In the past few years, there’s been a lot of discussion about IT from a strategic perspective and how charities can use new transformational models to operate more efficiently and innovatively.
We’re now in 2017, and a lot of the digital and cloud-based ideas discussed are now becoming very mature. I believe that the time has come to talk less about aspirations and be much more specific about what charities need to do in order to get started.
For the next few months I’ll therefore be concentrating on providing a number of practical guides designed to help charities assess their readiness for change and make sure the business as a whole is ready to move forward positively with technology changes.
We start with cloud, which some charities are already using to manage IT in a much more flexible and scalable way. However, lots of charities have been more reticent about adopting cloud, mainly because of doubts over the change management required and the potential disruption the migration might cause. Let’s face it, many have had their fingers burned with big IT projects in the past, and they don’t want it to happen again.
In my view, though this concern is valid, it can also be addressed and overcome with well thought-out preparation and planning at both a business and technical level. Here, then, we start with five steps you can take to do just that and assess your readiness for cloud.
Start with a thorough needs assessment
The first thing you need to do is ensure that you’re going to get user and management acceptance. This can be done only by understanding all stakeholders' key needs and how you’re going to meet them through cloud. After all, what is the point of continuing if you can’t? Heads of marketing, fundraising, volunteering managers, HR, finance and so on will all have their priorities already set. These priorities should be mapped and translated into an assessment of their needs and wants in relation to cloud. For example, does your head of volunteering have an objective to widen engagement by opening up access to systems from anywhere? Cloud could be key to that. Identifying this enables you to plan early-adopters and quick-win use cases that are the best fit for cloud and will show value to all concerned early.
Assess technical readiness
Your current ICT landscape is likely to be an assorted mix of applications, operating systems, hardware versions and suppliers. It’s advisable to make the effort to assess the technical readiness for cloud compatibility of all these elements as a matter of priority. This is the hard work, but it has to be done. The assessment should investigate your network, servers and applications against a range of cloud options to identify incompatibilities and other gaps that will need to be remedied. Legacy systems should also be checked to ensure they will work effectively with your chosen cloud provider. If it is discovered too late that they are not compatible, the implications for cost and time could become a problem.
Be clear on budget
Cloud is often sold as a cost saver, but this is not always the case. This can be a problem – sometimes cloud adoption doesn’t get the long-term traction it needs because early-adoption projects fail to show the cost savings promised. To make sure you move forward, it’s important to engage your finance department early and ensure the rental model you are proposing is well understood as something that will improve cost control and financial forecasting in the long term, but which will require initial investment. It’s common for operating costs to be higher in years one and two as your platform beds in. It’s important to be clear and transparent about that. Creating an "invest to save" mentality will make sure you manage expectations and help to ensure cloud adoption gets off the ground.
Make sure you cover risk and compliance
As part of your preparation for cloud adoption, it’s also important to measure any potential model or service against your organisation’s security and any changing compliance requirements. Take the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation, for example, which considerably tightens up the rules on the use and protection of individuals' personal and sensitive data. If your charity is involved in providing care services for people, you will be holding sensitive data that relates to them. You therefore need to consider how moving services to the cloud would affect the way you handle that data and hence compliance with the GDPR.
Have a plan for resourcing your project
One of the final pieces of the "readiness" jigsaw is to ask yourself whether you can realistically achieve your goals (and on time) using your existing resources. Understanding your current commitments is key here, because it will help you to know if you can also balance the demands of a cloud migration project. If there is time pressure, it’s unlikely that your internal IT team will succeed in balancing business-as-usual commitments against the burden of cloud-related training, planning and execution. It’s vital that you identify how you will mitigate this, what the skills gaps are and whether you might need to bring in external expertise to augment your own.
The list is, of course, by no means exhaustive, but conducting an initial assessment starting with these guidelines will go a long way to putting you in a realistic position to take advantage of the cloud’s many business benefits safely, securely and with full acceptance from a willing organisation.
John Simcock is director of charities and third sector at Eduserv, a not-for-profit provider of IT, digital and web development services