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Through its Cloud for Good program, Microsoft Philanthropies aims to create equitable access to technology across society. As part of this initiative, Microsoft provides nonprofits with donated cloud services to help transform the way they achieve impact.

In this webinar, Microsoft Community Affairs Manager Lisa Everett gave us an overview of the Cloud for Good program and its goals. We then heard from Lynn Petrushchak and Larry Camejo of Dixie Bloor Neighbourhood Centre about how the Cloud for Good program helped transform their organization's operations. After that, Christina DiAdamo spoke about Office 365, Ahmed Adel provided an overview of Azure, and Ronald Chang gave insight into Dynamics 365. 

The Q&A period begins at around the 1 hour 14 minute mark. Panelists fielded insightful questions about software functionality, cloud-based collaboration, and data privacy. 

We're grateful to our participants and panelists for making this a meaningful learning session!

How Cloud for Good Helped Transform the Dixie Bloor Neighbourhood Centre

The Dixie Bloor Neighbourhood Centre (DBNC) is a community space in Mississauga, Ontario. DBNC is a place for everyone, with a comprehensive set of programs aimed at making life better for newcomers, youth, families, and people living in poverty. The organization has grown exponentially over its 30 year history both in terms of scope and team size. There are now over 150 staff, 175 volunteers, and 18 locations associated with DBNC. 

For most of the organization’s history, DBNC’s IT infrastructure was stuck in the past. The email system was outdated and unreliable, operations were siloed and inefficient, and no system was in place for collaboration or information sharing. All of this diminished the organization’s ability to support clients across locations and programs. And the fact that there was no remote backup or disaster recovery system was a significant risk to the organization’s data.

It was clear to Lynn and Larry that their IT infrastructure had become a total liability. With Microsoft's help, DBNC was able to migrate to an integrated suite of Microsoft cloud-based services, including the Exchange email platform, Sharepoint intranet, Skype for Business, Dynamics CRM, Office 365 Groups and Teams, and OneDrive for Business. The impact has been transformative. 

These cloud-based solutions have enabled collaboration, productivity, and efficiency across every aspect of DBNC’s operations. Dynamics CRM has made case management and client referrals seamless and coordinated. Office 365 facilitates instant and robust team communication and information sharing. And OneDrive for business provides a secure, encrypted remote backup system. 

"Office 365 cloud has really changed our whole way of operating. IT has become a deep aspect of our strategy now and our path forward," says Larry. "The future is bright. We have the technology infrastructure to grow well into the next decade."

What cloud-based software is available through Microsoft Cloud for Good?

The Cloud for Good program makes an suite of integrated Microsoft cloud-based services available to eligible nonprofits. Those services include:

  • Office 365 - Office 365 takes the Microsoft applications you’re familiar with, like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, and moves them to the cloud. So rather than storing your files to your hard drive or to your organization’s private server, Office 365 automatically saves and backs up your files to Microsoft’s remote server network. Not only is this more secure, having your files live online also enables genuine real-time collaboration. You know the pain of emailing a Word document back and forth for incremental edits -- with online file sharing, the team all works off the same document, shaping it with their individual edits and updates in real time.

    But collaboration goes deeper than just co-authoring individual documents. Office 365 allows you to create what it calls “sites” -- customizable intranet workspaces where your team can store files, share information, and chat with one another. And with services such as Teams, Skype for Business, and Yammer directly integrated into Office 365, you can ensure that communications are instant and robust throughout your entire organization. 

  • Azure - Azure is a cloud computing platform that enables you to build, test, and roll out your own software solutions. Use Azure to develop apps, design websites, and manage sensitive data, all on a global network with secure servers around the world. Azure supports multiple programming languages and open source development. If your organization has access to solid in-house IT expertise, Azure can be a powerful tool for innovation.
  • Dynamics 365 - Dynamics 365 is a suite of cloud-based enterprise apps that fuel your decision-making processes with targeted, relevant data. Dynamics connects the various components of your organization -- from operations and marketing to financials and projects service operations -- and derives data for making the best decisions possible.

