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Posts tagged with: ACS Technologies

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!


Great Support and a Couple Bugs

FacilityScheduler Earlier this week we were putting the final touches on deploying Facility Scheduler to all our users.  This is an exciting event since we have been in the development stages of FS for over 18 months with the team at ACS and it was finally time to make it available to all our staff. 

We elected to make this available to our staff the same way we have made ACS Desktop available, with a terminal server. 
We followed the steps to install Facility Scheduler on the terminal server several weeks ago and it worked with no problems.  Since we installed the application there had been an update, which we ran under the admin user account on the server.  Jeremie made the application avaiable to all users so we decided to check that the application would work for all users.  It was a good thing we checked since the application for each user went into a loop trying to update the application even though it was already updated.  A quick call to support pointed us to the Program Manager for Facility Scheduler, Darci Shelley.  We work with Darci often and participates in our confrence calls that happen every other week with ACS so we were confident Darci could help us fix the problem… except she wasn’t on call and I didn’t have her contact info… so Jeremie and I sent Dean Lisenby a tweet for some help. We explained to Dean our problem of the next day’s go live demo for all staff and quickly Dean responded and had contacted Darci at home and told us she was online and available to assist us once her kids were in bed.  Once Darci was online she helped us work thru our issues with the application and troubleshooting our problem for over an hour all while at home.  While working with Darci we identified a bug in the current version of Facility Scheduler running on a Terminal Server that will have to be updated before the next release.  So two thumbs up to Darci for providing top notch support even when she didn’t “have to”.

Instructions for deploying Facility Scheduler on a terminal server:
1) Install ACS Facility Scheduler as an administrator.
2) Once the installation is complete, go to C:Documents and SettingsAdministratorLocal SettingsApplication Data.
3) Copy the ACSTechnologies folder.
4) For each user on the Terminal Server, paste the folder in the following location: C:Documents and SettingsusernameLocal SettingsApplication Data.
5) To place a shortcut on the Terminal Server desktop for all users, go to Start->Programs->ACS Technologies, right click on ACS Facility Scheduler, and select Copy.
6) Go to C:Documents and SettingsAll UsersDesktop, go to Edit, and select Paste.
Now when any user logs into Terminal Services, they will have an icon on their desktop to launch ACS Facility Scheduler. The first time they open Facility Scheduler, it will show the admin user name, but once they have entered their user name for Facility Scheduler, this name will be saved and will show for each subsequent login.

Optional Alternative when installing Facility Scheduler:
You can copy the ACSTechnologies folder to the C:Documents and SettingsDefault UserLocal SettingsApplication Data.  Then any new user profile created will include the Facility Scheduler application.  This worked for us since we had to do some account clean up to get rid of old Terminal Server profiles.  We deleted all TS profiles except the admin user’s profile and had users login “fresh”.  When they logged in the users had the icons and access to the application.

Now a FYI on a couple ACS bugs we have found this week
Bug #1
The update feature for Facility Scheduler application doesn’t work for any users other than the admin user who’s login you used to install the application.   The temporary work around until the fix is released is to follow the above procedure again and overwrite the ACSTechnologies Folder for all users.
Bug #2
When updating to 10.0.12 from a previous version the Icons for Ministry Scheduler and other ACS modules vanish for all users including the local administrator.  After running the 10.0.12 update our users noticed that random ACS icons that were on their desktops or in the start menu were gone.  After a call to the MegaChurch support group we found out that support has noted this is a know issue that they though was resolved, but obviously hadn’t been fixed.   The solution is to go into ACS Utility Manager by going to Start>All Programs> ACS> ACS Tools> Utility Manager and then selecting Rebuild Program Group.  This utility recreates all the default shortcuts in the start menu and desktop for the all user profiles.
 
And lastly just while I am on the topic of ACS “issues” I am left wondering the status of some past “Big Ticket” issues (I realize they aren’t small tasks and I don’t expect solutions overnight…but how are the projects coming along?):

1) When will ACS Desktop Suite allow a username to be more than 8 characters?  The 8 character limit was something I raised concern about over a year ago (11/5/07) but this issue still isn’t resolved.  If we had the ablity to use more than 8 characters we could use the Windows login integration in ACS but since almost 100% of our userIDs are more than 8 positions we cant… When will this be resolved?  Or better yet when will the ACS Desktop suite integrate to AD for authentication and setting rights thru AD groups?

2)  When will the Exchange/GAL Sync tool be ready for beta testing?  Rumors were that it would be ready for the ACS convention in the Spring… now its November…

3)  What is the status of the ACS Outlook Plugin and Vista Gadget  to search ACS records from Outlook and the Vista Gadget tool bar?  Rumors are that the Outlook Plugin is ready now and the gadgets are comming soon… how do we find out about this stuff?

4)  What is the status of the Silverlight Screen Display Beta that was expected to be released by mid October?

5)  When will ACS technical services have a blog or some vehicle to communicate these types of bugs to the users rather than the current scenario where customers have to “find” these bugs before ACS support says “Oh, yea we knew about that”.  I know this type of info isn’t appropriate for the corperate blog, but there shold be some way that customers that want this information to be able to subscribe to this via a RSS feed.


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