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Moving on up… to the cloud

The cloud

When our onsite Microsoft Small Business server began nearing the end of its lifespan, we were faced with the question, Do we upgrade to a new server or move to the cloud? At first, I was completely against moving to the cloud—it was so expensive (I’m talking $20,000+ per year for some options!) and the idea of it seemed so abstract (Where is “the cloud,” anyway!?).

After working closely with our IT consultant, Nate Sperloen at Remachines, and many (many!) months of research and testing, we found that the Office Plan from Egnyte with a few customized upgrades (advanced security and synchronization) was perfect for AMPED and began our transition earlier this year. While the long-term costs are a bit more than upgrading to another onsite server, the costs are spread out over time instead of up-front and maintenance costs are basically eliminated.

Although there are definitely perks to having a local server, we’ve found that the benefits of moving to the cloud at this time were greater. We’ll always have the latest technology instead of a local server that is out-of-date pretty much as soon as we install it. We also now have more independence in our ability to manage the cloud server ourselves. In the past, we’ve relied on Nate to make changes to our server, add new employees, etc. With the cloud, the management is much more straight forward. The accessibility of our documents has also become more reliable — no more worrying about VPN connections or having to have someone reboot the server if things aren’t working properly. I love that it allows our employees to access data in a way that is most efficient for their work styles, whether that be a map drive, web access, or other applications.

Finding the right provider was a long process. Not only did we need to keep the needs of AMPED in mind, but also those of all our clients. Here are some things I learned along the way:

Find a good partner to help you through the process. Many smaller companies like AMPED don’t have an IT person on staff, but we are lucky enough to have great consultants. Make sure you have someone “in your corner” as you look through options and don’t just rely on the word of the sales person from each individual provider. This person will know your needs, be looking out for your best interests, and will understand the technical language and specs of each provider.

Know the right questions to ask. Many providers have different pricing options based on the features, so it’s vital that you take the time to figure out your “needs” vs your “wants” and what is important to you. Below are a few of the questions we found extremely important to ask.

  • How much storage is included? Is there a limit on file sizes?
  • What sort of security features are included? How is the data protected?
  • How do you access the data?
  • How easy is it to upgrade/switch to different plans? Is there a limit on the number of users? What different types of users are there?
  • How is the data backed up? How many versions of a document does it store? Can it also be backed up using a third party?
  • What sort of support is included? Will there be a single account manager assigned to us?

Test, test, test. All the providers we looked at offered free trials. Sign up for them! Test them both internally and externally. It’s impossible to know if something is going to work for your company without using it first. There were many providers we thought would work for us after listening to the sales pitch, but we found out otherwise once we began testing.

Make sure everyone is on board and plan for turbulence. Moving to the cloud is a huge change for many companies so there are likely to be “bumps” along the way and things that will work differently than they did before. Make sure everyone knows what changes are coming, the transition plan, and where to go for help.

In the end, I’ve learned that “the cloud” isn’t as scary as it sounds and have actually enjoyed all the research and getting to know the new system. Have you moved to the cloud yet? If so, do you have any additional advice for those thinking of moving to the cloud?

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Database management: It's all in the details


Take a second to think about all the ways information in a membership database is used: email communications, membership renewals, event management, certification records, merchandise purchases and statistics are just a few of the possibilities. An organization can use its membership database in numerous ways, but in order for a database to be truly useful it must be maintained. Keeping up with database management is a big job and shouldn’t be taken too lightly. Here are a few tips I always keep in mind when working on a database.

Attention to detail is a must. It might be tempting to rush through updates but typos can lead to missed communication opportunities and even lost revenue. I’m all for efficiency, but there is no point in having a database if the information is inaccurate. Taking a little extra time to make sure information is entered correctly is well worth the effort.

Format consistently. This is especially important if the database is used to generate items like membership directories or event registration lists. Abbreviations, address information and punctuation should all be entered in a consistent format. Otherwise, those lists and directories may end up looking unprofessional and unpolished. If multiple individuals are responsible for entering and updating records make sure everyone involved is aware of these formatting guidelines.

Keep up with database maintenance. On a busy day it’s easy to set database updates aside for another time, but in my experience it’s more practical to add or update records right away. If I absolutely can’t get to an update that day, I put it in a designated folder in my inbox. I have a calendar item set up reminding me to check that folder each morning.

The database will never be complete and can always be improved. Membership is always changing so database management is an ongoing project. As membership evolves, the database should too. Don’t be afraid to make changes to the database setup to better meet the needs of the organization. The database is a powerful resource but it must work for an organization!

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