The 2022 Charity Digital Skills Report underlined the significant increase in adoption of cloud services that the nonprofit sector has seen in the last 2 years. As a result of the pandemic, 82% of charities see digital as a much greater priority, and 83% have begun offering new online services during this period.
This wave of innovation has been phenomenal to be a part of, but recently lots of charities are coming to us with the same problem: they now have a plethora of disparate systems, with a lot of overlap, little integration, and an increasingly hefty set of monthly subscription bills to pay.
At Smartdesc, we are charity IT experts who have worked in the sector for well over 10 years. This year we have found that most of our projects have been helping organisations consolidate and optimise their systems, to keep them lean and joined-up.
With the current high inflation rate and a looming recession, reducing costs is more important than ever, so here we share some of the successful initiatives we’ve helped charities achieve to rationalise their systems, reduce operating cost, and give a more integrated and seamless hybrid experience.
We carry out many independent IT reviews and audits, and it’s common to find multiple systems and apps in use that either do the same thing, or aren’t fully used. Consolidating these can often be a quick win to save money; here are some key areas to focus on:
- Cyber Security. If you use Microsoft 365, which most do thanks to the charity grants and discounts provided by Microsoft, then a subscription like Business Premium (for around £4 per month) not only includes email, files, Teams and Office, but also includes Defender for 365, which is a comprehensive suite of security controls including the below:
- Email spam protection
- Data Loss Prevention
- Vulnerability Management
- Phishing Simulations & Training
…and many more. Defender for 365 can therefore replace the various standalone tools you may already have, and provide a single place to administer and maintain your cyber security protection measures.
- Telephony. As a result of the pandemic, 01/02/03 “landline” phone numbers have diminished in importance. However, there is often still a need for these where a main phone number is required, or for charities who run helplines etc.
Microsoft now include Teams Phone in their nonprofit offering, with landline / mobile calls being handled straight in Microsoft Teams. This can easily replace your old phone or VOIP system, and give users a single place for collaboration instead of separate apps or softphones. Physical handsets are also available for those that need it; find out more here.
- Connectivity. If you have fewer staff working in your offices nowadays, it’s a good time to look at your internet connections. The wholesale cost of internet lines has fallen dramatically over the last 5 years, and new technologies like SOGEA enable charities to benefit from fibre optic connections to their premises, at a fraction of the cost they used to be.
If you run multiple locations, consolidating these to a new, single Internet Service Provider (ISP) can bring economies of scale and simplify finances.
Additionally, the now-common centralised firewall model means you only need a single, cloud-based firewall service to protect and manage all your offices. This enables staff to move seamlessly from site to site without even changing wi-fi connections. All this whilst also reducing running costs.
- Cloud Hosting. If you’re still running physical servers, either on site or at a Data Centre, or hosting applications like CRM systems that aren’t 100% cloud based, then consolidating these together into Microsoft Azure often saves money and simplifies management.
Azure is flexible, meaning as services move to pure cloud / Software as a Service (SaaS) models, the servers can simply be switched off without the need for complex decommissioning projects. They can also be set to power down when not in use, meaning you save money and carbon.
Finally, Microsoft provide $3,500 per year to all charities which goes towards the cost of running Azure, so it will often cost far less than running or replacing servers in-house.
Here are 4 recommendations for optimising and reducing your IT spend on cloud systems:
- Single Sign On. Almost every cloud application will offer some form of integration, and one of the simplest and most impactful is to configure Single Sign On (SSO). This means staff are not required to remember yet another username and password, and waste hours trying to reset their forgotten credentials.
Furthermore, true SSO ensures that any users you remove from your main directory will also be removed from your cloud apps, keeping you on top of security, governance, and avoiding paying for unused licenses.
- Azure AD. Active Directory (AD) is the system that controls logging on and off computers. Many charities still use servers to do this, creating password expiry headaches when staff are rarely in the office, or overly complicated shipping of laptops when they change hands.
Most licenses in Microsoft 365 include Azure AD, which is the cloud equivalent to an Active Directory, at no extra cost. Migrating your computers to Azure AD ensures no server, office visit nor VPN is needed, and provides single sign on to all Microsoft services, such as 365 and Azure. It’s also your platform to integrate your other apps for SSO in future, as per point 1 above.
- Housekeeping! Review your license types. We mentioned 365 Business Premium above, because it is the best value license to cover your first 300 users. But what about your other systems; does everyone need a “full” license? Are you still carrying staff that have left? Set up a quarterly review cycle to keep things optimal.
- Autopilot. This free tool comes as part of Microsoft 365 and enables laptops to be automatically configured and deployed straight out the box.
Your organisational settings, apps, security and even the desktop background are all configured centrally in the cloud. Laptops are registered with Autopilot by the manufacturer prior to shipping, meaning the end user just opens their laptop out the box, connects to their home Wi-Fi, and it automatically pulls down your settings and provisions itself ready for use – without the need for IT to manually set it up. This saves hours of admin and provides a great first impression to new starters.
Outcomes and Benefits
- Give staff a simpler, easier, and more consistent user experience no matter where they work, to boost efficiency and reduce dependence on the IT helpdesk.
- Consolidate multiple different apps, vendors, and services down to 1 or 2 key systems, simplifying management, support, billing, and scalability.
- Reduce your operating costs by removing unused licenses, keeping your estate clean and waste-free.
To help charities identify and realise these cost savings, Smartdesc are offering a cost neutral or better guarantee for all Microsoft Azure cost optimisation audits this winter (Dec 22-Mar 23). For more information, please get in touch here.
About the Authors
Smartdesc is an IT Service Provider, Microsoft Gold Partner and NCVO Trusted Supplier who support charities and non-profits in the UK to improve their IT systems, reduce their cyber security risk, and develop their IT Strategies. We partner with household names such as Mind, Terrence Higgins, WaterAid and the YMCA; our mission is to share best practice and innovation in the Third Sector. To find out more and to book a complimentary consultation click here.