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ACS AD Sync Alpha testing Project

ACSAs mentioned in the previous post, we have been Alpha testing a AD Sync tool to synchronize contact information from the ACS database into Outlook contacts.

Over the past 6 months we have been working with Dean Lisenby and the team at ACS thru the concepts as well as logistics of a tool to make contact info from ACS accessible thru Outlook Contacts.  Dean and his staff have developed a utility that will push the contact list from our AccessACS site into contacts in an Active Directory Container.  Each person is imported with telephone, email and address.  Because the contact information is now in AD, it also makes these contacts available to your Exchange/Outlook users via the Global Address Book.  You can find contact information or email individuals from within the Global Address book in Outlook without any external lookup or .CSV import.

We have been Alpha testing this tool, in our lab environment (read below for the details of the setup), and the proof of concept works, now the question is it something that other ACS customers would use and should ACS put resources into developing it.

The major benefit I see in this tool is being able to to have your users keep contact info in the ACS database not in the local contact lists, where by the nature of a local contact list is not accessible to other users. Updating that information in the ChMS your users have the most up to date information in a common data store (ACS) AND it becomes available to them in Outlook in the Global Address book.

Details of our Lab and Testing:

We have been Alpha testing this product in our test lab which consists of a P2v (Physical to Virtual) of our Exchange server, our first Domain controller and an XP workstation with Outlook installed.  We put this test lab in on its one VLan and routed it to its own private interface on our firewall.

The VLand and private interface allowed us to use VMware server in NATed mode and have two mirror environments (production and testing) that have identical Domain, and Exchange configurations.

Before our testing, Dean had only tested the tool on a Small Business Server and we wanted to confirm that there were no variables in our environment.

Currently the tool will pull all the contact information from the ACS dataset and push them into a AD Container called AccessACS.  If there is anything in the container it overwrites the contents with the new import as this isn’t a Sync tool yet.

From Outlook the user can browse the Global Address book and you can see all your “contacts” from ACS.

Some items we noted in our testing that we would like to see addressed before the product would be publicly available would include:

  • Could this container appear in a sub section of the GAL?  Currently the Items import right into the root of the GAL it would be nice when browsing from Outlook that you have all your Domain Users listed with a “folder of sorts” that houses the ACS list (in our case its over 24k names)
  • The formatting of our AD domain is: lastname, First name it would be helpful if the import could be customized to match the formatting of display names.  This would allow for the GAL to be an alphabetical by last name list.
  • We already have 2-3 dozen of these people in as AD contacts, because they are Board of Directors, Board of Elders etc.. and on global distribution lists… if the sync didn’t overwrite the contacts that were existing in the Access ACS list then those distribution groups could be pointed to the contacts that come from ACS and we wouldn’t have to mange those individually.
  • A flag on each record at import would be needed since when each contact is added they need to be an Exchange contact for Outlook to be able to email them.  This is great, except we don’t want non domain  users to email any contact in our database because they know you could send an email to firstnamelastname@domain.com If the import would flag the recipient as only allowed to receive messages from a Domain security group that problem would be a non issue.
    • The solution needs to be part of the import because you cannot in AD choose multiple contacts and configure the restriction that limits the senders to these contacts.
  • I really like the fact that if a change is made in ACS then those changes would be made in Outlook
  • If this were in production, I won’t get any emails more emails from attendees saying “I have told you to update my email but staff continue to email my old email address”.

I think this could be a great ACS tool, but we need to know if others besides NWCC would use it so we can make a business case to ACS to develop the tool.  If you are interested please leave a comment or email me at jasonlee {at} jasonmlee {dot} net.


More R&D with ACS; 24k Contacts in OUTLOOK?

ACSWe have been working with ACS Technologies recently beta testing several of their new products coming to market.  While the beta testing can be occasionally frustrating  we have really enjoyed dreaming about making the tools we use effective for our ministry as well as the other 40K+ others that use ACS products.

Almost a year ago I wrote a post “Wishing for More” asking for ACS to take the lead in the market and extend ChMS contact information into AD and the Global Address book.

