What is ‘the cloud’ and what does it mean for charities?
Over the past few months, we’ve touted the advantages of accessing services, storage, and digital tools over the internet. As the wider charity sector has made the switch to remote working, organisations are already benefiting from online collaborative tools and smoother operations.
Given how important and widespread cloud technology has become, it is easy to skip over the most obvious question: what exactly is the cloud?
By taking a closer look at cloud technology, charities can get a better understanding of how the technology works and its benefits.
‘The cloud’ is a term used to refer to servers hosted on the internet and the tools and databases you can access through them.
Another popular term is cloud computing. PC Magazine says, “For it to be considered ‘cloud computing,’ you need to access your data or your programs over the internet, or at the very least, have that data synced with other information over the web.”
What cloud computing is not, is a localised computer programme in your hard drive. Rather, cloud computing refers to the computing power and storage that is accessible through the internet. Naturally, that power is available all the time and never switches off as it would with a local computer.
Other than saving precious office and desk space, why should charities use cloud technology?
The NCVO lists some of the top reasons why. First, cloud solutions offer mobility. Charity staff can access information from anywhere. Apps downloaded onto mobile devices give employees the flexibility to contact others while on the go.
Cloud-based virtual desktops allow charity to staff to operate remotely from the cloud, which means charities save on computers. Employees simply use their own personal computers to log into work. Charities save physical space because they can do away with bulky IT infrastructure and hardware.
Scalability and reliability are other reasons why cloud solutions work well. The NCVO and Charities Management agree that the cloud enables technology to change as rapidly charities do.
“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.”
For charities on a shoestring budget, the cloud can help them to save money. One benefit of cloud computing is that costly hardware upgrades can be avoided, because new versions are simply downloaded. Charities can also save on IT infrastructure investment and maintenance costs.
As part of charity digital transformation plans, both Guts UK and WaterAid have successfully migrated to Microsoft’s cloud-based software.
Guts UK is a medium-sized charity with two offices: one in Hull and the other in London. Colleagues struggled to collaborate between offices. Remote workers also faced challenges, as there was no central hub of information. The charity looked for a cloud-based solution that could help them to increase communication and collaboration.
Microsoft 365 offered the charity the chance to increase collaboration and communication – regardless of where employees were working. Guts UK purchased ten subscriptions. Microsoft’s subscription-based model allows for flexibility to scale up or down. Staff are empowered to download and use cloud-based applications to work from anywhere. Features like Microsoft Teams enable colleagues in separate locations to keep in touch.
WaterAid’s journey to the cloud solved different challenges. The charity operates international offices, each with ageing IT infrastructure. Staff found it hard to collaborate because they weren’t able to search for one another online. Maintenance and IT ‘down’ time were major cost concerns. Their budget-conscious leaders made the switch based on the return on investment (ROI) of new digital tools.
When it came to tackling the cost issue, migrating to the cloud-based Office 365 eliminated the need to invest in hardware. This meant that WaterAid could actually redirect funds to projects rather than operations. Having staff online also improved project resourcing. With the upgrade to the cloud, project leaders could easily find and staff projects in other locations.
Digital transformation simply means being more digital. Remote working has accelerated the process of change and cloud technology is front and centre. Raconteur’s Digital Transformation 2020 report finds that “97 per cent of business decision-makers say that COVID-19 pandemic has sped up digital transformation at their company.”
While COVID-19 has focused attention on the speed of transformation, new software is still an investment. Charities should take advantage of free trials before buying.