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The Next Leapfrog for Development: Leveraging Cloud Computing

NetHope has since created an initiative to help NGOs adopt cloud technologies and better serve their beneficiaries.

May 25, 2012

Two years ago at the NetHope Global Member Summit, NetHope co-founder Edward G. Happ pushed our member organizations to collaborate more to run more efficient operations. He said it is not NGOs’ core competency to run data centers or computer server-farms. In order to maximize their impact in Emergency Response, Humanitarian Development and Conservation, international NGOs would be better served by banding together to off-load IT operations tasks to solution providers who see hosting and cloud services as their core missions. This would allow the IT department to focus on more mission-moving technologies.

NetHope has since created an initiative to help NGOs adopt cloud technologies and better serve their beneficiaries. The idea is to increase uptake of successful cloud solutions among the NetHope membership as well as expand cloud service awareness and education to members and organizations, institutions and agencies beyond NetHope. Cloud-based technologies can be a good fit to solve challenges across all verticals — whether its mobile assessment of orphans and vulnerable children to increase their wellbeing or providing financial management training to increase numbers of small hold farmers without a commensurate increase in cost; many solutions can be reapplied to tackle problems in different sectors with minimal tweaking.

The NetHope Humanitarian Cloud Services Portal allows vendors to add product information and users — organizations, government institutions, local commercial entities, beneficiaries — to search the catalog that organizes the cloud-based services along categories important to development and conservation work.  Users collaborate around the products by providing ratings, leaving comments, posting case studies and participating in related discussions.

Initial planning and prototyping of the portal was completed this month, with work now being directed from early use by the initial set of vendors, NetHope members and like-minded organizations.

We have kept our efforts member-centric from the start, sharing protoypes with the member organizations for feedback on functionality and design. Throughout the process, NetHope has gathered a wealth of knowledge on NGO service needs as well as how peer collaboration plays a part in that offering.

An increasing number of NGOs, non-profits, organizations and government institutions are approaching cloud computing from a variety of perspectives: some just wants to know more, others already see great potential to outsource home-office back-end systems while others see the “Cloud + Mobile” as a panacea to reach their field work force and end-beneficiaries. This has prompted NetHope to take a multi-faceted approach in helping members navigate the transition to cloud computing at their own pace addressing their individual priorities.

There’s a new flavor of “alphabet soup” out there:  IaaS, PaaS, Saas, SOA, etc. So what are virtualization, private, public and hybrid clouds? In order to benefit from any technological development, new insights must be gained. NetHope is engaging with industry experts, academia, our partners and key vendors to improve the awareness of the potential positive impact this technology can deliver.

IT Strategic planning
Equipped with new and valuable knowledge, NetHope also wants members to be able to assess internally and within their current operational framework how cloud computing may have the greatest impact. What business function should be addressed first, and which should be left alone? How does adoption to cloud computing best support business needs and strategic organizational direction?  Sometimes “self-help” literature may be what it takes to assess one’s readiness and develop a firm strategy, and sometimes external assistance is required.  NetHope helps our members finding the right resources for this task.

The NetHope Humanitarian Cloud Services Portal (CSP)
We are all familiar with the proliferation of ‘Apps’ for our smartphones; most connected to some cloud based ‘back-end’.  Consumer applications are only part of this story: corporate applications are now available in all shapes and forms as cloud services and are offered at accelerated rates. These services tackle a variety of tasks, from addressing core data center challenges, business functionality — such as sales, accounting, CRM, HR, payroll, and logistics — to office desktop services. AppStores and Application Marketplaces are springing up to help consumers, business people and IT personnel navigate the plethora of solutions. The NetHope Humanitarian Cloud Services Portal will use many traditional marketplace concepts, but add the context of the realities of our members’ work environment. Whether a member is looking for a mobile crowdsourcing application well suited for emergency response, or volunteer management solution that scales and contracts with the organization’s  annual fundraising campaigns, the solutions can be found on the CSP. Once the solution is found, opportunities to engage with industry peers have the potential to impact greater learning for the entire industry.

Share learning from implementations
All the work of learning about, strategizing to optimize impact and finding the right solutions would be of no good unless it is applied to solve real needs. The implementation of cloud computing and services offer the best lessons and, in true NetHope tradition, NetHope facilitates the sharing of best practices and lessons learned though our education program and as case studies posted to the NetHope Humanitarian Cloud Services Portal.

Through a virtuous cycle of learning, strategizing, collaborating, implementing and sharing, NetHope can accelerate the adoption of cloud computing and as a result lower infrastructure costs, stretch donor dollars and greatly increase the reach to more end-beneficiaries.

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