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How to move to the cloud

Rather than installing software on your local computer or server, cloud computing uses remote servers to run the software which delivers services to you over the internet via a web browser. Web-based email (e.g. Hotmail or gMail), internet banking, file storage (e.g. Dropbox) or even social media sites like Facebook are examples of cloud computing.

Moving to the cloud is often an option which cuts costs and increases security for many charities. However there are some important things to consider to ensure a smooth transition - this guide provides advice and key insights.

Things you'll need

  • To use cloud computing services effectively it's essential that you have a stable and fast internet connection and either a good Wifi or wired local network in your offices.
  • You *won't* necessarily need the latest desktop computers as much of the work is done remotely.

Understand what you're getting involved in

Cloud computing is a broad concept. It covers everything from storing backups of your important data remotely to running all your office systems "in the cloud".

If planned well and carried through correctly, this method of working can result in massive cost savings, increased staff productivity and more flexible approaches to your mission. If not, it can be a burden and drain energy from the organisation.

There may be good reasons why the cloud may not be the best solution, such as security of sensitive data or slow Internet connections, so make sure you know what the cloud is and evaluate if it’s appropriate and relevant for your organisation.

However the benefits generally outweigh the challenges and could even be combined with a move to make your organisation fully officeless as demonstated in this case study from the LGBT Consortium. 


Don’t get caught out

Carefully check your software licenses and maintenance agreements with your technology suppliers so that you don’t get caught out by not giving them sufficient notice (which could be up to 6 months in some cases).

If you’re moving to a new supplier be upfront about your intentions to move away from an exisit supplier to the cloud and give them every opportunity to be engaged with your move. 

If you are moving all functions of the organisation into the cloud, check that there are cloud-based versions of the software you intend to use and that they perform in a suitably similar way to your current systems. 


Think carefully about data protection issues

This will be more important for certain cloud-based functions than for others. For example, using an online meeting management tool will probably carry a low risk while moving to online data storage will carry a higher risk, depending on the sensitivity of the data.

You may not have control over where the service provider stores your data, which could be in a different country with different privacy laws. You should always check on the service providers website and be comfortable that your data is being handled and stored responsibly. In particular, data stored outside the European Union may not be subject to the same levels of privacy as it would be in the UK. This could be a deal-breaker for those working with vulnerable communities, like refugees/asylum seekers. Remember, in the event of a data breach your organisation will also be held legally accountable.

Further up to date guidance is available on the ICO website about the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and the EU-US Privacy Shield Rules.


Cost of migrating

Remember to build in any contractual notice periods and costs into your project plans. Also don’t forget to speak to your other software application providers – as fundamental changes to operating systems (e.g a move from Windows on your desktop to Google Docs in the cloud) may mean upgrading all packages used in the organisation. A fundamental difference is that traditional software is bought once and upgraded if you choose to, while cloud services are normally based on a monthly subscription but have no upgrade costs.

Include the cost (and time) of migrating data and transferring documents between systems such as databases or team work files and folders. There may also be a training cost which needs to be factored in so that staff can learn how to use new software or fit into revised ways of working.

The Deer Initiative, a charity that provides advice and information on all issues relating to wild deer and its management, upgraded its communications to the cloud. A tip that they can share is to avoid short-termism. If you just look at set up costs and combine them with first year projected operating costs then you’re in danger of going with what ‘looks like’ the cheapest supplier. Take the time and effort to look beyond even a one or two year plan and think long-term!  


Don’t scrimp on connectivity costs

Cloud computing relies on an internet connection. The faster the better. Invest in your internet lines and use a reputable provider as these are the ‘life blood’ of your future network. If you lose your internet connection nobody can do any work and if you don’t have the optimal bandwidth then your network performance can suffer. Consider both the upload speed as well as the (often quoted) download speed. If you hope to upload large files and film clips or have a large number of staff accessing a cloud-based database then you will need an appropriate business broadband package (with > 1mbps upload speed).

If you need to reduce costs, you may have to look elsewhere within the organisation rather than cutting costs this way.


Charities are unique – you need suppliers who understand this

With the pressure to maximise donations and demonstrate impact, charities need suppliers who can understand their way of working and their goals.

Find a supplier out there that understands your requirements, listens and is able to demonstrate experience of helping like-minded organisations move to the cloud. Talk to your supplier and don’t be afraid to ask for a charity discount or to alert them to TT Exchange and schemes like Office365 Nonprofit or Google for Nonprofits.


Phased approach or ‘big bang’?

Which approach would suit your migration?  Family Action went for a phased, managed approach and while that was less risky, it was more expensive. A big bang approach is rapid, cheaper by definition but riskier as there is no trial period or margin for error. Ensure your supplier has a track record of delivering both these types of implementation.


Manage change

From our experience, the impact on staff cannot be underestimated – the disruption to the business can last up to 6 months after implementation, longer if you go for a phased approach. Training is critical and should be budgeted as part of the costs of migration. Change has to be managed positively to maximise its benefits.

If staff are going to be working away from the office more, either at home or from mobile devices, then consider how they will access files and systems in the cloud. Do they have suitable and secure computers at home, are their mobile devices capable of accessing your cloud-based systems, is their internet connection fast enough? To be productive make sure their cloud access is comparable to that found in your office.


Post-project evaluation

To evaluate the success of projects, it can be helpful to conduct a staff survey to find out what people thought about the migration. Understanding what worked and what can be improved on may help with future developments.


Plan for your future needs

Consider not only what you need now and over the next 12 months but for the future too as this allows you to build more closely to your requirements. It can potentially save your organisation money in the longer term. 

Further information

Ben Ryder, head of technical design at Class Networks, contributed to this how-to guide.

For more background reading on the benefits and drawbacks of cloud computing, Techsoup provides a handy resource or try this guide from the ICO about cloud computing.


Page last edited Oct 16, 2017 History

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