    Within Dynamics 365, Dynamics CRM is a constituent relationship management system that allows you to track, manage, and analyze vital data from across your networks. As a CRM, Dynamics integrates fully and seamlessly into the Windows ecosystem, making it easy to draw and incorporate data-driven insight into every aspect of your digital workspace.

[NOTE: Interested in Dynamics 365 on-premises (in other words, the non-cloud version)? Eligible organizations can receive donated Dynamics 365 licenses through TechSoup Canada's technology donations program.]

Can I use Office 365 to collaborate with people outside of my organization?

The ability to share and co-author documents across your team is one of Office 365’s most powerful features. But what if you need to collaborate with people who don’t work within your organization, such as clients, members, or contractors? 

Fortunately, Office 365 makes it easy to collaborate with external users. There are three ways to do this, and the one you’ll use depends on your needs and what you’re sharing. (To refresh your memory, an Office 365 “site” is a collaborative intranet space where you can host and share documents, chat with other users, etc.)

  1. You can share an entire site by inviting external users to sign into it using a Microsoft account (free to create; plus, if you use services such as Skype, Outlook, or Xbox Live, you already have one) or a "work or school account" (if the external user already has an Office 365 account through their work or school).
  2. You can share an individual document with restricted access by authorizing specific people to log in using a Microsoft account or a "work or school account."
  3. If your document isn’t confidential, you can create guest links that will allow external users to access it anonymously.

Let’s walk through each method.

Sharing an entire site

You can grant access to your site to anyone with any email address; they’ll just have to create/ use a Microsoft account to log in. To do this,

  1. Sign into your site. 
  2. Click SharePoint.
  3. Navigate to the site you wish to share, then click Share in the top right corner.
  4. Type the names and email addresses of the people you wish to share the site with and click Share. Include an invitation message if you’d like. The user will receive an email notification by default.

Sharing an individual document within a protected site

  1. Navigate to the document you wish to share and click the ellipses (...) next to the document name.
  2. Click Invite people if it's not already selected, and then type the email addresses of people you’re inviting to share the document.
  3. In the drop-down list, select the permission level you’d like to grant these users: Can edit or Can view.
  4. Click Show options and check Require sign-in.
  5. Include an optional invitation message, and then click Share.

Sharing anonymous guest links

Note that this method should only be used when sharing documents that don’t contain confidential or sensitive information, as guest links can be shared by anyone with the link without you knowing. 

  1. Navigate to the document you wish to share and click the ellipses (...) next to the document name.
  2. In the Share dialog box, click Get a link.
  3. Select the type of permission you want to grant: Restricted link, View link, or Edit link. A guest link URL is then created.
  4. Select the guest link URL and copy it. You can now send it to whomever you wish.

If I use Microsoft cloud-based services, will I be in compliance with Canadian privacy and data security laws? 

As a Canadian nonprofit, you are required to comply with a suite of federal and provincial privacy laws that vary based on your location, the nature of your work, and the type of data you are storing and sharing through the cloud. Compliance with the various laws and regulations can be complex and confusing -- and because your organization is ultimately liable, we recommend seeking legal counsel before migrating to the cloud. 

One of the most important questions to ask when considering a cloud service is: where will my data live? Data residency is a vital aspect of compliance with privacy laws -- for example, the CRA requires certain records to be kept in Canada, and British Columbia and Nova Scotia have laws against public bodies storing data outside of Canada. Data residency also determines the level of access that the US government has to your data. 

Given the high stakes, it’s reassuring to know that last year, Microsoft opened two data centres in Canada, one in Toronto and the other in Quebec City. Microsoft also asserts that it is the “global leader in compliance with the broadest portfolio of certifications in the industry. Azure, Office 365, and Dynamics CRM Online have received ISO 27001 certification and are audited under the SSAE 16/ISAE 3402 SOC 1 and SOC 2 standards.”

Still, it’s important to understand that neither Microsoft’s commitment to compliance nor its Canadian data centres guarantees that all of your data will automatically and always reside in Canada. Microsoft may migrate your data to a US centre if there is an issue with the data centre. If this happens, the company will give you one month advance warning, during which time you can backup and pull your data if necessary. 

Both government regulations and Microsoft’s policies are constantly evolving, so it’s a good idea to stay informed, ask questions, and seek counsel.