A good IT system means going through one of the reputable cloud providers? Not necessarily. A sole principal tells how his practice went for the DIY solution

Driven by a desire to have control of my own data system, I recently made some fairly major adjustments to the office computer system which have resulted in substantial benefits for my business. I thought some readers might be interested in these developments.

Until recently we worked on the cloud through a well known and reliable provider. The cost of these services was just under £400 per month including VAT.

I felt this was an unnecessary expense, and also placed us in a situation where our data was not in our control and was solely accessible through the internet.

I set out four basic criteria for a replacement system:

  1. adequate and safe storage of company data for my business;
  2. email services with a task list;
  3. access to network from outwith the office;
  4. compliance with data security standards.

This approach was from a background of a drive towards paperless working which I started about 18 months ago and which led to a paper archive of about one ton per year up to 2015 being reduced to one lever arch file in 2016. Efficiency, security and reliability in the office computer system had to follow.


First, we had to find a solution to the email and task list requirement. We purchased Microsoft Office licences and Microsoft Exchange Mailbox to provide our email addresses, calendars, etc.

Next was storage. Security, reliability and accessibility to users were essential considerations. We addressed this part of the project with the purchase of two, 2TB mirrored (Raid1) Network Address Storage devices. This allowed for two terabytes of data storage, with the ability to upgrade easily; and security in that we would have two copies of our data.

The devices are small and easily storable. All users can have access to the data at the same time from any location. The devices themselves provide basic system diagnostics.

One storage device is located within the office and the other off site, with both devices replicating on a pre-set basis to provide off- site storage of all office data.

A further two terabyte encrypted drive is used to carry out a weekly backup so we have an up-to-date database not connected to the system.

How it compares

One major benefit is that, because the system is internal to the office, you can continue to work even if you lose your internet connection. Loss of connection would only affect external users, thus making the system ideal for those of us located where internet connections are less than perfect.

In researching this project I found that some major cloud systems are not Data Protection Act compliant. Some providers either cannot or will not delete files from their systems. It is vital that electronic data can be deleted completely, as principle 5 of the Data Protection Act 1998 provides: “Personal data processed for any purpose or purposes shall not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose or those purposes.”

We access our files on our own local area network, with a client folder for each category of work such as conveyancing, commercial, private client etc.

We opened a folder for 2016 on the main dropbox menu and then opened client subfolders for each class of work. Within these we open further subfolders for each client and client matter.

This means that in January 2027 we simply remove the 2016 folder from the system by permanently deleting it and so comply with the Act.

In January each year, ongoing matters are simply cut and pasted to the next year's folders, and so the file is carried on until the business matter is completed.

We also have a folder for files which we feel should not be archived at 10 years.

How much?

The budgeted costs were:
2 x Network address storage devices – £302.88
2 x Internal drives – £129.98
1 x Encrypted drive – £213.02
1 x External drive – £69.98
2 days’ consultancy spread over four days – £1,200

The projected costs were exceeded by about £300, as no one on site had the skillset to assist the externally based consultant so we hired in help to assist in setting up the system.

So, for a spend of about £2,500 we reduced our total system costs from just under £400 per month to less than £50 per month for five busy users.

The system is easy to use, fast and totally within our control, and can be operated without an internet connection. It is safe, secure and Data Protection Act compliant. Users can be added or removed easily and quickly.

It replicates, with advantages, the systems offered by major suppliers at a fraction of the cost and can serve multiple users in a paperless environment.

I am neither a consultant nor an expert, but if any readers would like to discuss the project, feel free to contact me at archie@macraestephen.co.uk




The Author
Archie Millar is principal of MacRae, Stephen & Co, Fraserburgh
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