Introduction

More and more software vendors are moving their traditionally installed products online, and more and more organizations are moving their files and other data to the Cloud. But at the same time, we are bombarded by news stories about hackers, security breaches, and spying.

How do you reconcile these two truths? You can find a lot of strong opinions on the matter, but don’t make up your mind until you consider the pros and cons.

Cloud software—also known as hosted software, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), ASP (Application Service Provider) Software, and On-Demand Software—refers to software installed on someone else’s computers (typically the vendor’s) that you access through your browser.You may already be using Cloud software whether you realize it or not. It’s important to remember that the Cloud is neither a savior nor something to be avoided at all costs—rather, it’s a tool to be considered and weighed like any other.
Like the internet, the Cloud isn’t a specific piece of software—in fact, you might find that almost any software you need or want is already available online, from email to databases to office suites and everything in between. But that doesn’t mean that every nonprofit should be in the Cloud for all their computing needs. Instead, consider your organization’s existing infrastructure (like your computers and internet connection), your needs, and the skills and opinions of your staff members in order to determine whether or not the Cloud is a good fit for you. If your internet connection is slow or cuts in and out frequently, it probably doesn’t make sense to use the Cloud for something like office software that everyone is using on a daily basis. At the same time, it doesn’t make sense to install and run your own in-house email server instead of using a Cloud server maintained by a vendor if no one in your office knows how to maintain a server.
While most of the discussion around software selection tends to focus on the idea of moving to the Cloud—this workbook included—that doesn’t mean the Cloud is your only option. It is worth mentioning that based on your needs and culture, it coulddefinitely make sense for your organization to move from the Cloud to an installed solution.
We designed this workbook to help you decide. Throughout, you’ll identify what Cloud software you might already be using, whether your organization is ready to make a deliberate move to the Cloud, and decide whether such a move makes sense for the specific tools you’re considering.
Once you’ve selected the type of Cloud-based solution that might best meet your organization’s needs, we’ll walk through how moving to the Cloud could affect your computer replacement cycle and your technology budget as well as how important features are to your decision. Finally, you’ll work through a process to answer the core question of the workbook: For the specific kind of tool you’re focused on, should your organization consider the Cloud?

WHAT IS “THE CLOUD?”

In the old days of computing, software was purchased and installed on an organization’s server, or on many computers at once. Instead, with Cloud-based software, you pay a monthly fee and any licensed member of your organization can access the software from any computer with an internet connection—in some cases, even smartphones and tablets. Many respected software companies are making the switch to Cloud-based options, and everything from online payment processing tools to full-blown databases can be accessed this way.
With software in the Cloud, the vendor installs updates, maintains the servers, and monitors the system to keep it up and running so you don’t have to. If you don’t have any IT staff, this can be a huge benefit. However, this reduces the amount of control you have over the software. For example, the vendor may automatically roll out new features that might confuse your users.

Moving Forward

Now that you’ve learned more about the Cloud and explored what solutions might be the best fit for your organization—whether in the Cloud or installed—where do you go from here? If you have decided that a Cloud solution makes sense for you at this time, then your logical next step is to look into what’s available. Weigh your options and think carefully about what you’ve explored in this workbook before committing to a specific tool.

All software transitions can be disruptive, more so depending on the type of tool you’re considering. Remember to consider not only the cost of your options but your organization’s culture and existing infrastructure, and if the tool you’re looking into has the functionality your organization needs. Don’t be sucked in by the shiny features that vendors want you to see—it’s helpful to sit down and evaluate the two or three options you’re considering, not on the bells-and-whistles, but on how well they meet your needs, if at all.

Implementing new software can be a complicated process—you shouldn’t be afraid.