Small NonProfits, Crummy Computers and the Cloud
There are many benefits included in the “value proposition” for cloud computing models, but there are some hidden gems in terms of how these outsourced IT models can specifically and directly address one of the biggest problems facing many smaller nonprofit organizations: they have to use old, outdated, and often just pretty crummy equipment. But now it’s OK, because even crummy old PCs can work just fine when the applications are hosted in the cloud.
Small nonprofit organizations often rely exclusively on donations to keep the business running. Donations don’t always come in the form of dollars; sometimes donations include used computer equipment. For many nonprofits, using donated equipment is the only option they have due to various budgeting constraints, and nonprofits need computers just as badly as any other business. Not only do these underfunded businesses have to try to operate with what most users would consider to be sub-par equipment, they frequently operate their systems and networks without the aid of skilled or experienced technicians. For a small nonprofit organization, keeping up with business is tough when the computers and software aren’t able to fully meet the need.
To complicate things even more, many people working in smaller nonprofit organizations are mobile workers – functioning either as part-time participants or users who simply need to work from a variety of possible locations. And they almost always have to use their own mobile devices. Supporting a remote or mobile workforce is particularly challenging when even the most basic of computing requirements are barely met, so addressing the variables of everyone having their own mobile devices and remote computers is frightful at best.
With the introduction of cloud computing, affordable broadband access, and value-priced application hosting services, small nonprofit organizations finally have a workable answer. Working with an application hosting provider, the business can move applications and data to outsourced infrastructure, where the solution is effectively delivered back in the form of a subscription service.
Accessing applications and data on central servers, and using those applications from a “virtual” or hosted desktop, can allow these small businesses to use current versions of business applications without having to purchase the powerful desktop or portable computers necessary to run them. The applications run from the host’s servers, reducing the local PC’s involvement to handling the display, keyboard and mouse inputs, and printer outputs. Even older computers which would be incapable of running current versions of applications like Microsoft Office or QuickBooks are generally able to access and run those applications from the cloud.
Predicting costs of operations is essential for any business but is crucial for the nonprofit. Budgeting around a limited financial resource, small nonprofits are hard hit when unplanned failures in computer systems occur. In many cases, there simply isn’t room in the budget to recover from these events, and productivity and performance suffers because of it.
Approaching IT services from an outsourced perspective, these small businesses can build a significant level of predictability into their business technology costs – and get higher levels of fault tolerance and disaster recovery capability along with it. The hosting service is responsible for maintaining the operating environment, securing the systems, backing up the data, and keeping things running. The costs associated with server hardware failures, and even regular server and system maintenance, are covered in the subscription service. This means that unexpected break/fix, update and maintenance costs are no longer of concern.
Every small business, not just the nonprofit, should explore the options available to them with cloud and application hosting services. Performance within any organization depends on the systems and tools available to get work done. Owning the problem of managing and maintaining the information technology platforms and systems makes little sense these days; better to outsource the problems to a professional service provider. Not only can this type of service introduce predictable costs for business IT services, it makes working with crummy old donated equipment a workable situation.