September 24, 2017
 
Five Key Questions for Nonprofits Considering Moving to the Cloud

By Boyd Fisher

Boyd Fisher
As more nonprofit organizations consider moving their information and data processing systems to off-site locations accessible via the Internet—generally known as “the cloud”—they need to proceed carefully, because while such a move can deliver potentially important benefits it is complex.

Many nonprofits already use cloud computing applications for functions like donor management, email software, general office software like Google Docs, and file, synchronization and share software like Dropbox, a trend that is growing for the finance, grant management, and HR areas.

The benefits of cloud computing have been firmly established. Subscriptions for cloud services are often substantially lower than information technology (IT) capital investments, while ongoing cloud computing reduces complexity and IT support costs, provides seamless access to the most current software, and offers virtually unlimited scalability.

The following five-point checklist is critical for nonprofits looking to transition their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system to the cloud. There are no right or wrong answers but asking these questions will help nonprofits develop a good project plan and testing methodology – important elements to help enable success of the project.
  1. Have you defined the scope of the move to the cloud?
    The first decision to make is whether to move all your systems in one go or start with non-core components before looking to move your ERP. A hybrid approach to the cloud is often ideal for organizations that use highly configurable systems which have been designed to meet their specific needs. For those organizations, moving to the cloud will likely be done gradually.

  2. Is your current system agile enough to cope with changing requirements?
    Not all ERP systems are created equal – especially in the case of cloud versions. Some ERP solutions have one version for on-site deployment, and a different “lite” version for the cloud. Be certain that you are not giving up any flexibility or functionality when you move to the cloud version. In particular, be sure that when you need to make changes to your system in the future, your cloud solution doesn’t create barriers.

  3. Have you prioritized which data to move?
    Do you need to move all historical data or can you pare it down to the data that’s vital for running the organization today? There are no hard and fast rules. Many nonprofits assume they should retain mission-critical data in their on-premise data center, thinking it will be safer there. The fact is serviced cloud data centers are highly secure with state-of-the-art systems to ensure reliability, security, and performance.

  4. What service and security considerations do you need?
    Whatever the promises of cloud computing may be, it’s important that you know what’s happening in the cloud, how your applications are being delivered, and how traffic is being controlled and directed. Evaluate the cloud provider’s security capabilities, reliability history, and privacy clauses, including their back-up and recovery programs and service level agreements. Service providers should openly share the results of internal or external security audits, as well as statistics on security incidents (e.g., data breaches or downtime) and security certifications.

  5. What disaster recovery plans are available?
    Ask your potential cloud provider about their disaster recovery offerings to ensure continuous availability and operational continuity for your organization and insure against the loss of critical ERP-related IT infrastructure and data. You should know when data is moved to another data center, and be kept abreast of uptime and physical location of data storage.
Keep in mind that not all clouds are created equal and if the system doesn’t meet an organization’s needs, the benefits of moving to the cloud are greatly reduced – which is why it’s important to ask questions upfront.

There are many types of technology providers with different levels of expertise offering different cloud solutions, including private and public cloud, as well as on-premises and off-premises cloud. Some companies offer a hybrid cloud solution—which could mean partly on-premises, partly off-premise—so be sure you know their definition of hybrid.

Finally, before signing on with a provider be sure to speak with several of their nonprofit clients to learn how well the move proceeded.

Boyd Fisher, director of Public Sector at UNIT4 Business Software, which makes ERP systems used by nonprofits around the world, has more than 30 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. Call him at 888-247-3776 or email to author@unit4software.com.
September 2013

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