Many organisations have shifted to using the cloud to replace part or all of their existing IT system. Christchurch Women’s Refuge office manager Christine Wallace and Cooperative Business New Zealand executive director Ramsey Margolis share their before and after stories.
Each year the Christchurch Women’s Refuge works with over 1,100 clients in Christchurch and across a broad swathe of the Canterbury hinterlands. A mix of residential support and community programmes are offered. To do all this work 16 full-time and 7 part-time are employed in three locations, with help from a pool of volunteers.
Up until September 2010 the main Christchurch Women’s Refuge base was spread over two floors of a Christchurch city office building. A server ran all communications and file systems. Mostly people stayed in touch by dropping by their colleagues’ desks.
The earthquake and significant aftershock in 2010, followed by the 22 February 2011 quake changed all this. Staff were scattered and IT system disrupted. Although the server was recovered, returning to business as usual was not an option. For a long period staff were working from a combination of home and temporary offices.
While the natural disasters were one unanticipated driver of changes to Christchurch Women’s Refuge’s IT system, organisational demands for greater flexibility and cost effectiveness were just as important.
Cloud options were weighed up against more traditional in-house approaches. After much analysis and external advice Christchurch Women’s Refuge adopted Microsoft’s Cloud based Office365 and Exchange Online.
All email, calendaring, contacts and related tools are now hosted at Microsoft data centres. This information can be accessed both using the web and through desktop software.
The benefits of the shift to the cloud have been huge. These include:
The shift has gone smoothly because of investment in training, effort put into getting staff on board, and access to sound advice from a trusted IT advisor.
There is no assumption within Christchurch Women’s Refuge that new IT projects will use the cloud. As new needs emerge the best option will be chosen for each initiative. Security and access are primary concerns. A server still operates in the main office.
“The cloud services are supporting us to do new things. It definitely saves us time, and gives you flexibility to work from anywhere,” says Christine Wallace, office manager.
Some of New Zealand’s largest companies are members of a national association of cooperative businesses that promotes their shared interests. The two person team that run the organisation from a central Wellington office are governed by a board of 10 people scattered throughout the country.
A very small ISP managed the organisation’s email system from a garage in an Auckland suburb up until six years ago. All documents were stored locally and emailed around when required. Concerns about the reliability of access and availability of support led to a re-think.
After a period using a service offered by a large ISP, the decision was made to host email and try other services offered by Google. The Google Apps suite of tools includes email, calendars, file storage, mini-intranets and a wide range of other applications, but the email support was the main attraction for the association.
Since moving to Google four years ago, the service has been very stable and reliable. After getting a professional to do the initial set-up the system has been run on a self-help basis. Changes are made in-house, with only one support call logged with the Google support team.
As the volume emails stored exceeds the limit for free account, the organisation pays an annual subscription to Google of US $50 for each of two users.
Although document storage is now part of the Google package, it is to Dropbox that the organisation has turned. This is used in many different ways:
Based on experience to date, if another cloud service seems useful they will look at it, try to see if it works, then use it. Amongst the other cloud services used are Issu for sharing online presentations, and MailChimp to manage email newsletter lists.
As long as backup is available, knowing exactly where files and messages are actually hosted in the Cloud is not a concern. In all the years the cloud has been used Cooperative Business have found the services very stable – they’ve had no experience of downtime.
Executive director Ramsey Margolis encourages other small organisations to make use of the Cloud: “Why on earth are you not using it? You can save yourself so much time, sweat, concern… use it!”