We Have a Database Company!
It's been a very long process, spreading over four separate months, but yesterday we reached our decision. We have chosen a vendor.
The process has been grueling. I started with an open mind and a list of every church software vendor I could find. In all there were 147 choices on that list, and based on the information presented there I looked a little closer at 46 solutions that appeared to be appropriate for large churches.
Just in case that list wasn't complete I looked around for other solutions as well. I found one or two that also deserved some consideration, but nothing that cleared the hurdle for the second tier. It was during this time that I realized how little information was actually out there, and decided to blog the search in order to provide some good information to those people who are doing the same search we are.
From that list of 46 I narrowed the field to 22 solutions that I felt deserved further research. I spent anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour on the websites for each of those companies. I tried to find out everything I could about the company, the product, and the suitability for HDC.
From the list of 22 I narrowed the field to six companies that I was willing to invest the time into to talk to salesman and go through a demo of the product. After posting the entries I got a very nice email from Chris Rivers of Arena Software telling me a bit about their product. It was very clear that I had not gotten a good picture of the product from his email, so I offered them an hour in the interest of "accuracy and fairness" to show me what Arena could do as I don't like having inaccurate things written with my name attached to them.
That hour demo showed me that Arena was much better than I thought, and so I added them to the list of six. I also heard from Kingdom Tools and did a demo with them to be sure that I left "no stone unturned" through this process. If there was a solution out there that was a viable option, I wanted to be sure we evaluated it. So the field went from 147 to 46 to 8.
I was prepared to spend as much time as necessary with those eight companies to learn as much about the product as possible. I also felt that it would be foolish of me to continue alone, so at this point I brought in Judy Caffey, HDC's Director of Office Administration. Judy supervises all of our secretarial staff as well as the counters, so she would have insight into the database and be able to spot things that I wouldn't recognize as being a problem. In the end, bringing Judy in at this point proved to be a fantastic decision.
With two of us involved we installed the conference phone in my office and spent between 1 and 5 hours on the phone with each of the eight vendors. Those conversations were very illuminating, and at the end of "round 3" we had narrowed the field to three very solid vendors (Arena, Connection Power, and Fellowship One). The problem was that our field was three vendors, not one. Each vendor had strengths and weaknesses. Each vendor had reasons why we should go with them. So we had to look even closer.
Thus the final round was born. First I sent each vendor a list of 26 questions about their company and their product. I asked for 12 references each, including their largest church. I emailed each of those references and talked with people who used each of those databases. Finally I spent a great deal of time creating a bogus database and then a set of 91 questions that would put each database through its paces with the kind of tasks that HDC uses its database for.
Each of the vendors chose to do the demos in person for this final round, and we had a great time getting to know them. Many thanks go out to Dominic Silla of Connection Power, Steve Drechsler of Fellowship Technologies, and Mark White of Arena. Fellowship One also brought out Jeff Rice, the director of delivery services at Fellowship One. Each of the vendors put in a lot of time preparing for our demo, and they all did an excellent job of presenting why they offered the best solution for HDC.
After each presentation Judy and I sat down and harmonized our notes on the each product. We found that our comments were very similar, and we both had similar impressions of each products strengths and weaknesses. After the third presentation (and a little rest, I was sick as a dog by the end of this process) Judy and I sat down and evaluated each vendor based on the demo, the "26 questions" related to the company, and the references. Judy put together a comparison of the "acceptable/not acceptable" responses to our 91 question demo which we also utilized in the process.
I could not have been happier with how the final round went. At the end of the day, we both agreed on which vendor we thought was the right one for HDC. The choice, for us, was clear. We have found our database.
In my next entry, I'll tell you what it is :-)