This is not the place for an indepth discussion on the components of cloud computing. I’m not that much of a technology expert.
But I do think that social workers, and advocates for social justice, need to think about what the move towards less reliance on computer hardware (and even software) and more integration through ‘virtual’ networks means, for issues of access to information, consumer protection, and efforts to close the digital divide.
One of my favorite philanthropy blogs (and one of the very few to actually reference the work of front-line social workers) had a discussion about many of these issues last spring, which prompted my research into the term ‘cloud computing’ and my thinking about what this might mean for social workers in the field and for social work advocates.
Because this is beyond my area of strongest expertise, I’ve got links to share and a lot of questions to ask, and the hopes that some of you who are currently thinking about how you might use new technology to really do your work differently (and what transitioning to a more ‘cloud-based’ model might mean for your thinking about how you organize other systems within your organization, too, because I’m of course concerned that an ‘on-demand’ orientation to software might lead to an (increased) ‘on-demand’ orientation towards human resources) will share what these conversations are looking like and what information and/or connections would help you approach them.
1. Will transferring sensitive client data to the cloud increase security, because cloud systems may be more sophisticated than what we have internally and because the vendors have a strong incentive to protect data, or compromise it (and, therefore, the trust our clients have in us) by putting data into the Internet ‘netherworld’?
2. Is moving to the cloud going to help close the digital divide, because of the low costs of entry (compared with expensive hardware requirements) or expand it, because there are still many parts of the world (and, indeed, the U.S.) without the broadband access that’s essential to meaningfully interface with the cloud?
3. Will making it easier for organizations to share resources and communicate real content facilitate breaking down silos in social services, or will this just reveal the real barriers (more ideological and political than technical) to collaboration?
4. Will Executive Directors and CEOs of nonprofit organizations pursue cloud computing because of a belief in the value of socially-oriented technologies, or in the hopes of reducing capital outlays and outsourcing more previously-internal functions? This last one isn’t so important for the cloud computing discussion itself, but, again, for what it might reflect about the overall disposition of managers within social work organizations, a disposition which has significant implications for working conditions, labor rights, and worker empowerment within organizations.
So, coming down from the clouds, what do you think? Is your organization engaged in this shift today? Do you call it ‘cloud computing’? Do you think it will really change how you work? What about how you connect with others around advocacy? Any answers to my questions?