Cloud computing is about moving computer infrastructure out of your office and onto the web.
You still have access to everything you need but the hardware and software are physcially somewhere else and someone else looks after it all. Your access is via the internet – web-based versions of software that you are familiar with.
You usually pay a subscription to access these services. This means ongoing costs but also means that costs are predictable and better incorporated into the budget.
The idea is that all the 'boring computer stuff' is taken out of your hands and you get to concentrate on the 'interesting stuff' (content/data) relevant to your work.
Cloud computing also means that you can access your content from anywhere. This is a significant point of difference.
Compare the web-based Gmail or Hotmail and Microsoft Outlook, or Google Docs and Microsoft Word. This can be extended to everything you do on a computer. There are cloud versions of software for:
- accounting and billing
- file storage
- database management
- membership administration
- templates, etc.
Over time, it's likely that you'll do more of these things 'in the cloud'.
Software installations, updates, virus protection, backups will all happen without any need for you to do anything. USB (thumb or flash) drives will become rare. CDs, DVDs, backups disks and servers will disappear from your office.
You would need a very basic computer to access the web but not much else. In the immediate future, you will have a mix of conventional hardware/software and access to some software applications in cloud versions.
Full cloud implementation could mean the end of IT support providers. They may be replaced by consultants who recommend various cloud-based solutions that match the requirements of the organisation.
Done right, cloud computing can help CLCs to concentrate on their core business rather than running computer systems. It can allow a shift in focus to the strategic uses of ICT (e.g. the communications stategy) and sharing our content more effectively with our networks and other organisations.
Any privacy concerns can be reduced by having clear policies. Data held elsewhere should be imported back in-house for regular backup.
There is also a risk that, without careful management, any current ICT problems in the organisation will merely be shifted to a new environment.
Try engaging with the cloud on a individual level to get a feel for potential benefits for your organisation's work. Start by trying one or more of the following applications or functions:
- Google Docs – for word processing, spreadsheets or presentations
- Google Calendar – share your calendar with a colleague
- web email such as Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail or Gmail
- file storage using Dropbox (this may help you to understand the cloud)
- text editing using Elements – a text editor that saves its files in Dropbox
- ICloud – allows access to the same content across different Apple devices.