As a nonprofit, you are frequently responsible for doing more with less. Saving time, money, and effort is essential to maintaining and expanding your reach with limited manpower and funding. One of the most accessible ways to do that is through the technology department.
In part one of our series for nonprofit organizations, we discussed how digital presence can impact your work. In part two, we tackle the cloud. Moving computing, storage, and backups to the cloud may sound daunting, but with a managed services provider at the helm, the process can be smooth and beneficial in many ways.
What is the Cloud?
Despite the name, the cloud is tied to earthly locations. The cloud refers to software and services that run on the internet, rather than locally, and are hosted on a vast network of servers, constantly saving and delivering applications, files, and settings.
A cloud service provider makes services and server space available to you. Cloud service providers have varying costs and regulations, so choosing what is right for your nonprofit is important.
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Know the Terminology
There are two major ways the cloud can be used in a business or nonprofit environment: cloud computing (including cloud services), and cloud backup. Most commonly, these are used in conjunction, but the cloud isn’t an “all or nothing” deal. Nonprofits can benefit from utilizing the cloud a little – or a lot!
Instead of keeping copies of files, programs, and systems on offline storage devices or a second server, maintained and refreshed in case the main on-site server malfunctions, this same data can be kept in the cloud. You may be familiar with cloud backup services like Acronis, Carbonite or MozyPro being used as a backup for files.
When used instead of or for augmenting traditional backups, cloud backups can provide a more seamless transition as well as more current saves, whereas traditional systems typically back up information once a day. That means device failure is less likely to destroy files that are saved in the cloud! Files are immediately available by logging into the cloud environment and can be synchronized back to the new hardware from the cloud copy.
Cloud Services and Computing
If you use Google G Suite, Microsoft Office 365, or Netflix, you are already using cloud services without realizing it! Instead of using a local server, cloud computing utilizes a network of servers hosted online to store and process data. Cloud computing can scale from running a handful of programs, to having full cloud environments that mirror office computers.
With cloud computing, nonprofit files and applications are accessible whenever and wherever you or your coworkers need them. These can be accessed from any device with a secure internet connection (workstations, laptops, tablets, or even from their mobile phones). Your team members are no longer limited to one physical location and can access information and programs from the office, home, while traveling — anywhere.
How Can the Cloud Benefit My Nonprofit?
Software as a Service
Also known by its acronym, SaaS, software as a service is only made possible through cloud computing. Instead of installing software locally via CD-ROM, SaaS is downloaded from the internet, and typically, instead of a one-time, up-front cost, SaaS is provided in monthly subscription packages. This keeps costs low and covers updates, and often special discounts are available for nonprofits. Intuit QuickBooks Online, for example, when used as SaaS, offers automatic backups, app integration, and access designed for mobile as well as desktop devices.
Probably the most widely known benefit of utilizing the cloud for computing is mobility. Mobility means that while using the cloud, you and your team members are less constrained and have far greater flexibility when it comes to accessing your organization’s data. In the past, this kind of secure access from around the world would require specialized software and a VPN tunnel to a dedicated server located within your office. Now, securely accessing work files remotely has been streamlined. With cloud services, you can access documents and applications using any device with an internet browser, including your smartphone.
Whether you are working remotely or sharing sensitive information with the board, the cloud offers a secure solution. In the past, a transfer of data would have meant setting up an FTP server or investing in email encryption. Through the cloud, files can be shared almost instantly with increased security and flexibility. There are limitations here, however. As reported by Symantec in their Internet Security Threat Report 2019, 70 million or more records were stolen or leaked “as a result of poor [cloud] configuration.” Much like other aspects of IT, with quality management and monitoring the cloud can be a huge asset.
Rather than hosting email onsite on a Microsoft Exchange email server, this service can also be moved to the cloud. In this case, there is an enormous possibility of increased efficiency and lower cost.
Because a cloud service provider is behind the wheel of your cloud services, the individual – that’s you! – has reduced exposure due to relying on a third party’s expertise in the case of a data breach or malfunction. In terms of HIPAA compliance, you still have a responsibility to ensure that the cloud service provider you choose is compliant, and it’s important to vet the providers you partner with, regardless of regulation. Instead of trying to do everything yourself (at an increased cost, and higher effort), outsource to those who are the experts. Using a cloud service provider means you will pay less, but get more.
Compared to the price of maintaining your own dedicated infrastructure, cloud computing, storage, and backups can offer the potential for discounts. Microsoft, for example, offers several free service options specifically designed for nonprofit organizations.
There is a caveat here. Anderson Technologies has seen certain nonprofit-specific software providers drastically raise the price for SaaS over a standard license run on a local server. Some cloud service providers specializing in donor databases price SaaS by the number of entries in the database rather than the number of users who need access. For small nonprofits with a large reach, this can really impact the total cost of moving to the cloud. There are cases where a cloud service provider can adjust cost, but for the few who rely on specific, costly software, this factor may override other benefits of the cloud.
Ultimately, managed services make cloud computing work. With IT experts behind you, moving to the cloud can be straightforward, with backups fully automated, settings securely configured, and you’re less likely to be overcharged by a cloud services provider. Anderson Technologies knows what it takes to run a nonprofit’s computing environment smoothly and on budget. Are you ready to take your nonprofit to the cloud? Call us today at 314.394.3001 or email us at email@example.com.