Monday, September 15, 2008

ChMS - The directed demo

So, the directed demo is completed and has been submitted to each of our three finalists. It's been an amazing amount of work to try to put something together that thinks through the various ways we use the database, and provides clear instructions of what we want to do. Some of these are things we do now, some of them are things that we wish we could do.

If you're like me, you've found that many demos are frustrating because there is simply not good information in the demo sets of data. Often times the salesman will go to the same one or two records for everything, and if you try to run reports you don't know if it's because the report doesn't work or because there is no data. Other times, you never actually see the emails, text messages, or other output because nobody ever wants to click submit.

So I created a completely bogus set of data (warning: links to an excel file that will download). I added to what I've given you a number of staff so that I could refer to them and log in as them etc. I filled in the address and phone number with real addresses from our database, and the cellphone numbers with real cellphone numbers of our staff (I have removed all of the "real" information for obvious reasons).

I used TV families and such for the names because it made them easier to remember as I was discussing the various functions. Bonus points to anyone (or any vendor ) who can name all of the TV shows and movies referenced here...

All told it's about six pages of directions and questions. It should give you an idea of the type of questions we are asking, and hopefully if you are looking at this blog because you are looking for a Church Management Software solution, these questions might think through how you use your database and the type of situations you face.

Download the guided demo (rtf document).

I gave these documents to all three vendors and asked them to read over both the questions and the data I wanted imported before we do the demos next week. I want them to have everything in advance so that we don't waste time hunting for reports etc.

I'm excited about this. I now have my first impressions, my evaluation in the "grand tour" demo, and the answers to the 26 questions to work with. After this demo, which should be similar for all three vendors, I can hopefully evaluate which solution is the best one for HDC (after I call all of the references. A LOT of phone calls to make!).


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

ChMS - Status Update

Hey all,

I haven't forgotten about this search, I've just hit a huge obstacle: My days only have 24 hours each. If I could resolve that problem, this search would be finished by now...

In addition to trying to land this plane, I have the annual church budget (I'm also the CFO) to put together, and the phone system to replace. Thankfully my team is doing most of the load for the phone system, but it still requires thought and attention.

Back to the database thing:

First, thanks to Tony Dye, Andrew Mitry and Jeffrey Thompson for the work they have put in over the years in this area. I used Tony's articles on Innovative Church IT, and his CMS Wishlist in this process. Mark detailed his process in selecting their database (Fellowship One) at St. Mark's. Jeffrey combined a bunch of threads from the Church IT Roundtable Google Group, and created a very helpful summary of needs and requirements.

At this point I am trying to combine all of the information from those sources along with the requests my users made (I'll share those later) into a guided demo that I can have each of the three remaining vendors give us. The guided demo (we direct, they show us) will allow us to compare the solutions directly, and see where each of them meets our needs, exceeds our needs, or falls short. I also have to call the references for each of the products and get a feel for how they each fit in the church environment. That data, coupled with their answers from the 26 questions I gave them, coupled with the demo should bring us to a decision point and get us started on implementation with one vendor.

So, the list goes on. But now, my wife is here to take me to lunch. I'm outta here!


Sunday, September 7, 2008

The motions

Today was a long day. I got here early, and began prepping for our board meeting. I needed to present the database search so far to them, and get approval to move forward with whichever vendor I chose. Needless to say, although I had the service up "on the feed" on my desktop, I really didn't hear anything.

After a long board meeting (database acquisition approved, yay!) I was exhausted, and the easiest thing to do was just to go home.

Instead, I decided that I really needed worship more than anything, so I went to our seven community.

I really, really needed that. At one point Matt, the worship leader, talked about the origins of "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" and how John Wesley was really just going through the motions of "doing church" for so long. I think that was a bit how I was feeling, that I was "doing church" lately but not truly engaging with God. Tonight was a good time to engage with God, to interact with Him, and to worship Him.

I feel recharged.

Time to go home now. I'm recharged, but also hungry :-)


Tuesday, September 2, 2008


About two years ago it became apparent that our current phone system was not long for this world. As we began to search for a replacement, we discovered Asterisk, an open source voice over IP PBX. We downloaded it, installed it on an old machine, and began testing and developing it. After a while we were far enough along that we needed some real phones, not just the software ones, so we purchased a batch of phones for testing. We tried phones from Polycom, Linksys, Grandstream, Snom, and Aastra. After about three weeks of testing we sent back all the phones except the Grandstream and the Snom.

In that first round of testing we liked the Polycom a lot, but we noticed that there were problems getting it to hang up reliably. The receiver would appear to be hung up but would be slightly off hook. The Grandstream had issues, but many of those were fixed by a firmware update about halfway through our testing. We felt the Linksys was light on features but very well made, and nobody liked the Aastra. The Snom is a great phone but has so many buttons it would be very confusing for our pastors.

About a year ago we replaced our old voice mail system with the Asterisk, making the first step of the transition.

About a week ago we started to receive reports that the church phone was not answering. As we tested it, we found that the old system would intermittently just ignore calls. We tested it and everything claimed to be working, but it clearly was not. Uh oh. Time to move on the replacement.

So this weekend we connected our T1 directly to the Asterisk instead of breaking it out to analog channels and running it through the old NEC. All incoming calls now are processed by the asterisk first, and then are transferred to the NEC. Outgoing calls are sent over analog lines to the Asterisk, which then connects them with the telco.

After much testing and a little tweaking it is working, and quite well. Today we are deploying the second round of testing phones. We are trying the Linksys again, a Polycom 430, and the Grandstream 2020. We also still have the Grandstream 2000 from last time, the Snom 360 and the Polycom 320 we plan to deploy to locations that don't need a desk phone. Our POE switches should arrive today, allowing us to prep the next phase of transition.

On the whole, the asterisk is amazing. The last time I put in a phone system I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $100K and it involved working for months with an outside contractor. This time my IT team has been able to build the phone system as a project, and we are doing the deployment ourselves. The savings are huge. If you haven't considered asterisk for your next phone system, now's the time to look into it.