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We released our report on the 2012
TechSoup Global NGO Cloud Survey in September of 2012 and have now had a few months to ponder the findings and talk to several of you about what you
think of them. We thought it would be interesting for us to share our thoughts
with you on what we're believe ought to be done about our survey
This is the second installment in a series of explorations on this. Find the first post in this series online. Like the Pew
Internet & American Life Project, we believe that over the next decade most
people will access software applications online using several different types
devices rather than depending primarily on tools and information housed on
their individual, personal computers.
TechSoup Global's NGO cloud survey found plenty of
contradictions and confusion about cloud computing. We take heart that this is consistent with NTEN's State of the
Cloud survey findings, where U.S. nonprofits often didn't know they were already
using cloud services. The general public is vague on the
subject as well.
According to a recent survey
of Americans by Wakefield Research on behalf of TechSoup donor partner
Citrix, a majority of Americans respondents thought that cloud computing has
something to do with the weather and that stormy weather may in fact interfere
with their cloud computing.
We hoped to reduce confusion by defining the
term near the start of the survey:
Cloud computing allows you to
access software via the Internet instead of from your computer hard drive or
your local computer network. When you use cloud-based software, it is available
anywhere you can use the Internet — not just in your office.
We also believe that our survey attracted
respondents who may already be familiar with some IT, so the confusion among our
audience seemed to entail people having better recognition of specific cloud
services rather than categories of services. For example, when we asked respondents if they were
using a specific cloud-based app (such as Skype), responses were different than
when we asked if they used a cloud-based app to perform a function,
such as web conferencing.
In a good survey it's useful to ask a particular
question from different angles to try and gauge the understanding of the
audience. We did that in our survey, so we hope we sorted things out in regard
to what cloud services people are actually using.
We did, however find some contradictions in the survey results that
remain baffling. Here are some examples:
We're not entirely
sure whether this means that nonprofits are confused about cloud computing
costs and security. They may simply be ambivalent, finding for instance,
reports of hacking and service interruptions for major cloud services to be
troubling, but also being worried about the security in their own computer
One thing this
finding does tell us is that NGOs need good, clear information on cloud service
costs, because the new paradigm of paying monthly for cloud services is very
different than buying software once and owning it. Total costs of cloud
services over time is not a simple calculus, when also trying to factor in
whether or not it will save an organization money on IT staffing. Data security is
also a very technical subject both for on-premises software and cloud services.
To quote TechSoup Global's
We need solutions that include an ability to ask a question of an
expert or another NGO user. We need solutions, like those from AidMatrix, that are for specific types of
organizations. We need solutions that address security concerns in language
organizations can recognize.
Here are two more things that surprised and puzzled us in our survey.
Our survey found
that planned cloud adoption timeframes vary by organization size. Medium-sized
organizations (between 10-44 full-time staff and volunteers) appear to be moving the
quickest to the cloud, and like large organizations, they also seem to be
interested in moving their database functions - a crucial part of NGO IT - to
cloud CRM platforms.
In addition, one of
the most surprising findings from our survey is that NGOs in the lower-per-capita-GDP countries (around $10,000 per year or below), like India, Egypt,
South Africa, Bulgaria, and Mexico are planning to move a significant portion
of their IT to the cloud faster than higher GDP counties. Indian NGOs plan to
move to the cloud most quickly – 66% within two years. Egyptian NGOs are a
close second with 61% within two years. The global NGO average is 36%.
surprising because the lower-per-capita-GDP countries in our survey reported
facing serious obstacles in moving to the cloud. These obstacles include things like unstable electric
supplies and also expensive broadband Internet access. The greatest motivators
for moving to the cloud among lower-per-capita-GDP respondents were things like easier set-up and good
We suspect that
medium-sized organizations occupy a middle ground where they are somewhat more
likely to have dedicated, knowledgeable IT staff than smaller organizations,
which tend to rely more on "accidental techies." Respondents at large
organizations (with 45 or more full-time staff) tend to have more systems in place,
more data to secure, and more steps in their decision-making processes, which
likely contributes to their slower timeframe for adoption. Large organizations
may have less need to adopt cloud services because they have
already invested heavily in their own infrastructure.
organizations appear to be something of a sweet spot regarding NGO cloud
adoption, not having invested extensively in their own infrastructure. We don't
really know why, but it is useful to observe that they consistently report in as early
adopters among NGOs around the world.
We are even more
speculative regarding the fast adoption plans of NGOs in lower-per-capita-GDP
countries. We suspect our respondents in those countries may be something of an
NGO technology elite. Lots of NGOs in places like India don't yet even have
broadband or adequate IT equipment and we conducted our survey via the Internet
using the online service, FluidSurveys.
We do have a working hypothesis that
NGOs in lower-per-capita-GDP countries may be leapfrogging IT; in much the same
way as people in those countries adopted mobile phones much faster than older
landline telephone technology. They may be well aware of the possibility of not
having to bother with building server-client local area networks in favor of a
more agile cloud-based IT infrastructure for their offices. In any case, we are
very interested in serving NGOs and their crucially important work in
To quote TechSoup
Global's co-CEO, Marnie Webb:
We still have significant
externalities that an impact organization's ability to take advantage of
technology. We need to be supporting the good work that people like Inveneo are doing to help make those
externalities - no reliable power! no Internet! - a thing of the past. But that
support needs to be there, in equal measure, for those organizations who can
connect but, for whatever reasons, have not yet done so.
One final thought
is on the cost of cloud services, which is one of the large and contradictory
issues of cloud computing for NGOs. Nonprofit Tech 2.0 recently
published an astonishing list of 85
Low-Cost or Free Web-Based Tools for Nonprofits. It is a roster of
cloud tools that help nonprofits, NGOs, and libraries increase communication
capacity for social media. That area of the cloud is certainly a low-cost,
low-risk area of entry to try out cloud computing on smartphones, tablets, and
conventional PCs. One good thing is that such cloud tools are accessible in
most places in the world where there is Internet.
continue our exploration of our 2012 TechSoup Global NGO Cloud Survey results over
the next several weeks. We welcome your thoughts in the comments below!