Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ChMS - And the finalists are...

If you're still with me, I've shared my notes on what I called my "Level 2 Analysis" of 16 church management solutions that are not right for us. I started with a list from capterra.com of 147 software companies, and narrowed it down to 44 (later 46) that I took the time to do a cursory glance of their websites to get an idea of whether or not they could meet our needs. From those 46 I selected 22 for a larger analysis. To catch you up to speed we've had:

Joel's Quick Summaries of 44 Church Management Software Solutions

and then I explained a bit of what we are looking for:

A quick summary of our needs

Next I posted sixteen reviews of companies that weren't right for our particular needs:

Church Growth Software
EzRA Church Management
Connect Our People
E-Church Essentials
Five Talent Church
Kingdom Tools
Member Systems
Membership Edge
People Driven Software
Church Office Online
Member Connect

If you want to see everything as one long page, click here.

So, without further adieu, here are the six solutions that I have chosen for the complete analysis:

Ascribe Data Systems - Ascribe
Church Community Builder "CCB"
Fellowship One

Some of these are obvious, some not so obvious, and some are probably a surprise. Each of them presents different strengths and weaknesses. The one common thread is that each of these is a SAAS, or "Software as a Service" solution. I intentionally did not set out with this as a goal. I have a very nice server room, and an excellent IT staff who is very competent to maintain servers. At our size, the purchase and maintenance of a server is generally less money than an annual SAAS fee. I focused solely on what the software could do for us and the companies behind that software. The end result was six SAAS solutions.

Not all of these companies are huge. They range from a customer base of about 20 to a customer base of over 1000. From very small to over 50 employees. All of them started after 2000, which makes sense as they are all selling web solutions and the tools to build these products didn't exist in the 90's. In the case of the smaller companies, the product is compelling enough to be worth working with them to insure the long term security and stability of our data.

I'm very relieved to be through stage 2 and on to stage 3. This is where the real work begins (although the last stage was rather exhausting!). I will likely post the review for each of them one at a time as I do them. Let the fun begin!



Curtis Simmons said...

Joel -

We're thankful for being selected to your short list. We welcome your thorough evaluation of our product and services. Since all of your finalists use the SaaS model I encourage you to check out a recent blog post on that topic --> http://tinyurl.com/5wmptp

While you're there have a look around our community site at Experience.FellowshipOne.com

Having a strong community site is a key component for web-based companies. I'm sure that our Sales Executive that you'll be working with will provide you a look inside the areas currently limited to our customers.

Best wishes on your evaluation.

God bless,

Curtis Simmons
SVP, Operations
Fellowship Technologies

Anonymous said...

In regards to the SAAS versus the cost at a server site. How much does it cost for the server and to maintain it yearly? Just curious if you could put a dollar figure on it. The idea of SAAS is to bring cost down because each organization pays a little fee that is shared. Thanks for any information you can provide on this.

renewingmind said...

The cost of maintaining a server varies based on what you already have in place. If you have nothing, then the costs are significant. You need to buy hardware & software, you need a place to put it, you need a very solid UPS, you need 24/7 climate control, you need solid backups, you need staff to maintain them & the list goes on.

In our case, we have a server room, with redundant 24/7 climate control, we have racks, we have servers, we have several large UPS', we have a solid backup solution and we have an IT staff. To add another server to the mix is actually fairly trivial for us (and really, since we are already running a database server, we are simply replacing an old one). Thus those advantages of SAAS are really not advantages, _to me_ but I am fully aware that for a church that doesn't have these things in place SAAS significantly decreases their costs.

I'd love to give you a number but I really can't. For us, to add another server means a few hours per month from my IT staff that I am already paying, the electricity to run that server and the space in my rack. In "real dollars" it would be a small amount for electricity (both for the server and the additional load on the AC) and nothing else. For your church you have to look at how many of the various factors you have in place and what you would need to add in order to add the server.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the information. I do see some flaws in this thought process in reference to SaaS versus adding another server. As mentioned you said a few hours per month for an IT person that you are already are paying. The SaaS model was developed to help save money which would mean that if you went with SaaS you would not shoulder the burden of the employees and their benefits saving anywhere from 30K on up depending on the salary and benefits.

