Into the Cloud: NPOKI

  • 14 Staff
  • $1.4 million budget

Started in 2005, the NonProfit Organizations Knowledge Initiative, or NPOKI, is a collaboration among large global health organizations to provide performance measurement standards, information management tools and services to health-related Non-Government Organizations. Staff is almost entirely distributed, working out of their homes or on the road helping clients in every corner of the world.

Many of NPOKIs staff are on sabbatical from member organizations, where they are high-level technology staff, like Chief Information Officers and Chief Technology Officers. This might seem like an advantage when looking at ways that technology help the organization, but Surya Ganguly, Director of Consulting, said the organization doesnt think technology through, because we think these people can support themselves.

As a result, the organization rarely spends much money on technology, which makes it difficult to foster collaboration or plan around technology. Staff has found this to be a huge struggle, particularly when it comes to file sharing.

The organizations first foray into online file sharing was back in 2006, when it implemented Groovea solution intended to help organizations synchronize files on desktopsand a file server with a Cloud repository. This seemed like a promising solution for its difficult needs supporting both online and offline work. However, Microsoft purchased Groove and subsequently changed the support and infrastructure needed for the service. Soon after, the organization decided it simply wasnt practical to keep the solution.

Groove stopped being a standalone product, Surya said. Then you had to have much more expensive SharePoint licenses. We didnt even have a Windows server, and people didnt have any standard [computer] environment.

Adapting its hardware to stay with Groove just didnt make sense, so NPOKI looked to new solutions. For a time, it relied on storing files and sharing via email, a solution Surya called disastrous for document management. Then it moved to Google Docs, which seemed like a viable alternative to SharePoint, as it was free for nonprofits, allowed them to upload the Microsoft Office document they most frequently used, and offered great support.

It was an easy decision, and in many ways a good one, Surya said. Data is all backed up, and we know that we can get to it from anywhere, though it might take longer from some places.

When the organization first considered moving to the Cloud, the board wondered about security implications, but Surya said any fears were unfounded. Weve never had any security related issues in the seven years weve been in the Cloud, he said.

When the organization first considered moving to the Cloud, the board wondered about security implications, but Surya said any fears were unfounded. Weve never had any security related issues in the seven years weve been in the Cloud, he said.

There are other concerns and shortcomings, though, including online/offline issues. Many organizations based solely in the U.S. can depend on reliable and relatively fast internet connections, but thats not true throughout the world.

When a staff member is in Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, they need to be able to store documents on their laptop and then synch them up later, he said. We had a staff member in South Africa and he couldnt get documents.

Access to Google Docs files is certainly not bulletproof, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. The bandwidth requirements there are not what Google considers the minimum requirements. Google Docs often wont work there. Surya experienced similar issues when he was in China. Emails would show up, but attachments were stripped, he said.

Its also time consuming to have to log in to a web interface to upload or download documents, as opposed to automatically keeping a folder synchronized, he said.

For the future of document management for us, it needs to be integrated with what people are doing with folders on their desktop, he said. Even if youre tech savvy, as we are, its just too much work to go into an interface and figure out changes and all that.

Currently, NPOKI is experimenting with Dropbox and Microsoft 360 Live to see if theyre better able to meet its needs.

Were generating a lot of documents, but finding them and reusing them later is hard, he said. Once a year or so, Ill look at space issues and do a little bit of housekeeping, but right now our storage is about 25GB, and it wont really be an issue until we get to 100GB. The organization rarely deletes documents, and finds that the file structure can grow to a point where its difficult to find documents, as no one is really in charge of maintaining it.

However, moving from Grooves installed-and-hosted hybrid to Google Docs Cloud solution has saved staff a considerable amount of time overall. The previous system sometimes went down unexpectedly, and staff would have to reinstall the software. It also required a fairly involved process to set up new usersall told, Surya said he used to spend one to two hours each week on Groove administration.

Thats time hes now able to put to better use, working with NPOKIs clients.

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