Why charities can get more from the cloud
Overall adoption of cloud technology has now hit 88 per cent. Enterprises large and small have been taking advantage of the benefits, but one sector that often has different considerations from most is the so-called 'third sector', charitable organisations.
Charities differ from other businesses and corporations in many ways. Their core purpose is helping a specific cause and having a positive impact in that area. However, when it comes to back-end operations like IT, charities must function like any other business and give teams the tools they need to work on their causes. In fact, they often need to be even more savvy and careful with both finances and time than typical for-profit businesses. Any hint of overspending on administration can lead to harsh, if often unwarranted, criticisms. So, is cloud the answer for charities? If so, in what ways can it best be used?
Controlling costs is important for charities. But what’s important is also how the total cost is distributed. The cash flow at charities often makes it difficult for IT directors to get sign-off for big-ticket IT investments.
Cloud OpEx models and monthly subscription-style billing means good infrastructure becomes more easily accessible without huge, upfront investments that might detract from the charitable work that still needs to happen. Charities, as well as businesses, are finding OpEx models make it easier to manage IT costs and build them into their regular cash flow. However, this only works in practice when you have predictable cloud billing to plan around.
The underlying infrastructure is not the only cloud technology where the OpEx model helps manage costs. The rise of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) allows charities to be more agile when changing and trying new application solutions that contribute towards core functions. Importantly, SaaS makes it easier to remain up to date with the latest software without having to invest in a new package when there’s an update, as well as those updates being automated.
Microsoft Office 365 is just one example of SaaS enabling enhanced productivity, mobile and flexible working, and real-time collaboration. Migrating the familiar Microsoft Office suite to the cloud helps meet charity volunteer management needs, such as quickly enabled, scalable email storage and adding new users.
For the cause
Organisations in every sector are increasingly looking for ways to spend less time managing their backend resources and more time focusing on their core business. Charities are no exception. Removing tasks around areas such as licensing, security and patching means more time is available for implementing solutions that help people, animals, the environment or any other cause for which the charity is campaigning.
The issue with managing IT and cloud environments in-house is also one of access to appropriate expertise and skills. In a hybrid and multi-cloud world, it can be tricky for charities to access the necessary IT skills to manage their infrastructures. Furthermore, it’s not cost-effective, either, to have employ specialists to manage just one specific part or application of your collective environment.
Where they have been able to adopt managed clouds, we’re seeing charities shifting resources to develop “Digital Teams” instead of teams working solely on IT. These teams are focused on the application layer of the technology stack, and instead of spending time maintaining infrastructure, will be creating new solutions and innovations which directly advance the causes of the charities.
Cycle to work
Many charities operate on campaign cycles for activities such as fundraising activities. This can be difficult to manage from an IT perspective, especially on owned hardware. How do you handle large traffic or donation spikes at certain times of the year, for example, without paying for underutilised assets outside of these periods? You’ve probably guessed that our answer is “with the cloud”.
Cloud bursting and use of public cloud allows for quickly scalable infrastructures that can meet these spikes in demand. Coupling it with a pay-as-you-go model also allows for developing and testing throughout the year, ensuring you’re ready for these peaks.
Website traffic, in-store payments and overall donations online can generate both significant peaks and troughs, and the IT team needs to be flexible enough to deal with both. The scalability of the cloud, combined with a pay-as-you-go model on an ad-hoc basis means that charities do not have to invest in hundreds of physical servers that are underutilised 364 days of the year, thereby alleviating unnecessary costs.
Charities host significant amounts of personal data: from donors’ financial details to sensitive data on the people they help. While the security placed around data centres is amongst the most secure in the world, it’s still the case that some organisations are nervous about putting data into that unknown cloud space. Security needs to run throughout user systems and networks, so it is as important as ever to ensure that data is properly backed up and retained in ways that meet regulatory requirements.
However, to add another layer to the security picture, it’s about their retail space as well – a very significant revenue source for many charities. Retail space requires hardware such as PDQ systems, computers that connect back to the core IT systems with access to email, the intranet and any other internal software which connects to their shops and their networks.
Here, cloud services like Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) can play a key role in securing data. A lot of charity retail locations, relatively speaking, can be vulnerable to theft, fire, floods and any other physical threats. However, with DaaS, vital systems and data are protected from those physical threats. As the data is not stored locally on end-point devices, DaaS gives the ability to prevent data theft.
Your flexible friends
One way charities differ from most businesses is their reliance on, and relatively high proportion of, volunteers and temporary staff. With variable staffing levels and thus regular changes to access requirements, systems need to cater to both permanent and volunteer staff. The question is how to efficiently and securely give (and revoke) volunteers’ access to IT systems.
If a charity brings in a large group of volunteers for a big campaign, cloud can scale with the team, and the quick creation and removal of accounts is easy, and again, means the charity is only paying for what it uses.
Cloud also enables remote working – so the 300 volunteers that have been brought in to support a campaign do not need to be housed in restricted and expensive office space and there’s no need to reimburse for travel costs. Remote working alleviates all these issues by enabling workers to connect to networks and servers from any location. DaaS also means that volunteers can work using their personal mobile, laptop or tablet by securely connecting to servers, again, decreasing investment requirements for the organisation.
So, is cloud the answer for charities? We think so - and we've proved it with organisations like Safeline and Bournemouth Church Housing Association. For these organisations, and others, reducing costs is key, but this really comes down to being clever with their budget allocation and releasing CapEx to other areas of the business. The management of IT infrastructure is also important. What organisations lack in time and expertise, a cloud provider can make up.