Cloud computing for charities – a recipe for change or chaos?

Technology is ever-evolving: mainframes, minis, desktops, laptops, mobiles, networks, the web and now the Cloud. There used to be lots of flashing lights on the hardware, which sat in the corner of your office – now it is silent, sits in your hand and can go wherever you do.

One thing, however, is eternal – the technology industry’s ability to invent new acronyms and ever-changing descriptions makes it hard to keep up with the latest thinking.

So why, as a chief executive, should you pay attention to this latest incarnation of IT architecture: the Cloud?

The answer is actually very simple; this is not just an evolution, it is a revolution; not only in technology, but also in the opportunity to re-shape your workforce, your interaction with your stakeholders – indeed your entire corporate culture.

This is because the Cloud is not a single event; it is a combination of technologies coalescing simultaneously. Technologists like to call it a ‘paradigm shift’ – a fundamental change in approach.

  • How can the Cloud improve your overall IT service?

Being online means being connected to your colleagues, your clients, your partners and your information resources as well as other important stakeholders such as volunteers, trustees and donors. It will allow you to have access to all your internal files from wherever you are working.

  • Will it save my organisation money?

Cloud computing is much more cost-effective than traditional methods. Companies only need to commission, and thus only pay for server and infrastructure capacity as and when it is needed. More capacity can be provisioned for peak periods and then de-provisioned when no longer needed. Traditional computing necessitated the purchase of sufficient capacity for peak times and then allowing it to sit idle for the rest of the time, not exactly the definition of efficiency.

  • Are there any risks to continuity of service or security?

With its ‘always-on’ availability, Cloud services are extremely reliable, typically maintaining >99.99% uptime (because they have to – their business model depends on it). Users merely need an internet connection and can work from practically anywhere. If required, some applications can even work off-line by collecting input for subsequent compilation.

Services such as Amazon Web Services (‘AWS’) or Microsoft Azure operate in over 55 availability zones within 18 geographic regions across the globe with extensive security layering and protections well above ISO 27001, the leading specification for security policies and procedures. Putting it another way, AWS security, resilience and availability levels will certainly exceed those of your office file server!

  • What does this mean for the way we plan our information management?

Agility is a common term in modern management – the capacity to identify and respond rapidly to opportunities. Cloud information management facilitates this ability. Instead of staff working on supporting hard/software and the associated network, keeping things working within limited physical locations, your organisation can focus on the management of your information anywhere, supporting staff in their activities and management in their decision-making.

  • What does it mean for the organisation as a whole?

Documents and general files used to be resident within office file servers, with their hierarchical structure and fixed location. It was impossible for remote staff to share access and updates. Information therefore became out of date or versions out of alignment – assuming your team even knew where they were.

In the Cloud, for example, volunteers can obtain up-to-date materials and complete documentation from online systems while out of the office, rather than being dependent on office staff to locate or transmit the records. That means more time where it counts,  with the people you support, and less time wasted.

Specifically, staff, directors or trustees can work effectively and collaboratively anywhere, for example with Office 365 and SharePoint (two leading cloud applications from Microsoft), all information is available 24/7. The process is as if you were in the office. Collaboration is dynamic and seamless, the system supports their working practice, not vice versa.

Conclusion

There are certainly opportunities to reduce cost and improve value and efficiency using cloud-based IT. However, information is still a critical resource, so do choose a partner who can provide a broad base of the necessary technical skills – and choose wisely: it can make a real difference to the achievement of your goals.

As a new ACEVO partner, the Gallery Partnership would be happy to offer a no-charge consultation to discuss the specific pros and cons of moving to the Cloud for any member. Click to find out more here.

Hedley Rees-Evans is head of consulting at Gallery Partnership. He is a highly experienced IT professional, having spent three decades in product and senior management with solutions providers such as IBM, MiSys and SDL International.

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