Nov 17 2016

Rural Renewable Energy Alliance Makes Do Without an IT Manager

The small nonprofit relies on the cloud to support its mission and let employees access critical applications anytime and anywhere.

The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance in Backus, Minn., doesn’t have an IT manager. The nonprofit relies on the cloud to support its mission, which is to provide “a clean, long-term solution to energy poverty” by delivering solar energy to low-income communities.

RREAL also has a for-profit arm that installs solar panels for government, commercial and residential customers. The business is wholly owned by the nonprofit, which allows the organization to provide solar energy to low-income families at no cost, Director Jason Edens says.

Many of the organization’s 12 employees often work remotely as they meet with prospective clients, attend conferences and install solar panels throughout the region. In fact, the ability to access applications anytime, anywhere allows Edens to recruit and retain talented employees. Two workers currently telecommute from larger cities in the state.

“A lot of people are interested in working for us, but they don’t want to have to move to our microscopic community,” he says.

With Microsoft Office 365, they use Skype for Business for communication and SharePoint Online to manage organization files and collaborate — even if they are halfway across the world.

For example, RREAL is now raising funds to build a solar electric microgrid in Liberia to improve healthcare and education. While visiting a hospital there last year, Edens uploaded the floorplan to his staff in Minnesota. Through SharePoint, the staff sent preliminary sketches, which Edens subsequently shared with hospital leaders. “Internet was spotty, but we were able to work remotely, engage with our team back home and exchange plans and drawings,” he says. “The ability to work from wherever we have a project is extremely valuable.”

For more on how nonprofit organizations are deploying cloud services, check out "Why More Nonprofits Are Taking IT to the Cloud."