Into the Cloud: Health Leads

  • 55 Staff
  • 7.3M Budget

Health Leads is a national nonprofit organization that trains and mobilizes college student volunteers to connect patients with the basic resources they need to be healthy such as food, exercise programs and heating assistance. The organizations 55 staff members are distributed throughout six cities nationwide, and supported by three full-time IT staff and a handful of external consultants.

Several years back, the organization made a very conscious decision to move to the Cloud, said Evan Alter, Cloud Systems Administrator. We wanted to concentrate on managing services, user requirements and business relationships rather than managing in-house servers and all the resources that entails.

Health Leads has made huge headway toward that goal, and currently uses Cloud-based email and messaging services, file sharing, constituent relationship management system, office phones and expense reporting systems. Theres very, very little thats not in the Cloud all we have in the office are laptops, printers, and phone handsets, Evan said, listing the few exceptions. The organization has worked hard to find Cloud solutions for every piece of its technology infrastructure, essentially going all in.

The top priority of the organizations Systems & Technology team is to be a true partner with business units, helping regional and national staff achieve their top goals. Yet the Health Leads IT department is small, and to achieve this vision, it needed a team that could understand how other departments operate. The IT staff is primarily involved in partnering with business units to design systems, rolling out the tools, training staff and coordinating with vendors for support.

One of the benefits of outsourcing its technology infrastructure is that if something goes down, there is a vendor maintaining the technology 24/7, Evan said. Because the Cloud vendors manage security patches, upgrade hardware and oversee the systems, IT staff time is freed up for other things.

We are undergoing a period of preparing for rapid future growth, and Cloud solutions make it much easier to scale up, Evan said. You can just say, we need X more licenses or we need to move to the professional version instead of having to research, buy, and configure a different infrastructure.

Cloud solutions are also helping Health Leads expand its operations. We are undergoing a period of preparing for rapid future growth, and Cloud solutions make it much easier to scale up, Evan said. You can just say, we need X more licenses or we need to move to the professional version instead of having to research, buy, and configure a different infrastructure.

In addition, most Cloud solutions are easily accessible on a variety of platforms and devices, which is useful when Health Leads staff is located in 21 different hospitals and clinics.

One example of a new Cloud tool is Health Leads expense reporting solution. The organization formerly used an Excel spreadsheet that had to be printed and stapled with receipts, but recently switched to an online tool that allows people to upload receipts with their smartphones. This is a really smart piece of software, and once its deployed well, people dont really think about the software at allits just the way they do their work, Evan said. Software becomes transparent; you dont care about whats going on underneath.

There have been no significant security issues to date with the Cloud systems at Health Leads. The organization does have a lawyer review each Cloud contract, ensuring that the vendor warrants robust security and provides appropriate guarantees on data storage and transactions. You have to choose the right service and make sure youve covered your bases, Evan said.

Reliance on the Cloud also requires Health Leads to find vendors who can guarantee service availability. If our email goes down or we have a bug in an application, we depend on the vendor to fix it for us, Evan said. Health Leads builds in agreements on service levels in its contracts, and regularly downloads copies of its data in case of emergency. But the focus is to select proven vendors who provide rock-solid service and a staff team who can manage them well.

A Cloud-focused environment ultimately helps Health Leads devote more time to its mission. We spend more time understanding what the business wants, working to integrate systems into the organization, and concentrating on helping people doing their job, and less time getting calls at 3 a.m. when something goes down, Evan said. This can be particularly useful for smaller organizations with limited technical expertise, who may not be able to build an infrastructure by themselves. After all, he points out, If we can spend less time managing servers and more time helping our clients, all the better.

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 can read the overview article for this study, and find the other case studies in this series in our case-study section.

Chris Bernard