Cloud computing - a case of faith, hope and charity?

In the first of two articles, Peter Groucutt gives an insight into what cloud computing can do for charities

Peter Groucutt
Peter Groucutt

Definitions of cloud computing vary from the very narrow technical definitions the IT world uses to the broad definitions we tend to use when we talk about personal email and file-sharing services.

Key characteristics of cloud computing are:

- Services you can access from anywhere, often through a web browser.

- On-demand and self-service.

- Services charged according to what you use (including the flexibility to change usage every month).

- Hardware and software that is shared by customers of the same service, but securely separated.

Cloud computing should not be dismissed as yet another buzz phrase. It can offer charities a real business advantage. However, the hype surrounding the technology can also lead to confusion. Indeed, in a recent survey of 10,600 charities by the Charity Technology Trust, 60 per cent reported that a lack of knowledge was their biggest barrier to adoption.

These two articles are designed to help charities identify the first steps they need to take when considering cloud computing, what to look for in a cloud services partner and what benefits they can expect.

Where to start?

First, have very clear objectives for your move to cloud computing. Ensuring that these objectives tie in to the wider business strategy is crucial in securing buy-in from all levels. This is especially important to organisations in the charity sector that have to justify costs to stakeholders and the public.

There are a number of considerations to be taken into account. These might include:

- How is our IT currently aligned with our business needs?

- Why are we using these systems?

- What is the total cost of ownership of our current systems?

- Does this include secondary costs such as licences, maintenance and support?

- Where are our inefficiencies, and what are their real cost to the business?

- Are we using our limited IT resources effectively, or just keeping the lights on?

- How quickly can we respond to changes in operational need?

- If a new opportunity presents itself, are we agile enough to execute?

Very few charities will be starting off from a blank IT canvas. The majority will have some form or other of legacy system in place in which a considerable investment will already have been made. Ripping this system out and starting again is simply not an option. You don’t need to jump into cloud computing with both feet, though; many in the sector are turning to a hybrid strategy that offers a more gradual transition.

Choosing the right partner

One key factor when choosing a cloud services partner is to outline specific terms of deployment.

All providers will have very secure, reliable systems in place, and their service-level agreements will be able to guarantee high levels of uptime. However, even with a 99.999 per cent uptime promise, if that downtime occurs during a key fundraising period it will be disastrous. It is therefore important to be clear about the process in place if SLAs are not met.

Once a charity has asked itself the questions posed above and gone through the process of finding the right partner, what should the organisation be looking for from a cloud service? These key benefits will be discussed in the next article tomorrow.

Peter Groucutt is managing director at Databarracks

- Read Groucutt's second article on producing a business case for cloud computing

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