We at Chance UK are moving to the cloud.
The cloud is a fancy way of saying “the internet”. Instead of using a server for our emails and document sharing, we’re going to do it all via the internet. We can access everything we need to work from anywhere with an internet connection, save cash and set it all up ourselves.
Talk about the cloud is full of hype like this. Lots of experts aren’t sure it’s secure, and lots of sceptics aren’t sure there’s any point. Lots of other experts would have you believe it’s incredibly complicated, and only they can do it for you.
They’re wrong. It can be straightforward.
Either way, it’s still a relatively new area for charities.
Following last week’s Guardian Voluntary Sector article on charities saving moving by moving to the cloud (featuring me, excuse the plug), here are my top five things to consider if your charity is considering the move online.
1. Should you bother?
It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon. But will this move actually achieve anything for your organisation? For us the answer was yes, because our server is on its last legs and very expensive to replace. We also have staff working in several offices who currently use slow remote access to get their email and documents, so it makes sense that they could all have fast email and documents, regardless of where they were. But if there is nothing wrong with your current set-up, it may be like fitting wheels onto a tomato – time consuming, and completely pointless…
2. Can you afford it?
While it is true that many of the cloud applications available like Google Apps or Eventbrite are low cost or free, that doesn’t mean that getting your information migrated to them will be. We had a number of quotes from IT companies who said they would move documents, emails and more over for us, and they ranged from four figures to the high five figures. Even if you sign up for free applications, tidying your data and the time that you will spend on such a project has to be included.
3. What should you sign up for?
Like in real life, there isn’t just one kind of cloud. You could have:
– a private cloud: a desktop that would look exactly the same as the one you have now, but held at your IT company’s offices, and you connect to remotely to it over a secure high-speed connection.
– a public cloud: sign up to the big boys’ versions. Google Apps or Office 365 give you e-mail, calendars and document editing, all accessed through your browser. Or you could stick with your current server for documents and files, while moving selected applications to the cloud for ease of access. For example, you could sign up a Google email account, so that your e-mails can be accessed anywhere, sign up for Eventbrite so that you can manage your events from anywhere, and using mailing list applications such as Mailchimp keep in touch with your supporters. It’s a question of exactly what you need, and whether it is worth the expense of getting it.
4. Is it secure?
For many organisations, this is the number one concern. If these applications are going to be holding the data of our service users, many of whom are vulnerable, I’ve got to be sure that their details are secure. While cloud security is a massive area, the bigger players satisfy very stringent security requirements that should reassure most charities. And while cloud security is important, let’s hope you’ve got the basics covered and your employees aren’t among the 4,500 people who leave data sticks in their dry cleaning each year.
5. How should you do it?
There are three options here. You could get an external company to do everything for you. Just google “move to the cloud” and you will see thousands of results from companies who are eager to take your hard-raised cash to create the suite of applications that they think is most appropriate for you. You could use a consultant who might advise on the best set up for you, while still taking a nice chunk of cash to help you move across. Or, if you’ve got an understanding boss or an idle IT department, you could learn about the different options and do it yourself.
Like all projects, moving to the cloud is one that has to have a strong business case. You should consider what it will achieve before making the jump. But if you do decide to jump onto the cloud, move to software you never have to update, and emails you can get from anywhere, you may struggle to get out of the cloud, even at weekends…