Managing day-to-day documents and communications is difficult in any profession today. It is especially critical in an environment where data retention policies either do not exist, are not enforced, or change each year. This is exactly the type of environment you will find in nearly every homeowner association (HOA).
For the majority of HOA boards, there are several factors to consider when assessing data storage systems and environments: cost, user-friendly features, simple backup and recovery functions, and the ease of changing user credentials every year. There are two primary types of storage solutions: Onsite Storage and Cloud Storage.
Onsite Storage: Faster and more affordable up front
Historically, associations and small businesses have preferred onsite storage because it requires a minimal initial investment and can be implemented quickly. In an onsite storage environment, each board member manages their records and communications on a laptop or desktop, or a local IT resource controls the storage. An onsite solution can be cost effective up front because data storage costs are manageable and it requires less technical expertise; however, it can also be risky and more costly in the long run because finding a local IT expert who is truly versed in data and access security can be difficult and expensive. There are also other hidden costs and hassles associated with an onsite solution. For example, you will need to manage multiple back-ups to stem the risk of data loss. And as board members change, you will have to set up new users, terminate accessibility for previous board members, and collect and de-dupe information and documentation.
Cloud Storage: Simplicity and collaboration without hidden costs
Cloud storage solutions have become commonplace across industries and offer more than just simple backup storage with a host of collaborative features. After a quick onsite installation, associations could backup locally and then upload to an off-site shared storage location. Because of the popularity of off-site storage solutions and the sheer volume of providers, the costs are very competitive and users have a large selection of providers to choose from geographically. One customer may want a vendor whose hardware is nearby (in case they want to stop by and quickly import or export large amounts of data), while another customer may choose a storage provider located in another region to ensure that a local natural disaster won’t cause any disruption in uptime.
More advanced cloud storage providers, like Google, also offer attractive solutions for organizations trying to avoid the expensive software licensing fees associated with running and supporting a local environment. The ability to share ideas in real time, update spreadsheets and documents as a team, and use shared mail stores are all added benefits of the cloud. Using a cloud storage solution negates the need for local resources and provides a group storage space where work product and historical documents can be stored and backed up automatically. And users only need a computer or mobile device and an internet connection to access and collaborate. Cloud storage solutions usually have a monthly cost, and in some cases, associations are hesitant to build these costs into their operating budget.
The decision between onsite and cloud storage should ultimately depend on the HOA’s comfort level, availability of local IT resources, and the total cost and effort required. Regardless of its choice, the board should define data retention policies and best practices in addition to any backup solution deployed. Technology has drastically increased the conveniences in our lives, but there is always a need for a sound, well-planned workflow behind any technical solution.