Work on this project has continued and we have gotten past the point of dreaming.  ACS has tested this tool in their test environment and given us the utility to try an Alpha test in our lab environment.  There were minor bugs to work out but overall the tool works as expected and our test AD environment has 24,000 contacts in the appropriate container, contacts now accessible by “test” users from within the Outlook Global Address Book.

Now that the proof of concept has been done the question is being asked will anyone use it if ACS puts resources into refining and releasing such a product.  If you use ACS, AD and Exchange would you use this tool?  Do you see value in such a product being offered to you as a customer?
I think this could be a great ACS tool, but ACS needs to know if others besides NWCC would use it so they can make a business case whether or not to develop the tool for use in production.

If you read this post or the details of the testing in the AD Sync Testing post and you answer YES, to the question: Would you like contact info from ACS available and as simply accessible to your users as an Outlook contact? leave a comment or email me at jasonlee {at} jasonmlee {dot} net.

For details of the Alpha testing of this tool see the AD Sync Testing post.


ACS and PCO integration, Do you need it?

PCOThis week I started to re-kindle the discussion that was started last year regarding Planning Center Online (PCO) and ACS

The idea is to evaluate the possibilities and cost  of synchronizing data between ACS and PCO. 

We are going down this road with ACS to ask about custom development work, but I believe this is a need, beyond NWCC, that other ministries have.  Do you use PCO and ACS and see value in syncing the data between the two?  I am interested in your thoughts for two reasons….

One: It might not be a custom development project if others express interest (saving us NWCC dev $$)

Two: More importantly the more collaboration we have in the development the better product we could have in the end for everyone!

You interested…. Leave a comment or send me an email jasonlee [at] jasonmlee [dot] net

Why is a Sync Tool Important: 

If you aren’t familiar with PCO, you should venture on over to the site and watch the demo/training videos to get an idea of what all this great tool can do to help your teams.  The site says: “Planning Center Online is a centralized website where leaders can plan their service and easily communicate with their staff and volunteers.”

Our creative teams have been using PCO for service scheduling and planning for a little over a year and it has really changed that process for the better. Since this is a tool created by “Creative Types” for “Creative Types”, the design team really understood the needs and has provided really good tool to help with those needs.

PCO It does a great job of helping to schedule & communicate with volunteers, give a space for collaborative future planning as well a historical data to look back at past planning. PCO has a great interface to schedule volunteers and then let them know when they are scheduled and let them communicate back to the planning team.  PCO Live is a great feature that allows you to give visual cues to your tech people live in the service.

There are some things though that PCO doesn’t do well, the primary flaw is PCO is it quickly becomes another data silo for your ministry.  Because of the great communication and collaboration that happens “people” info is stored in PCOs database that isn’t easily used by or available to your Church Management Software (ChMS). 

So why is this a problem?  Your creative arts team is frequently in contact with their volunteers because of PCO does that well, but any changes or updates to demographic information has to manually keyed into the ChMS so so others in the organization can use that updated postal or email address. This is ok if you have one or two changes but think of trying to keep up with 200 volunteers and the volume of telephone number and email address changes in a month alone could be overwhelming.  Not to mention, your children’s ministry and student ministry teams may be using PCO for their planning too… Suddenly you have over 500 volunteers being “tracked” in PCO and there is no way to be sure that information is correlating to your data in your ChMS. 

Beyond contact information, PCO has great historical information of who is involved when/where and in what capacity.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could harness that information in your ChMS?  If you could push that historical info into your member’s activity information in the ChMS wouldn’t that improve internal communications between departments?  Example: If you were able to have your ChMS consume volunteering history data from PCO dynamically, you might not have the ‘unknown’ the person on the hospital list… but you would have them in the database and it would note he/she is newest jr high teach team member and you could contact the Jr. High Director to follow up with that new team member.

Ok, its a good idea, How can we do this?

