Using the Cloud for Good

Cloud computing is not just being adopted by the business community in New Zealand but has also made a significant impact in not-for-profit organizations (NFP) across the country. 
Attendees of the Connecting Communities conference in Christchurch on 29 February 2012 learnt of several NFPs who have used the Microsoft cloud as a key enabler of both the vision and transformation of their organizations. The NFP focused conference was hosted by Microsoft New Zealand in association with Social Development Partners, as part of Microsoft New Zealand’s programme of activities supporting NFPs to build their IT capability.

One NFP that implemented cloud computing relatively early is the Child Cancer Foundation. As a nationwide provider with 22 branches over 6 regions, the Child Cancer Foundation has transformed the organization with a large scale implementation of several cloud based technologies. The organization faced the problems symptomatic of many NFPs - relatively high hardware capital and support costs, obsolete hardware, budget constraints, poor document management and control and no dedicated IT team. These problems have been solved with new internal stakeholder portals and email and collaboration in the cloud. The Child Cancer Foundation created a board member portal and staff portal using SharePoint Online, which has increased communication and made information more accessible, and a regional members’ portal is soon to launch. Meanwhile Exchange Online and Lync Online have improved collaboration between the 50 staff nationwide who service over 1000 families in need each year. With the cloud removing the need for hardware the Child Cancer Foundation has also experienced the benefits of massively reduced telco and hardware costs and removed the need for backups. The document management and control provided by SharePoint Online means the organization has reduced its use of paper and is confident that information is secure and retained (a factor that is pertinent in a sector staffed largely by volunteers).

The Child Cancer Foundation also saw the benefit of business continuity that the cloud affords when its Christchurch premises were affected and then demolished as a result of the recent devastating earthquakes. The organization was able to quickly create a virtual office, and staff continued operations accessing documents and information through the online staff portal. 
The Christchurch Women’s Refuge recounted a similar experience to that of the Child Cancer Foundation’s country-wide initiative, but at a local level. They too, were severely impacted by both the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 and the unusually heavy snowfall that closed down the city last winter. Each of the major earthquakes was a catalyst for the organization to review their IT requirements and move to the cloud for business continuity. 
Only months later when heavy snowfalls twice closed the city, the Christchurch Women’s Refuge had transformed from being paralysed in the city’s “Red Zone” to an organization with a flexible work environment where all staff had remote email access and shared calendars through the Office 365 cloud service. Not only was the organization able to continue to operate away from their physical office, they also had the assurance of data integrity and service reliability along with cost savings.
Prior to moving to the cloud, the Christchurch Women’s Refuge managed an in-house server that required backing up and incurred hardware support costs, staff were using various versions of Microsoft Office software (2003-2010) and were not able to access their email unless they were in the office. With three locations (two offices and a safe house) and a mix of part-time workers, home based workers and shift workers, remote access has made a huge, positive impact on communication between staff with the feeling of being “part of the team” despite not physically being in the office.
Increased communication and tools like a shared calendar and out of office assistant has meant the organization can offer a more professional service and clients are better served.
Christine Wallace, Office Manager at the Christchurch Women’s Refuge, admits their relationship with their IT provider has now changed and they view IT more strategically. “We are now considering more major projects such as moving our database to the cloud, collaborating and data sharing with partners and moving to a paperless office scenario,” she commented.
Despite the vast differences between these two organizations in areas such as governance structure, staff levels and cost and IT infrastructure, the challenges were the same – both organizations were operating with no dedicated IT staff, budget constraints and obsolete tools.

Managing cost and obsolete video conferencing tools were some of the key drivers pushing The Royal New Zealand Plunket Society to move to the cloud and deploy Lync Online within the organization. By utilizing the video conferencing capability in Lync Online, the organization is recapturing thousands of dollars previously allocated to air travel to meetings. Plunket volunteers, including board members, are also benefiting significantly from Lync Online. Because Lync Online can be accessed from virtually anywhere, the few Plunket meeting facilities—which had outdated technology—have been replaced by the familiarity of volunteers’ own devices.

Craig Le Quesne, General Manager at Plunket, is optimistic about the possibilities of the cloud. “At Plunket we are working together to make sure we’ve got it right in our working environment,” he remarks. “Office 365 provides great capabilities, and when you really look into it, much greater peace of mind—in regards to privacy and security—than almost any organization could offer with its own IT.” The transformation that the new technology has brought to the NFP is reflected in a comment from Tristine Clark, president of Plunket: “Lync Online is bringing our staff and volunteers together like never before.”
Despite their differing organization sizes and missions, all of these NFPs have overcome common challenges to become more efficient organizations with improved communication and collaboration between staff. Moving to the cloud has helped transform their organizations and enabled them to do more with less – which for the not-for-profit sector ultimately means for the good of their clients.

Cross-posted from Microsoft's FUTURES blog with thanks.