The merits of cloud computing for charities

Charities spend too much of their funds on salaries and administration, that’s according to two thirds of the public in a recent study by the Charity Commission. So as charities look to trim IT budgets as a way of cutting costs, cloud computing has emerged as an attractive option to save money and improve efficiency.

However, with growing excitement around cloud, charities have to be wary of getting swept up in the buzz and simply jumping on the bandwagon. It is important to understand the key considerations when you consider making the move.

What is "cloud"?

With all the hype surrounding cloud computing, it is easy to get lost in all the jargon. Gartner describes cloud as a “style of computing in which scalable and elastic IT-enabled capabilities are delivered using the internet”. In the simplest terms, cloud computing means storing and accessing your data and programs over the internet instead of using your computer’s hard drive.

The cloud removes the need to have a physical space to store all your data in your office, and instead makes it possible for you to access that from anywhere in the world with an internet connection.

So what are the things you need to consider when looking into the cloud? And what else can the cloud do for you and your charity?

Working flexibly – anytime, anywhere

It is important for a charity to consider the benefits of accessing data from outside the office and from different locations. One of the biggest advantages of cloud is that it provides access to data anywhere, at any time over an internet connection. It supports round the clock operations, which can be of great use to charities which have staff based abroad or working outside traditional office hours. Whether these are full-time employees, volunteers or project workers, cloud offers secure access to systems from remote locations 24/7.

The flexibility of cloud can drastically reduce time spent on administration, freeing up people to add value in other areas. Instead of having to wait until you get back to the office to update records or share information, you can do it from the field. You can spend more time with the people your charity is trying to help, and more importantly having all their information stored digitally can allow you to be fully briefed before you meet them.

On top of this, it saves beneficiaries  revisiting your service from having to retell their difficult stories, as their data is automatically available on your system.

Scalability – changing with you

The ability to rapidly scale up or down with a cloud solution can make a real difference for charities which see seasonal or campaign peaks. It can easily scale with your team – so if you’re expanding and hiring new staff, or bringing in a large group of volunteers for a big campaign, you can set them up quickly. Just as easily, you can shut down their accounts once the project is complete, meaning that you only pay for what you need at that point in time.

Lower costs and manageability

The reduced cost of entry for cloud software is making it enticing for charities looking to switch. Unlike on-premises applications, where a bigger up-front investment is required to purchase the hardware and software, you are paying monthly for the service and the computing power needed to run it. This helps manage your cash flow and in turn can reduce administration as well.

All IT administration, including licensing issues, software updates and security management will be taken care of by your cloud computing provider. Removing this burden allows charities to concentrate on their core activities and be more productive.

Of course while there are several benefits, one common concern with the cloud is data security. Particularly for charities which are collecting many donors’ financial details, and maybe details about their clients, e.g. care charities, it is understandable they can be hesitant to put that information into an "unknown sphere". The security put around data centres – where all the information is secured – is among the most sophisticated in the world. On top of that, the cloud software itself is the same level of encryption as online banking, which is now commonplace in our everyday lives.

But questions around security should not simply revolve around data security – it’s about physical security too. With cloud computing, your data will always be backed up and protected from threats such as theft, fire, flood or other physical threats.

Not all or nothing

The cloud has opened up new ways of operating as an organisation – of communicating, collaborating or managing data. While it can be for everyone, there’s never a one-size-fits-all answer for charities and it needn’t be an all or nothing decision for your charity. It should be treated as a solution to a problem, not the latest craze.

Once you understand what the main pain points of your charity are, or what could make your day to day operations run smoother, then you can have the discussion around which sort of solution is best suited for you, be that on-premises, hybrid or cloud. Some charities have moved some of their operations online while retaining physical solutions for others. Either way, the solution just has to be right for your own charity.

Think about what the short and long term priorities of your charity are, and whether your IT solution will be flexible enough to accommodate your business needs over the next one, two or five years. Cloud computing is always something you can plan towards, or revisit when your charity is ready.

For anyone considering moving to the cloud, it’s important to find a trusted intermediary who understands you and how the benefits of the cloud can be moulded to your needs. A software provider is a good first port of call for help. Not only should they be well placed for advice, but they should offer the support and guidance needed to make any migration, and will manage the technology so you are left to reap the benefits.

If it’s time to revaluate current expenditure or look for places to cut costs, your IT services may be the place to look. Whatever the decision, it’s important to free up the time you currently spend worrying over "business" hassles, and spend that time focusing on your cause.

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