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How charities can use the cloud to adapt to the digital-first future

a corridor in a data center
(Image credit: Pexels)

Charity organizations suffered a 24 percent total income reduction in 2020 – which equated to a £12.4 billion total loss. The sector has therefore been one of the most affected by COVID-19, with charities being ordered to close shops, left unable to fundraise on the street, or run their usual, busy programs of events. As a result, the pandemic has left charities forced to consider new ways of operating.

Many have turned towards digital transformation for help, looking at moving to the cloud to achieve cost, scalability and security benefits. In addition, the cloud provides charities a flexible and resilient infrastructure, such as with the best cloud storage services. This is particularly needed at present, as charity IT teams are facing highly increased demand for their services, which are currently operating almost exclusively online. 

As restrictions lift, most charities will operate within a hybrid model, which supplements the strong digital presence now expected by service users, with select in-person service offerings. As such, the cloud will be a crucial component in helping organizations to continue with their mission to protect the vulnerable.

Cost-effective cloud can drastically improve performance

It is understandable why charities may be hesitant to invest in new tech right now, given their squeezed budgets and fewer avenues for fundraising. However, there will certainly come a point when their increased workloads, service demand, and new operating models mean it is no longer viable for them not to modernize. When that day comes, cloud is definitely the way for them to go. 

Charities will need a clear vision for which workloads are to be migrated – ‘we want our email in the cloud’ is a simple example – and can then work backwards to create a process that works for their needs. This approach can then be applied to file sharing, unified communications, and so on. 

Ensuring each workload drives value is crucial, as it helps charities to keep costs down while maintaining performance. Taking an incremental approach also makes it easier to manage cloud sprawl. With full visibility into consumption levels, charities can be sure that staff, volunteers, and service users will all benefit from the improved scalability and stability of cloud, without spiraling cost.

It goes without saying that charities have experienced enormous hardship in the past two years, with 59 percent of UK charities having to access their cash reserves during the pandemic. The financial challenge has also been compounded by an understandable increase in demand from service users. 

What’s more, as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be felt throughout many communities, even as the restrictions start to loosen, people are bound to depend more heavily on aid beyond 2021. 

Charities need to be able to scale up their IT resources to manage demand in peaks and scale down in troughs – all without hemorrhaging cash. Legacy IT infrastructure and technical debt makes this far more difficult. The out-of-date software, extensive patching, and end of life support needed to maintain legacy tech can all be costly for charities, and will not provide the flexibility or scalability they now require. 

For IT infrastructure that is no longer fit for purpose, it can actually be more cost-effective for charities to transform and move to the cloud, rather than continuing to plough money into their old systems.


Collaborating safely and effectively while at a distance

While most industries have struggled with implementing remote working and adapting to a shift online for customers since the pandemic began, charities have had some additional challenges to face. The sector relies on collaboration between partners, volunteers, and beneficiaries. 

The success of a charity requires these stakeholders to be able to work together, and so finding ways to do this online safely and effectively has been crucial. Cloud-based applications can help boost collaboration, and so charities looking to keep down costs should look to take advantage of the tools already available to them. 

For example, in software suites like Microsoft 365, the channels function on Microsoft Teams can be used by charities to segment work with volunteers, for internal communications and so on. Utilizing the best cloud hosting is another example of where charities can then safely host websites and other content.

Another consideration for charities during the pandemic is how they can protect sensitive data now shared and stored on cloud platforms, that would usually have been communicated face-to-face or kept on-premises. This might also range to photos or images, which may have utilized the best cloud storage for photos, and now needs to be accessed.

Public cloud providers such as Azure, AWS or Google Cloud are indeed the most popular route to cloud services, but charities may not have the inhouse expertise to know what they need to do to keep their data as secure as possible. This process can be daunting, and in some cases, this can put organizations off moving to the cloud altogether. 

Working with a third-party partner to manage cloud migration can take the burden off charities, helping them to navigate cloud negotiations or carry out risk assessments before engaging with a cloud provider to ensure security is preserved.

Naturally, charities hold a lot of sensitive data. It is therefore critical for them to have support in doing due diligence on cloud providers’ security protocols, to ensure that the most critical information is identified, secured and well-guarded moving forwards.

Looking ahead beyond the pandemic

The ability of charity organizations to innovate and transform is absolutely key to their survival. 57 percent of charities have had to postpone projects because of COVID-19, which simply is not sustainable long-term. Digitally transforming systems and migrating to the cloud will enable charities to continue reaching the most vulnerable in society, without huge cost implications.

Moving to a cloud environment and managing it afterwards can be an extremely complex and time-consuming task. For charities with a lack of in-house expertise or technical skills, working with external partners that can help them simplify this process, and offer domain expertise that is often cheaper and quicker than trying to find and hire the right skills. 

Futureproofing charities’ IT infrastructure will be crucial as the country begins to open up again, to ensure the sector is equipped to deal with whatever may come next – including a permanent shift to hybrid operations that embraces digital.

Joe Morley is Future Workplace and Nonprofit Consultant at SoftwareONE.