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14. Confessions of a cyber conveyancer

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Ever felt that you can get a bit carried away with your own successes? Like when you close a new instruction without actually quoting the fee, and you start thinking, “heck, I’ll do this EVERY time”. Within a few days, you don’t even bother talking to prospects but send them paperwork automatically.

Then the complaints start rolling in about high-pressure selling and you have the awful recognition that maybe you took a wrong turn somewhere.

Last week, we had a similar situation with our move to the cloud – we got a bit carried away and things went awfully pear-shaped, awfully quickly.

This cloud stuff is actually quite tricky

Having spent 12 terrifying years holding our documents on local servers, I took the decision last year to move them all to the cloud. I knew this was the only way to protect us against ransomware, but it was quite a daunting prospect. It took three months’ planning, and the actual transfer took over a week. However, once it was done, we were pretty pleased with ourselves and there was definitely a Clark Kent-ish air of smugness about us.

However, as we sat around basking in our own brilliance, we knew privately that we’d not been completely honest with ourselves as we hadn’t gone “Completely Cloud”. We wanted to rename our “Server Room” to “Serverless Room” because we thought it was a hilariously geeky joke. However, there was still one pesky server left holding our user authentication data. It was pretty critical, but if we were going to have a room renaming ceremony, it had to go.

Our technology support company told us we could move this authentication data to the cloud and we figured, hey, we’ve got this cloud thing nailed, what could possibly go wrong?

What can go wrong, will go wrong

We always advise our clients that when it comes to property, “what can go wrong, will go wrong”. Like when they say, “oh, don’t worry about that lack of building regs”, and the next thing you know you’ve got the agent on the phone telling you that the place had just burned down.

So when our technical guys said “this migration is straightforward – we’ve done this dozens of times without a hitch” we said, sure – push the big red “Migrate” button.

In the time that it takes to ask, “is this a sensible thing to do during the working day?” one of my colleagues had received over 6,000 emails from our fax gateway. Which, although it was a bit worrying, we could identify and delete them quickly. Only it did it again 30 minutes later – which was a little more disconcerting.

Then various users started to call us explaining that they couldn’t send any internal emails.

In the immortal words of Ron Burgundy in Anchorman: “Well, that escalated quickly.”

How do we fix this?

With thousands of emails flooding inboxes and emails bouncing everywhere, the obvious thing to do was to turn everything off and go home. Sadly, that wasn’t an option available to us – we had to put everything back the way it was. And never talk about it ever again.

It took the team a few hours to fix the problem, and everything calmed down a bit. We all went home relieved at having averted a disaster, but when we came in the next day we found the email address book had re-synchronised and ex-employee names had mysteriously re-appeared. Seeing some of them again brought back some pretty bad memories, so we had to sort that quickly.

It took another day to fix that particularly nasty sting in the tale.

What did we learn from this?

Having worked with technology for years, we know one of the key principles is you never work on a live system. Even in this case of a simple synchronisation task that was judged to be low-risk and was easily reversible.

Technology is a tricky beast and every installation and setup is different. What appears straightforward for one business can be another’s nightmare.

The long and the short of it: when it comes to technology, there’s no such thing as no-risk.

You need to ignore your previous successes and pack away that Superman outfit back in the wardrobe, because technology can be a particularly unforgiving mistress.

Peter Ambrose is the owner and Managing Director of The Partnership – a boutique legal provider specialising in the delivery of transparent and ultra-efficient conveyancing services.

Confessions of a cyber conveyancer

PLEASE NOTE: Our offices will be closed from 4pm on 16 December 2022 for our annual Christmas party. The final day for completions is 20 December 2022. We are closing at 1pm on 23 December 2022 for the festive season break and will reopen at 9am on the 3 January 2023.