Into the Cloud: AED

  • 3,600 Staff
  • $433 million budget

When the Academy for Educational Development (AED) found communicating and collaborating through email difficult and unreliable—the large humanitarian organization had more than 3,600 staff members spread out across 80 countries—it turned to the Cloud for a solution that was both easier to use and cheaper to maintain.

First, it implemented a substantial technology strategy plan to determine the state of its technology, including its formal IT governance, programmatic IT, global collaboration system and Enterprise Resource Planning. That led to a closer look at the inefficiencies of the previous email solution, a patchwork of more than 40 different locally-installed email systems across all the different offices. The findings showed poor connectivity, low functionality and access issues, especially for field staff.

To address the email woes, the organization looked at three different solutions: scaling up existing premises-based systems, implementing Microsofts BPOS, or moving to the Cloud with Google Apps. Ultimately, AED chose Google Apps. Starting with the home office in Washington, DC, it implemented the change across the org over the next five months. Instead of moving the entire system to the Cloud, however, AED maintained account management on site, and synced those local systems to the Cloud systems.

After the switch, the organization saw a boom in collaboration . . . the standardization allowed people to set up their own communities of practice, and to collaborate with each other on a user level rather than at the prodding of the organization.

After the switch, the organization saw a boom in collaboration, which had previously been hindered by the multitude of different systems. Moving to Google Apps also helped improve project management by standardizing file sharing, email and calendaring into one global solution. The standardization allowed people to set up their own communities of practice, and to collaborate with each other on a user level rather than at the prodding of the organization.

In addition to improved collaboration, Google Apps saved AED a substantial amount of moneymore than $100,000 per year. In total, the organization was able to replace seven or eight additional software systems, including spam filters and virus protection, and saw an almost immediate Return On Investment. The migration paid for itself in just six months.

Moving away from the old email systems also freed up AED staff time, allowing the organization to reallocate at least four FTE of IT staff just in their Washington DC office.

AED had always been somewhat adventurous about technology decisions. IT staff leaned toward the conservative, while program staff often sought more cutting-edge, innovative solutions. Often, these two groups would find solutions separately, enabling the organization to find the bestand sometimes most unexpectedsolutions to its technology needs.

The switch to Google Apps changed the way [we] thought about IT as a department, said Scott Mills, the former CIO. There are ways that you can standardize and still get the benefit of innovation. It supports innovative thinking and scale across the organization without fighting with each other or the IT department.

Last summer, AED was acquired by FHI 360. Following the merger, staff continue to use Google Apps. Though FHI 360 had an Microsoft Exchange server, it is looking to standardize on a Cloud solution.

Editor’s note: This case study is part of an NTEN research series on Nonprofit Infrastructure in the Cloud, which was conducted in May, 2012, and prepared by Idealware. You canread the overview article for this study, and find the other case studies in this seriesin our case-study section.

Chris Bernard