If you’ve heard of cloud computing but don’t know what it means, or think it’s only the domain of tech savvy kids, and ‘Internet people’, think again. This isn’t just for your nephew who used to reset your VCR from flashing 12:00 all the time through pure inexplicable magic, it’s for everybody, especially NPOs.
The title of this post is ‘Non-Profit IT solutions’ because escaping the chains of conventional IT is what I suspect will provide the drive for some NPOs to take the plunge and become 2.0 savvy. IT can be such a pain, and such a bottleneck. So what is cloud computing and how can it make my NPO run better?
First, having your files on someone else’s server and cloud computing are the same thing for most people. Let’s call it cloud computing because it’ll be easier to imagine your stuff up in a cloud than to imagine the nebulous concept of my-stuff-isn’t-here applied to what is already nebulous for most, the web. Cloud computing is two things at once. First, it means both the programs and documents that you normally use are no longer on your computer, they are on the Internet. Second is the whole paradigm shift around having your stuff somewhere other than on your computer. It can take a bit to get your head around it.
First, the top 4 questions when the concept is introduced:
Is my stuff secure and private?
Yes. There are many different online companies that provide various services associated with cloud computing. They vary in security types, but unless your computer is already behind an extremely robust firewall in a secure building accessible only by people with security checks and ID badges at every door… it’s probably more secure than what you have now.
Notice I said service. Because your electronic stuff is stored on their machines, you pay a service fee or subscription to access it. The fees are reasonable, usually they are dramatically less than what you pay for software on a PC or Mac and you can access your stuff from any computer on the Internet, so you’re not going to be kept from your stuff by any of the maladies that a single old PC can suffer from.
Heads up! For NPOs Google Apps is FREE! Normally it’s around $50/year per person.
How do I get it?
You go online, log in with a password and find your stuff in a file structure similar to file explorer (PC) or finder (Mac). You can also search by titles, dates, words in the document, etc. While there are many providers, I’ll focus on the big dog, Google. They’re the biggest and in my opinion, most people will do quite well with what they offer.
Where is it?
Who knows. Mountain View, CA, Little Rock, AR? They’re in a data center somewhere that is probably secured with armed guards. Point is, you can get to it anytime you want. Most of us don’t know how our voice gets to another person through the phone and yet we make calls!
How does this change my life?
If you migrate to online data storage and use Google for documents and spreadsheets, you’ll won’t lose things, you won’t worry about whether your hard drive crashes or you lose your notebook computer or buying new software. In fact, if I lose my notebook computer, I can go to any computer and pick up where I left off. Nice, eh?
Also, if you’ve ever emailed a document or had one emailed to you and then it was edited, sent around, edited, sent around and then… there’s 14 versions on 3 computers and you’ve all been editing different versions. That’s a great way to waste the time of many people quite effectively. With an online document, you are all editing the same thing – no version problems.
One more thing…
Did I mention Google Apps also includes email with your NPO’s domain and calendaring systems? Bye-Bye Outlook. Many of us won’t miss you.
So, what now?
This was a teaser only – to put your stuff in the cloud, visit http://www.google.com/nonprofits/docstutorial.html for a tutorial made specifically for Non-Profits. Oh, by the way. For registered non-profits, Google Apps is 100% free. Beat that.