Last week we had the chance to sit down (virtually!) with Colin Sharp, IT Manager at Scottish Autism to discuss all things cloud-based IT. We have worked closely with Scottish Autism over the last few years as they have transitioned from on-premise IT systems to cloud-based ones. Our aim was to find out more about what cloud-based systems can offer charities and how Scottish Autism had found the move.
What are the differences between a charity embracing cloud-tech and other types of business?
There really is no difference between a charity and other companies that use cloud for their IT. The major difference would be that charity IT systems support what we do rather than being what drives our work and on the governance side of things we have some extra responsibility around the data we hold.
How have vendors supported the adoption of cloud?
Vendors are keen to get organisations onto a cloud-based platform and each have come up with different ways to try and entice charities. An example would be Microsoft who offer a number of Office365 licences for free to charities that let you access the basic features and really start you on the path to cloud-based systems.
They then offer different licenses should you want to have desktop versions of programs or increase storage size but as a starting point it makes the transition easier as there is no upfront cost.
What benefits have you seen at Scottish Autism with the move to cloud?
We have seen countless benefits across the charity but for me the big one has been the ease of collaborating and communicating. Microsoft SharePoint and Teams are so easy to set up and run that we do not need bespoke IT staff, freeing up budget for other areas.
And as an extension to this the ease of use really helps the staff who are out delivering services, a lot of whom are not IT people. Cloud has helped us facilitate this better by opening up new options and ways of working, looking to reduce the multiple data entry points, complexity and paper, whether that be team communication, file sharing, or reporting.
What has been the most difficult part about adopting cloud-based working?
The most difficult thing has been getting staff to understand the full implications of the changes. For example, documents are now held in the cloud where changes made on someone’s laptop are saved immediately. This was new to many people and the real-time changing of the document was confusing at first.
Staff also need to be more aware of cyber security, that their username and password are very valuable to hackers. This is like having the keys to the kingdom, so ensuring staff were trained on safety and good digital practices was essential. This will also be ongoing which charities should consider when making the transition to cloud as the laptop or mobile device isn’t the important bit anymore, it’s the data.
How has cloud-based IT helped Scottish Autism provide better support to individuals?
While I have spoken about the benefits to staff it is true that it has also helped us in the way we support individuals.
Team members can easily share information with each other if multiple people are supporting an individual. Notes are recorded digitally and are available instantly rather than relying on hand-written notes that are typed up and added later.
Are there any often-overlooked benefits that going cloud-based provides?
Definitely, an example is the ability for staff to access information on a variety of devices. Now if it has an internet connection it is possible to get content on that device.
Another one is the ability to free up space around offices. We no longer have to dedicate a room to holding servers with the associated energy saving of not cooling these servers 24/7 is great. Suddenly you have more space for staff to work from or an extra meeting room which is great in the current Covid-19 climate.
What advice would you give to a charity considering the move to cloud?
The first thing I would say is that those who don’t embrace cloud will fall behind.
Secondly, I would say take the time to carefully consider what company you go with. The nature of relationships has shifted from being suppliers to being long term partners. You need to trust the company you choose to handle your data responsibly and securely. Make sure you know where the data is and where the backup is, as security is such an important issue.
Finally, to realise the real benefit of being cloud-based, when it comes to creating a solution that works for your charity, make sure you think, design and build for the cloud. Don’t just replicate your on-premise environment
You can find out more about the work we done with Scottish Autism here.
If you are a charity that is considering the move to a cloud-based way of working, then be sure to get in touch with us. We have helped multiple charities make the most of the opportunity that the cloud can provide.