In addition, to this there was no mention of a second off site location which would have to be paid for. What happens if there is a flood or the building burns down? Is the current organization ready for that because it does happen every day. Do they have the backups sent a 1000 miles or more away, in case the whole town or even state is under water or another catastrophe happens? There surely is a cost here as well that you would be saving.

While I do agree with some of the comments about where an organization is at with their technology and how much it would cost based on their technology maturity (no server room versus having a server room), SaaS is made to share the cost across several organizations. If the cost for one organization is more then what the TRUE cost would be for the organization to house their own servers including all expenses, then the company doing the SaaS is asking too much for their system and then you look else where.

For churches, you can get one of these hosted solutions for under 1K which may not have every little thing someone is asking for but the organization is not paying for an entire IT staff, or housing a second off site location, training for the IT staff, certification, hardware, software, etc. Most churches can not afford to have their backups sent to some place far away. The most they could do is to have some local site house the data backups which would not help in the cases that I mentioned above let alone the organization would be down for several days if not weeks because they would have to redo the server room and upload the data if it went under water.

In looking at the criteria (9 items) that was specified 5 of them were directly related to the company and had really nothing to do with the technology that drives the hosted solution. Only 4 of them had something to do with the features or the software technology. While knowing a little bit about the company's background is good, I do not believe that those questions would entirely make my mind up to go one way or the other.

Again thank you for taking the time to point out what cost you may incur at your organization but I believe there may be a disconnect here in regards to why the SaaS concept came about and the advantages of this versus housing the servers at the location which is costly and dangerous if a nature hits.

renewingmind said...

I already pay my IT personnel and they are fulltime, so there is no salary cost savings to me by going with SAAS. I have no interest in "certifications" as all they certify is that you have passed a test. My guys have proven to be beyond competent, and I don't need a certification to know that they are experts at what they do.

The offsite backup is a valid point, and an expense that I failed to mention. Thanks for pointing that out. There are many places that can be utilized for offsite backup of a database via the internet and a vpn, but there is an expense there.

Your comment about SAAS verses a server room does not work, because we do far more than just a church database. Our file server contains 4TB of information, and access to that information is required at speeds that make SAAS for something like that completely impossible. Nobody wants to have to pull a 100GB video project off the internet no matter how fast your connection is.

Onto the solutions. I need to know the strength of the company I am going to be working with before I can focus on the specifics of the solution. Each of the companies that I selected I believe has the basics down, and appeared to be able to handle some of the more specific needs that we have.

Now that I'm onto my third level of analysis I am taking the time to look at each product in great detail. I have three pages of questions now, not just nine questions...


renewingmind said...

I am leaving a followup comment on here about offsite backup, because I think it's hugely important. We use Amazon S3 to backup our database. Our first month's bill was $.03. Currently our bill is about $30 per month, and this is primarily because we haven't had time to go back and delete our old backups. We have nightly backups going back to 12/31/2008 and that's a bit of overkill...

Based on this I say the cost of offsite backups is negligible. The odd thing is that in many ways the other costs are less than I expected too. We started using VMWare ESXi (free) to virtualize our servers, and as such we have been removing hardware from the rack and putting virtual machines on the hardware that we bought to run Arena; specifically, the testing and development server also has several other VM's running now, saving us money over running the old boxes. So if anything, going with the new server has saved us money over what we would likely have done with a saas solution. Weird huh?


Jonathan Puddle said...

Hey Joel, just wanted to say a huge thanks for your posts in this series. I've finally posted about our process (we're implementing now), and have given you a shout-out.

Blessings on you!


renewingmind said...


You did an excellent job of putting your process together! It's wonderful to see someone else take the time to find the perfect solution for their individual needs. I hope you find that CCB fits your needs perfectly. Congratulations on coming to the end of a solid and well thought out process!


Johnny M said...

I would just like to thank you both for sharing your process. I can say that I have just been pulled into this process and I do not believe the same effort in finding a ChMS solution has been exercised. This has helped me out a bunch even though it has been years since your postings.