Both ACS and PCO have documented APIs and are willing to improve the APIs to give us access to the data we need… we just need a development team to help make those two talk… We don’t have the skill set to make this happen on our own so that is why we have asked the costs and feasibility questions of ACS.  The more ACS clients interested the lower the “cost” and better the product.  PCO doesn’t have record of ACS customers who use PCO, so we have to ‘find’ that list on our own… ACS is willing to help make this happen, we just need to know you are interested!


Broadcast Beta 0.2

We have been beta testing (in-production) a new ACS product called Broadcast, for more on the Broadcast read here

I note that we have been using the beta application in production because the application even in beta is far better than what we replaced. Previously one of our staff had to daily key in data to PowerPoint slides to display event locations on our CCTV system.

About 18 months ago we began discussions with ACS product development to improve their scheduling tools as well as to utilize the information included in those databases for other uses… CCTV Displays, Digital Advertisement signage, Dynamic web pages, the list goes on and on.  One of the tools we needed  was a way to automatically pull data from our database and display the event information on our CCTV system for our attendees to know where on our campus events were taking place.  Broadcast has allowed us to dynamically “reuse” data that already exists in our campus scheduling application Facility Scheduler.  It has been tons of fun to see Broadcast come to reality from the dreaming of such an application with the ACS product development team to seeing one of the concepts out of the gate running.

Obviously running an application in Beta means there are going to be bumps in the road, and that was the case for Broadcast.  Over the past few weeks we have had to occasionally reset the application because the motion background turned to a static black image, or the system hang when it changed from an event list to static image when there were no events to display or the display locked up randomly with no explanation. 

Here are some thoughts from our experience of the Beta on the first weeks:

Hardware:

  • The machine previously running the event displays was a 667 mhz with 320 mb of memory.  This quickly showed to be very inadequate to run a video background and the application. 
  • MS’ suggested requirements are a P4 1Ghz with 512 of mb. 
  • To run Broadcast we found at least 1 ghz and 1024 mb of memory were needed.

Application Settings:

  • We found that you must pay much closer attention to the event’s start and stop time in Facility Scheduler than we have done before otherwise the events may not display at the right time.
  • The default setting are for the events to scroll every 30 seconds, this was much too long for a tabular view of today’s events and we adjusted the time down to 15 seconds.
  • Standardizing the list of rooms needs to be done in our Facility Scheduler, some were in caps others lower case.

We added our own custom video background and selected the view and setup we wanted to use and launched the application.  For a Beta overall it worked very well without many issues.  Here is a shot of one of our monitors running Broadcast with the day’s events.

Broadcast Beta

But none of those problems were enough to go back to manually entering the day’s events onto PowerPoint slides.  Especially since ACS released an update to Broadcast and the update has improved a lot of the  bugs above, in fact the application with this update has run without any bumps for a week.  No system resets or dropped event lists.

ACS also updated the Tabular format to improve readability as shown in the screen shot below.  Events can now be grouped by start time which also accommodates longer event names and locations since the time isn’t inline with the event anymore.

Broadcast

 

The next version will include removing events after they occur through out the day… Currently the entire day’s events display until midnight and then the next day’s events are displayed.  In the next release Events will dynamically be removed from the list after a user defined period after the event start time. 

If you are interested in kicking the tires on the beta contact your ACS Account Manager, its worth a look.

Thanks for the update Darci and Page keep the updates coming!


MinistryTech Colorado Springs Hotel ~$55 per night

ministrytech2009coloradospringsWell there are just 34 days until MinistryTech 2009 in Colorado springs!  If you haven’t registered what are you waiting for?  If the 40% discount on the conference registration wasn’t enough to make attending a reality for you I have some more good news.

The Hampton Inn in Colorado Springs has agreed to give us a rate of $59 per night or even $55 per night if you pre-pay your stay. This rate is for the Church IT Roundtable and will be available until April 1st.  To book a room at this rate you must call the hotel directly and mention “Woodman Valley IT Group”.  We can’t guarantee availability at this rate, but the hotel will offer this rate to as many guests as possible until the deadline or the hotel is full, so don’t delay call them ASAP!  If you have already made reservations at the Hampton please call and move your reservation to “Woodman Valley IT Group” to get the discounted rate.

