Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 47 seconds

A little over a year ago, the Northeast, particularly New York City and New Jersey, was faced with the worst disaster in over a century. Many nonprofits whose very mission was to assist those affected by Hurricane Sandy were disrupted by the flooding, electrical outages, and lack of public transportation caused by the storm. For those organizations that housed their data and IT infrastructure in-house, remote access was impossible and precious constituency and donor data was, in many cases, lost.  

Even though some of our clients were without power in their physical locations for three weeks, and we were out of power at the Sinu offices for nearly a week, Sinu’s customers did not lose data and remained connected to their emails and other mission critical services. If they could charge their devices and get online, they could continue to function. It was during this disaster that our nonprofit customers truly understood the value of the cloud.

As a technology services company, we were in a fortunate position that the cloud – or SaaS (software as a service) – for the critical applications and infrastructure we provide to our customers was in place well before the disaster. Today, nonprofits are inspired to rethink their IT infrastructure and software because most critical applications, such as donor management programs, have an SaaS strategy that was not available a few years ago.

Based on our experiences, both prior to and after Superstorm Sandy, we suggest a number of different strategies for nonprofits seeking to migrate more services to the cloud to allow them to restore applications and services when an interruption occurs.

1.     For nonprofits with less than 1,000 employees, we suggest moving at least 80 percent of your basic infrastructure into the cloud over the next three years. Email and backup are critical and should be migrated immediately. Payroll is another critical application that can be moved to the cloud to help avoid disruption of compensation for employees even during a disaster.

2.     If you use a traditional constituent relationship management (CRM) system, such as Salesforce or Razor’s Edge, you will sleep better at night knowing that your mission critical data about donors, volunteers, and constituent is housed off-site. Cloud-based CRM systems can reduce infrastructure and support costs. Unlike traditional CRMs that typically charge both a site license and licenses for individual users (not to mention the hardware costs), most cloud CRM systems offer a per-user pricing model. This makes budgeting easier with no surprise investments in new hardware and you can change the number of users who can access the database as your organizational needs change. Several nonprofits we work with find keeping their CRM in the cloud also increases productivity because it also allows for easy remote access and collaboration.

3.     Turn to a technology services firm to help with migrating data to the cloud to get started. Sinu partners with Mozy, which has a service called Mozy Data Shuttle.

4.     You should have both a remote archive and a local copy of your data. Depending on your organization’s collaboration needs and the size of your files, you may find a local version does not slow down the network.

5.     Make backups automatic and consider performing them several times a day, depending on your organization’s activity. Also, be sure to verify the reliability of the backup files on an ongoing basis.

6.     More cloud tools are being developed all the time, so we recommend you have a plan to regularly reevaluate cloud solutions. This will also give you the chance to rethink the data and tasks that your organization's IT infrastructure should be supporting and where it may fall short.

7.     You may want to consider an outside consultant or technology services firm to help guide you through the changing technology options that are available, recommend the right tools to support your needs, and assist with development of a phased strategy to migrate critical applications and infrastructure to the cloud.

As your organization assesses its IT investments, consider whether there is a smooth way for you to capitalize on these opportunities to reduce the risk of data loss and possible disruption. Remember, the cloud isn't really about technology, it's about managing and maximizing your organizational capacity by ensuring productive employees who have access to data and applications how and when they need it. When you and your employees can spend less time managing IT and data, more time is devoted to fulfilling your mission. Last modified on Monday, 13 January 2014
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