Realistically preparing for the benefits of the cloud

In the current fast-paced technology landscape it’s inevitable that cloud will be offered up as an IT solution for charities. We’ve come a long way from the early days of cloud where security, privacy and the sheer unknown of the technology were barriers in its adoption. Today, cloud in all its forms (private, public and hybrid) can add significant value for a charity in terms of increased agility, cost savings and streamlined operations.

What’s in a cloud?

While not necessarily the answer to every IT challenge for charities, cloud can certainly change operations, make them more effective and productive. Cloud computing as a concept need not be complex or shrouded in mystery (or obscured by industry buzzwords). The odds are that you are using some element of cloud already, either in your charity or in your personal life.

Consider web based email. In effect, your Gmail or Yahoo account is in the cloud. You use an app on your phone to access your mail or visit the Gmail site on your laptop. Looking a little wider, what about Microsoft Office 365?

The same principle applies – you’re using a service and series of apps to write, edit and collaborate on documents. The same can be said for Dropbox – you’re using cloud resources to store and share files.

This is a rather simplified view. In the charity sector setting, cloud has far wider uses. Your customer relationship management (CRM) software - in effect donor management software, database system, accounting system or payment system can all be hosted in the cloud. What this means for your charity is that you don’t need any hardware on your site to host them. This takes up space, is costly (in terms of initial investment and ongoing maintenance and support) and can have rather negative consequences if damaged and information is lost.

The benefits

By placing these systems in the cloud, the information you need is always available (provided you have an internet connection) to staff wherever they may be – working from home, in the field or travelling.

There are also additional benefits, particularly for those charities which operate in heavily regulated sectors – like care, health and education. Compliance and security are increasingly important and cloud service providers (with accreditations of their own) can ensure cloud environments meet regulatory requirements.

In some instances they even take this a step further by offering additional IT compliance services that help charities not only achieve compliance, but remain compliant on an ongoing basis. The whole activity of data management generally for charities is an increasingly big issue – particularly with fundraising regulation and GDPR – so that any solution which assists with IT compliance is making a valuable contribution.

While there is an acknowledgement of these benefits, there are challenges when it comes to moving to the cloud, particularly for charities, especially when it comes to the budget. But perhaps one of the biggest challenges is: where do you start? Many cloud service providers liken cloud migration to a journey – and that is quite apt. And with every journey, there needs to be a place to start.

The first cloud step

The path to secure and compliant cloud begins with a readiness assessment. Not all workloads, apps and systems need to be moved to the cloud, and there might be things that can’t be moved due to regulatory or compliance issues.

Working with a cloud service provider can certainly help – as long as they know what you’re trying to achieve and what your challenges are. They will help you find the right cloud model for your requirements whether that’s public cloud from the likes of AWS, Google or Microsoft, a private environment or a hybrid of both.

In essence, a readiness assessment looks at three main areas: technology, people and processes.

Technology issues

By examining at what your charity looks like today, in terms of applications, workflows and infrastructure, you can determine the cost and benefits of migration. Here you, alongside your chosen cloud provider, gather insightful data on how these various aspects are used, when they’re used and how frequently. This helps you build a cost model to see what can be moved and where it should be moved to, as well as what shouldn’t be migrated.

Looking at applications, as an example: if they are too old, they will need to be re-developed or re-architected if they are moved to the cloud — often at great time and expense. These could remain locally, or what may work better is moving the server that runs those applications to the cloud so that they will sit on an infrastructure hosted in the cloud, but effectively remain the same.

What this example illustrates is that while there are benefits in moving technology to the cloud, they are not always straightforward and may not always be worth it. It’s important to identify the best candidates for migration, as well as how to make that move. If you push too hard for migration, or try to make it happen too quickly, something is bound to break - sometimes it’s the technology and sometimes it’s the people responsible for the technology.

People issues

Often moving to the cloud results in changing the ways a charity operates. It’s almost always better – because it’s faster, easier to operate, and offers a quicker time to achieve results — but from a people point of view you may encounter a lot of resistance. As a result, you need strong executive sponsorship to drive that journey.

Moving to the cloud effectively means that a lot of jobs will also move to the cloud. In areas like service, support and operations, the work these teams do in terms of building, managing or maintaining technology may be taken away because it is either no longer needed or falls to the cloud provider.

This may result in the fear of job losses, or insecurity when it comes to possessing the right technical skills to support this new technology. A cloud readiness assessment will help you identify the current strengths of your staff, as well as skills or training gaps.

For a cloud service provider, as an example, failure to understand how the charity operates and the people who manage that operational process can often stunt or stop a cloud migration. For the charity itself, it’s not simply a case of extolling the benefits of cloud, you need to take your staff on the migration journey as well, guiding them through the change.

Process issues

It stands to reason that the move to the cloud will result in a lot of process change. While cloud itself may be technically less complex, the chances are that your operations and processes will become more complicated. This is especially true in a hybrid environment where you’re not just looking after tangible assets that can be physically seen, changed and monitored, but instead you’re managing something that is remote.

Your cloud readiness assessment will also look at these operational and “business” processes, and the willingness of your charity to change. You also need to consider vital aspects like access, security and the change process when thinking about cloud migration.

Security aspects

A cloud readiness assessment can also help with security and compliance requirements. Because charities already operate in varying degrees in a regulated environment, this is especially important and should form an integral part of the migration process. As part of the assessment, you can identify and define your security and governance requirements, set out a risk management framework, and then understand how these elements will help you achieve compliance.

Cloud is worth it

So moving to the cloud can be daunting. but it is worth it. As explained, migrating your charity to the cloud and ensuring you’re able to properly benefit from the move needn’t be an impossible task. Once you have undergone the cloud readiness assessment which helps you put things into perspective, you are ready to make the right decisions (of course with help), including choosing the right operating model for your charity.


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