Hampton Inn Colorado Springs 1-25 North
7245 Commerce Center Dr., Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA 80919
Tel: +1-719-593-9700
$55 per night when you mention “Woodman Valley IT Group”

****UPDATED 3/26/09**** DISCOUNT OFFER EXPIRES 4/1/09

The Hampton Inn also offers FREE WiFi (bandwidth is a commercial T1 incase you were wondering) as well as free hot breakfast each morning.

If you plan to stay with us at the Hampton Inn leave a comment below so we have an idea of who all will be at the hotel.  Also leave a comment if you want to share rental car, or need to share a rental car with someone and we’ll try to help make those connections.

 

Airfare rates are dropping out of the sky, we booked our roundtrip tickets for $150 per person from Chicago Midway to Denver… so this trip is affordable even when travel budgets are small!

Join your peers from churches from across the country for this unique peer learning and sharing event!

See you in the Springs!


Apple Help file says “From a Windows machine…”

EntorageWe recently updated our Communications Director’s machine to Leopard (yes almost a year after it came out because of various reasons).  This upgrade included moving him to Office 2008 and Entourage 2008.

I have said since Office 2008 came out that I didn’t care for Entourage, and wondered why it was so difficult for MS to create a Mac version of outlook that functioned the same way… Entourage just doesn’t.

One of the funniest parts of this migration was when Kirt called me to explain he wasn’t able to accept or decline events in Entourage, the buttons were there by grayed out.  He could login to his virtual XP machine and Outlook worked without any issue but no dice for Entourage.  Then Kirt reported he found in the online knowledge base the following:

Cause:  When you receive an invitation in an Entourage account that is synchronized with an Exchange account running on Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, Exchange adds a tentative event to the Calendar.   

Solution:  Change your preferences for the Calendar in Outlook Web Access. From a Windows-based computer, log in to Outlook Web Access, and then click Options in the upper right corner of the screen.”

What you can’t control the settings from Entourage but you have to login to a PC?  And not just login to a PC but in to OWA how crazy.

 

Long story short the problem wasn’t the above issue, as funny as the solution may be, but a known bug in Entourage.  If you have someone in the organization selected as a delegate Entourage assumes you don’t want the ability to accept or decline meeting requests.  By changing the delegate to just a Calendar Editor then the Accept/Deny buttons function properly.


CheckPoint Training

Less than a month away we will go live with the new Children’s Check-in system and the preparations are in full swing.  This weekend we hosted another training for Discoveryland volunteers (children’s ministry volunteers).

Our Project timeline is:
Pre-Registration Weekend Feb 28 – March 1

Go Live March 21-22

Electronic Check-in Required April 4-5

The pre-registration is required to capture the finger scans so once the system is online parents will be recognized by the system. Most families were very surprised how easy the scanning process was and it took at most 45 seconds to a minute for each person’s scans to be captured.

We are using ACS CheckPoint as well as M2Sys BioSnapOn to facilitate the finger scanning and family lookup.  The biometric lookup is almost instantaneous and the families don’t have to remember to bring a bar code card or key fob since its impossible to forget your finger prints.

Here are some photos of the IT team in action during the Training and Pre-Registration.

 

Jeremie, Linda and our IT volunteer Mark did a great job assisting parents to capture their finger scans.

CheckPoint Demo

 

Capturing a finger scan and testing self-service check-in

CheckPoint Demo

 

Linda showing what the Child ID badge and Parent Security badges look like.

CheckPoint Demo


A Field Trip with the Ret. Lt. Col.

