As a campaigning organisation, Amnesty is dependent on acquiring and retaining members, encouraging activism and facilitating campaigning activity, and its online presence and digital communications strategy is central to helping it achieve this. The charity gathers real-time news and information on human rights abuses via video footage, blogs and forum updates from its network of campaigners and supporters around the world. This enables Amnesty to respond immediately by communicating news and updates to its members and online communities in order to organise protests, petitions and forums designed to support its human rights campaigns.
Having the right hosting platform in place to support its digital communications strategy is therefore fundamental to the charity’s success.
Before partnering with Claranet, Amnesty worked with several web and hosting agencies, each responsible for a different part of its online properties. Kamesh Patel, head of IT at Amnesty, explained why this was problematic: “Several third parties used to look after our websites, and each of them had their own hosting providers who provided different levels of service. This led to everything being done in silos, which was difficult to manage. This situation also exposed the organisation to significant instability and risk. Should one of the third parties go under, or should a dispute arise, we would have immediately lost Amnesty’s website.”
Amnesty’s previously disparate and complex hosting environment didn’t allow user data to be integrated across the organisation’s various properties, which meant that the charity had poor visibility of its users’ profiles and their individual activity online. Patel commented: “We knew that with enhanced access to this vital information, we would be able to see if an online visitor was an activist, was supporting us financially, or had any other areas of interest. This would enable us to support them and ensure they had access to everything they needed, which in turn, would help us to encourage and facilitate campaigning activity.”
Laying the foundations
To drive its digital strategy, Amnesty’s IT team embarked on an ambitious three-year project to overhaul its hosting platform. This project would involve the consolidation and re-engineering of Amnesty’s hosting infrastructure, and aimed for full integration of all its online properties, as well as enhanced data analytics and much greater functionality for users. Other objectives included simplifying the management of the platform and eliminating other inefficiencies, and improving the reliability and flexibility of the online infrastructure.
After a competitive pitch, Amnesty chose Claranet’s managed application hosting solution to underpin its technology transformation. According to Patel, “Claranet offered the most comprehensive solution, with a Service Level Agreement that covered the whole service and guaranteed application availability.”
The first phase of the project, completed in 2010, involved the implementation of the managed application hosting platform, which supports the www.amnesty.org.uk website and the organisation’s central registration system. Since implementing Claranet’s flexible and resilient hosting platform, Amnesty has been able to add further functionality to its websites. For example, it is now able to offer a self-service function to users wanting to access its resource system. This allows users visiting the Amnesty website to become members by signing up online and setting up direct debits themselves.
“Before Claranet’s hosting platform was in place, any e-commerce - where our members request information packs, CDs and other materials, or set up direct debits - had to be fulfilled manually as our website and applications couldn’t support this capability,” said Patel. “Claranet has helped us to simplify our back-end processes and to automate fulfillment, so that our staff can get on with more important things like building additional functionality to support our next campaign.”
Moving to the cloud
For the second phase of its IT revamp, Amnesty is embracing social media tools and changing the content management system (CMS) on which its website is built. Adding social media functions further increased the fluctuating spikes in traffic to the site, and made responding to changing capacity requirements even more important, Patel said. This prompted the move to a new hosting platform from Claranet that combines Private and Public Cloud hosting.
By moving to Claranet’s hybrid cloud service, Amnesty now has in place the foundations to support its constantly changing requirements. “For example,” says Patel, “we recently ran a campaign highlighting Shell’s appalling human rights record in Nigeria and, from the donations that we secured from, were able to buy an ad in the Financial Times. At the last minute, however, the ad was pulled by the FT, infuriating campaigners. As a result, our blogosphere went completely crazy. Despite the huge spike in demand, our websites didn’t crash. Claranet’s virtualised platform meant that our server resources could be dynamically allocated to where they were needed.”
A dedicated cloud platform also enables Amnesty to avoid downtime. “From a business continuity and disaster recovery perspective, the virtual platform really delivers,” comments Patel. Amnesty no longer needs to downgrade servers when making a physical upgrade to its IT infrastructure; and should anything happen to one server, the intelligence in the platform allows resource to be reallocated automatically ensuring continued uptime. “We also now have peace of mind knowing that, no matter what, an unknown third party supplier can’t turn off the website – everything is securely managed in Claranet’s cloud environment, and we have a single entity that’s accountable for the entire service.”
The third and final phase of Amnesty’s digital strategy involves the launch of a revamped Amnesty International website in late 2011. This will mark the end of the three-year project in which, thanks to Claranet, the charity’s hosting infrastructure has been consolidated, simplified, and made more flexible and reliable. And through enhanced data analytics and online functionality, Amnesty has been able to better engage its members.
According to Patel, Claranet’s hybrid cloud infrastructure will continue to be the foundation that underpins Amnesty’s digital communications strategy. The realisation of this strategy will help Amnesty to continue to fulfill its mission.
Tags: Private Cloud, Public Cloud, Hybrid Cloud, Cloud Security, Service Providers, Software-as-a-Service