From TC: This month, Nonprofit Technology Network's blog has featured a number of posts on the benefits (and pitfalls) of companies that switch to cloud computing. Here are some excerpts:


Commentary: Moving to the cloud...the good, the bad, and the ugly

Fundraiser Cynthia M. Adams of GrantStation, 5/10/13 
I had decided in early 2011 that moving our small company from a physical office space to the cloud would be good for our business in a variety of ways: allow us to employ and contract with top-of-the-line workers and take advantage of cutting edge technologies for both internal and external communications and operations. And because I travel so much (my husband is a composer, so we're always going hither and yon for performances, residencies, etc.) and had learned how to work efficiently from almost anywhere, it seemed like a smart move. Making the decision was fairly easy, the reasons straight-forward, but implementing it proved to be a combination of amazingly simple to disturbingly complex. Let me share with you what I now refer to as the good, the bad, and the ugly.


The Bad and the Ugly: One task I thought would be very difficult was to dismantle the office. Not just packing up and leaving, but deciding what went where. Did we make any mistakes? Yes, we did. For example, the current accounting went with our new bookkeeper, but the 'historic' accounting had gone into storage. This miscalculation caused us a number of headaches as well as expense as we tried to do our first year-end taxes without easy access to previous years' information.

The Bad That Wound Up OK: I also underestimated the amount of emotional distress this move would cause staff. Several adapted quickly. Others couldn't quite figure out how to work from home and tried to recreate an office structure (and that never worked). And yet others decided working from home wasn't their cup of tea, and left the company. It was a bit rocky those first few months, but I didn't do much hand-holding. I actually think, in the long run, this was a good way to handle it.

The Good (or Fantastic, really): The real difference was the amount of work getting done. It was almost shocking how much faster we worked. Projects that would have taken weeks or months were taking days. Why? Because each staff person was now their own boss, in a real, physical sense. And somehow that allowed them to manage their time better. And, of course, instead of having a 'meeting' we were using G-Chat and had assignments divvied up, issues addressed, and decisions made within 10 or 15 minutes instead of two hours.

The Regrets: If I could go back and change a few things I would definitely give more weight to training existing staff on how to embrace the technologies we adopted, and new employees on their job duties.

The Tools: In order to successfully manage a virtual business and move our work into the "cloud," we had to identify and adopt a number of new technologies. We settled on:

> G-Mail/ G-Chat / Google docs

> Logmein (for remote access to computers that had historic information on them, and to allow for easy access to your desktop if you were traveling)

> Skype (for meetings with staff, client calls)

> Salesforce (to manage all of our Members and other clients)

> QuickBooks OnLine

> RingCentral (for the phone system)

> ReadyTalk, SurveyMonkey, and Presentation PRO for external communications and customer services.

After all is said and done, I have to say I am thrilled with the outcome. I enjoy working remotely, and I like to see my staff stretching themselves and learning to work both efficiently and effectively from wherever they are and in whatever circumstances they may find themselves. We are getting more done, we are better at what we do, and we have each come to recognize the importance of our individual contribution to our small company.


Commentary: Is there a connection between cloud technology and innovation?

Karen Graham, Director of Technology and Innovation for MAP for Nonprofits, 5/6/13

There's no doubt that many organizations are using cloud technologies in innovative ways. But, what links might we find between the unique aspects of cloud technology, and the conditions and success factors for innovation? The proliferation of cloud services can leave a nonprofit professional looking like a deer in headlights, unsure how to select the right service and evaluate ROI. That's why one of our goals is to help organizations identify actionable ideas for applying technology to address organizational needs. Barriers still exist.

Funding plays a role in what sort of innovation happens. Some funders are savvy to the cloud trend, [but] many funders are still reluctant to provide ongoing operating funds for IT. Knowing they are more likely to get funding for a capital investment (read: server, custom development), some nonprofits are choosing that route over the cloud, even if it isn't the best fit for their needs, and even if it hinders innovation.

Privacy and security concerns also hold people back from cloud services. For IT professionals used to controlling system, application, and data security, moving to the cloud means giving up many existing best security practices, simply because they are not available in the cloud environment. Even though there are always risks involved with cloud solutions -- from outages to security leaks -- cloud-based defenses can be more robust, scalable, redundant, and cost-effective than anything most nonprofits could put into place locally.

An organization's internet speed can be a huge help or hindrance to making the best use of cloud technology.

So, is there a connection between cloud technology and innovation in nonprofit organizations? Our research and early results from our pilot program suggest that cloud technology, together with some of the cultural shifts which are closely related to it, are throwing the doors wide open to innovation. Cloud technology offers a multitude of new, low-cost, low-risk tools. It remains for nonprofit leaders to understand those tools, make smart connections between organization needs and technology, and overcome barriers to innovation. Collaboration with peers may be the secret sauce that pulls this recipe together.


FROM TC: Here are some additional posts from this NTEN series you may find of interest:

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