Clouds Grow Greener Options for Nonprofit Associations

What’s in a cloud? A few years ago you might have answered rain, snow or sleet.  But today, clouds hold data, software, applications, and files of all shapes and sizes. Of course we’re talking about two kinds of clouds here but while the former makes your garden grow, the latter can help grow and green your association’s bottom line.

As a tech savvy association professional you’ve probably used cloud-based products before. Maybe you use a file-sharing site or a wiki to collaborate with team members, both great ways to improve workflow and efficiencies. If you’ve ventured into the cloud already, you’re at the leading edge of a growing trend.

A recent forecast in Cisco Global Cloud Index: Forecast and Methodology, 2010-2015 estimates:

  • Annual global cloud IP traffic will reach 1.6 zettabytes by the end of 2015.
  • Global cloud IP traffic will increase twelvefold between 2010 and 2015.

Cloud graph

Sowing the Right Seeds:  To truly harness the power of the cloud, consider investigating software as a service (SaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS) systems when making your next business software purchase.  These powerful computing environments have the ability to reduce costs and streamline processes, allowing you to focus on what you do best, providing great programs for your members. SaaS and PaaS systems provide the same functionality as the software that you purchase and download onto your computer. Cloud-based systems can manage your member database, help you run events, or streamline your accounting processes.

The on-premise software you buy in a box or download with a license frequently comes with functions and features that are irrelevant to your organization.  You pay a hefty price for that license and often have to ante up again for upgrades or to purchase a second or third license for other computers.

With cloud-based software, you buy only the elements you need.  In addition, many PaaS providers offer configurable products that allow you to tailor the software to the changing needs of your association. Plus, customer feedback helps the software provider make product improvements, and those function and feature upgrades happen seamlessly.

Pricing is more flexible for cloud-based software as well.  Some SaaS providers have a fee for monthly service. Others base fees on the number of members in your database or the volume of data storage you need. Again, flexibility is the operative word here.

Capital investment in software becomes a thing of the past with SaaS and PaaS products.  Start-up costs are extremely low, and the subscription-based fee structure shifts costs to operating expenses.

Seeing Green Immediately

It costs money and staff time to purchase, install, update and maintain on-premise software. Cloud-based SaaS and PaaS systems reside in remote servers that house data from many organizations all using the same software or platform. Like distinct businesses all sharing the same office building, sturdy walls and locked doors separate each organization’s data but the responsibility (and cost) for maintaining the building — providing security, electricity and running water, and making upgrades when necessary — are transferred from your IT budget to the software vendor.

Reaping the Benefits

With cloud-based systems, your association reaps the rewards of world-class infrastructure, a secure data center with supplemental power sources, and automatic backups so your files are always there.

Saas and PaaS systems can begin working for you quickly. Cloud-based products typically have a shorter implementation time than traditional software, which means you’ll be benefiting from cost savings and productivity efficiencies sooner.

Your files are accessible from anywhere you are. As long as you have an Internet connection, a mobile device or computer, and the login authorization, you can view, review and share your data whether you’re on a business trip or snowed in at home.

The Other Kind of Green

Cloud computing is also a sustainably greener choice for many associations. SaaS and PaaS eliminate the need for energy hungry servers to be housed on site. The computers used to run cloud-based software can be smaller as they no longer need to store large files or run complex programs.  Not only do smaller computers cost less, they are more efficient and use fewer resources.

Depending on the cloud software you choose, the application can eliminate the need for reports that must be laboriously printed, collated and bound.  Instead, users can share reports electronically. No more paper and ink required.

Silver Lining

Perhaps you gulped a bit, thinking of your data sharing space in a multi-tenant cloud. Security should definitely be a consideration as you evaluate cloud-based SaaS and PaaS systems. Every industry has standards and guidelines that should be closely followed by the software provider.

As a financial technology company, securing our customers’ data is our top priority.  After all, our reputation and our business depend on it.

In the accounting industry, SSAE 16 Type II Certification is the gold standard for security measures and controls.

We also adhere strictly to PCI Data Security Standards. The payment card industry’s Security Standards Council developed these standards for merchants, vendors and security consulting companies to mitigate data breaches and prevent payment cardholder data fraud.

In a Nutshell

The next time you’re considering making a change to the software programs that help you run your association, broaden your search to include cloud based SaaS and PaaS systems. You may find a cloud-based software solution that not only meets your business needs but also:

  • Saves on IT costs,
  • Gives you more flexibility at a lower price,
  • Updates and upgrades seamlessly,
  • Reduces energy consumption as well as paper and ink,
  • Allows you access to your data anytime, anywhere.

Best of all, it will give you more time and resources to focus on your members.

You just might become your association’s hero of the month.