a law firm should expect from a CRM solution include task management, campaign and case management, contact management, lead management, and marketing automation. Additional benefits include mass email, strengthened relationships with clients, remote access, and social media integration.

The biggest trends we are seeing in 2017 include real-time hyper targeting, AI powered bots, multi-channel capabilities for social media, and most importantly, more platforms tailored to your specific job function. Do your research to ensure that you choose the solution that is best tailored to your needs. Capterra’s list is a great place to start.

Hybrid Cloud

Whenever the term “Cloud Solution” comes to mind for law firms, the biggest questions encompass security and compliance, as well as the ability to keep using your legacy software. When implemented correctly, firms often get to enjoy not only a more secure, but also more flexible solution. With a hybrid solution, your data and backups are stored off-site, so if anything happens to your network you are covered and able to restore your backup. In a hybrid cloud solution, you truly get the best of both worlds, and often benefit from cost savings as well, since you aren’t paying for all those expensive servers.

You may be afraid to make the leap to a solution involving the Cloud, but what many fail to realize is that if you do any banking online, use Office 365, or use social media for business, you already are operating in the cloud. As with any solution, there are risks associated with Hybrid Cloud solutions. You must ensure that your data  is protected and can be recovered easily by having redundancy. Your provider must have and honor a service-level agreement ensuring uptime and security on their solution.. We implement Cloud and Hybrid Cloud solutions at WAMS for our clients. Security is our top priority and we provide for all of our Cloud Connect clients a detailed service agreement..

Artificial Intelligence

The three largest categories of Artificial Intelligence breaking out in 2017 are Advanced Machine Learning, Business Intelligence, and, probably the most Sci-Fi of them all, Virtual Personal Assistants (VPAs). Advanced Machine Learning, in the field of data analytics, is a method used to devise complex models and algorithms that lend themselves to prediction. Business intelligence, or BI, is a term used to describe software applications that analyze an organizations raw data and related activities including data mining, online analytical processing, querying, and reporting. Business intelligence is useful for areas of your business such as monitoring your staff’s online activity to ensure productivity and security. Advanced Machine learning takes BI a step further and basically creates algorithms to analyze data and helps you to make predictions based on patterns.

When you think of a virtual personal assistant, you may be thinking of something out of a movie. The realistic VPAs of this time would be more like Siri or Alexa, which have become the norm for many people. It is however, predicted that more and more businesses will use virtual assistants to greet you, such as at an airport or at a front desk, and some can even communicate with you in various ways. On a business level, it has been projected that Artificial Intelligence will be used this year to automate processes, better organize unstructured data, create chatbots for marketing and customer service, and make business predictions through machine learning. On the consumer level it is predicted that “smart” everything will become the norm.

There are pros and cons to utilizing artificial intelligence, and it is important to be aware of when it is appropriate. Error free processing, intricate process automation, faster data insights, and better research outcomes are all pros of using artificial intelligence in the workplace. The cons that you may face are the fact that it is never good to rely solely on technology and we have seen a predicted threaten of job losses and over concentration of power due to the small amount of people that are creating these solutions. The ultimate pro and con of artificial intelligence is that it is smart, but isn’t too smart just yet.

Security

When considering the implementation of all of these new solutions and technologies, the number one focus should always be security. Staff awareness and training to combat cybersecurity threats is vital to your firm’s success. The ransomware industry is becoming an industry of its own, with its own customer support and cybercrime products popping up left and right. It has also been forecasted that cybercriminals will exploit browsers to find better ways to attack individuals, and there has even been talks of a twenty four hour internet shut down. This is why it is vital to protect yourself, have backups in place that you could restore data before it was compromised, and properly train your staff on awareness. Whether you want to implement an IoT solution, are ready to implement a CRM , think it may be time to move to the Cloud, or want to use artificial intelligence to better monitor your team, do your due-diligence by researching and always ensure that any of these solutions are secure.