“The cloud” is everywhere. You hear about it daily. And it’s terrifying (initially). I’ll self-identify as a control freak; I like knowing where my stuff is and who is touching it. So, having the information I rely on floating out in cyberspace was scary at first. Could someone just grab it? Does it really even belong to me anymore, or do I just get visitation rights occasionally?
Then, I started using cloud software and realized it’s the best and most efficient way for my advancement office to manage, process, and make use of our data. Companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Google, Adobe, and many more have adopted the cloud to do business with large volumes of data… and for good reason.
As advancement services professionals, we need to face it. In our increasingly demanding workplace, it’s time to embrace the cloud as a way to accomplish our fundraising goals, increase ROI, and focus on the work we should actually be doing.
Here’s why I buy into the cloud:
1. It’s safer.
Your data isn’t just floating around in the cloud. It’s not up for grabs. It’s protected by some of the best security professionals in the world. According to the Cloud Security Alliance, 64.9 percent of IT leaders are satisfied with cloud security measures, claiming they’re the same or better than traditional models of on-site software hosting. The emergence of the cloud means that third-party companies like Deloitte and the British Standards Institution now certify and audit cloud security. (See this article for more details.)
Can you say the same for an on-site solution? Can higher-ed institutions afford to attract this kind of talent away from the private sector? Probably not.
2. It’s cost-effective.
Servers, upkeep, and maintenance are all covered in the cost of a cloud software platform. Your service provider will perform all the necessary updates, so the days of twiddling your thumbs during an upgrade are gone (although those were the only times I cleaned my office…).
In addition, the cloud can perform data processing much faster than your own managed servers. Data refreshes can be done at increased intervals for up-to-the-minute updates. For example, in my experience (errr, in the experience of a guy I know), scraping information from social media sites can take a lot of processing power and time to aggregate if your computer hardware isn’t built for large datasets. Now that we use a cloud-based service, we automatically get that social media data.
By leveraging the cloud, your desktop computers don’t need to be as powerful as they did in the past. This allows for less of an IT investment in desktops and other hardware, as well as faster performance even with the use of small mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets. Waiting for data to process is overrated. We want data and we want it now!
3. More accurate and flexible data.
With the volume of new data produced daily, your database likely isn’t 100 percent accurate at all times. A huge benefit of a cloud solution is that it can integrate with external data sources and bring in the most up-to-date information on your constituents. The process of aggregating data becomes automatic rather than manual, and the data is delivered to you as a finished, ready-to-use product.
4. You can focus on using rather than maintaining the data.
Yes, there’s a peace-of-mind component to reviewing individual records—but it’s more efficient to conduct regular audits instead of poring over records one by one. Specialized cloud software can provide your end users with ready-to-use data and can perform data integrity checks so that you don’t have to. That way you can focus on more important tasks.
5. It’s accessible.
The cloud allows credentialed users to access data anywhere. Instead of needing VPN access for an on-campus server (which isn’t always an option), users can log into the cloud when they’re off site or traveling. This can foster collaboration and increase efficiency, as team members have data at their fingertips whenever they need it. Take Google Drive, which allows you to share and collaborate on documents with colleagues. Like all things with the cloud, you can tailor or scale the accessibility of the information depending on your business needs.
6. You still have control over your data.
You can still hold onto information like social security numbers and other highly sensitive data. Sometimes demographic information (addresses, email addresses, etc.) is all it takes to get a cloud application working. You only have to send the pieces that are going to help you solve your problem—not necessarily the entire database. However, you should send some key identifier that will let you link the data in the cloud back to your primary database so that you can connect the cloud-assembled data and your protected data.
Remember: Advancement services is about putting information into the hands of the people who need it the most. It’s up to us to enable frontline fundraisers to go out and build donor relationships for the benefit of our institutions. By letting the computing elite worry about the processing, security, and storage of our data, we can focus on our core competency: providing insights that will help our fundraisers close gifts and improve the lives of our students.
Matt Gullatta is the director of advancement services at Ashland University. Since becoming an advancement services professional in 2007, Matt has made it a personal mission to make data accessible, reliable, and fun. You can find Matt on Twitter, likely chasing down big data and analytics trends or posting animated GIFs.