Updated: Feb 26, 2019
Not long after getting everything IT stabilized at Collins Lake Ranch I began thinking about what information technology they would need next, how soon they would need it and how best to meet those needs in a timely, affordable manner. It didn't take long to come to the conclusion that they needed a whole lot more than what they had. Their operation was small for the moment–essentially at start-up level–but they were destined to increase operations requirements four fold at the very least, based on what the executive director had told me about longterm plans the day we met for the first time almost a year earlier.
Their IT needs were going to grow quickly. They were going to need workstations, file servers, security had to be beefed up on all fronts to ensure HIPAA compliance. Then there were data and systems backups to do and manage–ideally stored offsite. That led to thoughts about fail-over redundancy and replication, not to mention disaster recovery. All of the IT stuff major corporations I had worked for in the past had spent millions of dollars implementing thanks to entire IT departments staffed with highly trained experts working together to pull it all off without disrupting daily business operations. I had observed such things happening in the corporate world and they had leveraged expensive technologies like CISO networking appliances and IBM AIX servers. The Ranch couldn't afford anything like that.
I had to come up with something affordable. Budgets were tight. I couldn't expect carte blanch as far as money was concerned. I did have complete freedom in deciding best approach to take, but that just meant success (or failure) rested entirely upon my decisions on the matter. I began to sweat more frequently for no apparent reason and was sleeping less wondering what kind of mess I had gotten myself into. Red Sky At Morning . . .
About that time, I was told the local health clinic here had latched onto a nice fat chunk of Obama-era stimulus money to upgrade its information technology to 21st century level and was hiring people with IT experience. I went for an interview and found out they had chosen to go with wired network fabric connecting Microsoft servers and Microsoft PCs running Microsoft software. OMG, not something I even wanted to remotely consider, even if it was to run an evaluation project. I knew too much about the hell Microsoft brought to IT to fall victim to that and had no inclination at all to take that path of guaranteed time-wasting frustration and systemic failure. Besides, that approach was too expensive too. If anything, I would go with LINUX servers and keep the network at the Ranch as wireless as possible.
During work on the Creativity Canyon super school proposal in late 2015, I had started tinkering with Google apps thanks to a bit of prodding from a fellow participant who worked at Apple. It seemed a bit crazy at first: working on everything in the cloud, realtime updates to documents and spreadsheets and everything else as changes were typed into them by anyone with permission to do so. I had joined another team to help promote their super school proposal and the dynamic on a technical level was lively. We started using Slack as well as Google apps and that was pretty much all we needed for collaboration, technically speaking. I was impressed. The value of these cloud-based tools began to sink in.
Experience gained using Google apps mounted as the weeks passed and a basic framework for using them at Collins Lake Ranch formed in the back of my mind. Of great interest was end-to-end encryption of all communications within the Google apps environment. Achieving HIPAA compliance didn't seem so unattainable anymore. Experimentation using Google apps to handle the bulk of IT ops at Collins Lake Ranch soon proved they were a good solution. Schools were starting to leverage them big time. I stopped sweating so much about the future of IT at the Ranch.
In early fall 2016, Google announced G Suite. It was as if they had been reading my mind all summer long as I had experimented with Google apps. G Suite appeared to cover all bases for IT operations at the Ranch in a fully integrated fashion and the monthly subscription fee wasn't too expensive per user–definitely more affordable than anything we could manage to implement on our own. So I started looking into starting a G Suite subscription of my own to find out more and stumbled across a remarkable offer from Google for qualifying nonprofit organizations to use it free of charge. I jumped up from my desk and hopped around the studio laughing, clapping and cheering with joy and relief. Google had just lifted a huge weight from my mind in one fell swoop with their announcement. G Suite For Nonprofits would solve all future IT needs for the Ranch and then some. An application to use G Suite For Nonprofits was submitted to Google, was accepted and we were on our way!
I could immediately see streamlining all paper-based operations and information collection processes at the Ranch leveraging its forms and automated data analysis features as well as bolster grant proposals with real data supporting arguments for grant funding worthiness. I could also see G Suite taking the Ranch into a totally paper-free age of real-time information collection, storage, retrieval, analysis, and reporting to improve its operations hour-by-hour, if not minute-by-minute for years and decades to come.
The journey has begun. Files are steadily migrating from local hard drives to Google cloud storage. Document collaborations are happening and the collaborating writers are loving it. Data has already flowed in from forms via low-cost Chrome based workstations to spreadsheets equipped with custom-designed dashboards directors can reference for real-time feedback on Ranch operations. Cybersecurity at the Ranch is at an all-time maximum. Sensitive information is communicated and stored in encrypted form, end-to-end throughout the organization. HIPAA compliance has been achieved within the G Suite environment. Google provides data centers, data replication and backup services–including all of the IT personnel as well as physical site security infrastructure and personnel–freeing us from having to worry about any of that stuff one little bit. And it's all provided free of charge.
I have stopped sweating and am sleeping a lot better.