As some may know our operations director, Jerry Croegaert, is recently Retired Lt. Col. Jerry Croegaert (ANG), Commander of the 169th Air Support Operations Squadron.  Well today we took a field trip to see the old stomping grounds of our new leader.  The 169th shares a base with the 182nd Airlift Wing (a C130 Unit). Jeremie, Linda, Melanie and I went along with Jerry to the Air National Guard base in Bartonville, IL.
The primary reason for our visit was information sharing with the Coms personnel on base.  This was a great opportunity to see how they are doing all things IT as well as share our successes at Northwoods and the ANG as well as our struggles.  It was interesting to learn that their operations are very similar to ours (well except people don’t die if we mess things up) and they struggle with many of the same issues as those in the CITRT community… Limited Budget, Expectations to provide cutting edge technology and support and train our users to utilize that technology.
One take away from our trip was the accountability from the top down of the organization of Technology Continuing Education. MSgt George Garcia will be sending over some samples of their online Education tools that I hope to digest and reuse in our environment.
I would share some photos from the DataCenter but we had to turn our cameras/phones in during that part of the tour.

Here are some photos from the rest of the base where we were allowed to take photos (Jeremie and I asked several times if it was ok to take photos in specific areas we didn’t want to see anyone get tackled like in the Terry Tate commercials.)

 

A C130 Taking off
ANG Tour

 

A C130 in the Hanger

ANG Tour

 

Our Team inside the belly of a C130

ANG Tour

 

ANG Tour


New stuff From ACS Technologies

ACS Workstation Install with UNC Path

One of the frustrations with ACS desktop software on local machines was always having to map a drive back to the server for the desktop application to work… well not any more.  With the 10.0 update ACS did away with needing a mapped drive to connect to the database.

When you install the application, install it from the UNC Path to your ACSNET directory on the database server.  This path is "remembered" by ACS desktop and utilized by the application and there is no longer any need to map network drives.  Yea!

Note: If you are using the Old scheduling applications Ministry Scheduler this product is destined for End of Life and will not be updated to utlized the UNC rather than a mapped drive.

 

ACS Broadcast

I have talked about ACS Broadcast in the past and just got word last last night that the Beta is now publicly available. Broadcast will pull data directly from Facility Scheduler and display the days’ events on a monitor. 

 

There are a couple views (summary and tabular) and custom video and still backgrounds can be added.  Here are a couple previews from ACS:

Summary View

 

Tabular View

More info to come as we dive into the beta.

Check out the ACS Product development bog for more information


Efficiency or Laziness, either way job done.

How often have you needed to remote into a system that is on the other side of the campus to fix an issue and found that Remote Desktop isn’t enabled and the remote management application’s service bombed.  Resulting in (Heaven Forbid!) getting up from your desk and walking to the machine and working on it locally…. (gasp! you might have to interact with people!)

Well no more friends do you need to leave the comfort of your chair, your beverage and your snack…and risk human interaction, here are the lazy steps (blatantly copied from  mydigitallife.info).

I have to admit I spent about 5 minutes, quite possibly more time than walking to the machine I needed to fix, searching steps to remotely enable Remote Desktop on a workstation…. But it is ok since it was during a work night and the building was closed and I wasn’t avoiding anyone by my working remotely!

To remotely enable Remote Desktop on another computer, follow these steps:

  • Login to the workstation with administrator credentials.
  • Run Registry Editor (regedit).
  • Click on File menu.
  • Select the Connect Network Registry in the pull down menu.

    Regedit

  • A “Select Computer” dialog search box is opened. Type the host name of the remote computer in the text box, or browse Active Directory to locate the remote server, or click on “Advanced” button to search for the remote computer.

   select computer

  • Click OK after the remote computer is selected. A node for the remote computer network registry will be displayed in the Registry Editor with HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE (HKLM) and HKEY_USERS (HKU) hives.

     RemoteComputer

  • Navigate to the following registry key for the remote computer:

    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESYSTEMCurrentControlSetControlTerminal Server

  • In the right pane, locate a REG_DWORD value named fDenyTSConnection. Double-click on fDenyTSConnection and change the value data from 1 (Remote Desktop disabled) to 0 (Remote Desktop enabled).

    Edit

  • Reboot the remote machine by issuing the following command in Command Prompt:

    shutdown -m hostname -r

    Replace hostname with the actual computer name of the remote host.

  • Remote Desktop for the remote computer has been enabled, and listening on default Remote Desktop port for any incoming Remote Desktop Connection.

 

Another option that works is via this handy application Enable Remote Desktop-Remotely by Intelliadmin.com


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