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Such a Registration Tool Does Exist, now.

UpwellingSignupSeveral weeks ago I asked Does Such a tool Exist? I was basically looking for a web tool that can take your “sign-up board” and make it an online registration.  After much digging and the feedback from several peers, we came to the conclusion that nothing existed… at least nothing that did all of what we wanted.

Mike, one of our volunteers, has been helping us bring our wordpress.mu server online and was in the office doing some finishing work on that server when we were talking about the online ‘sign-up’ project.  After some white boarding Mike said this was a project he could do, even in the two week window we had before our Upwelling Registrations had to go live.  We speced out the “Must Haves”, and the “Dreams” and Mike started coding away.

Well our go live date was April 14th and the web tool is online… and i thought i would take you thru a virtual tour of sorts.

Upwelling, our 2 day around the clock prayer event, includes 750 Blessing and Healing prayer slots during 14 hours of the event.  The web application divides the 14 hours into 20 minute segments that have on average 21 seats per segment and then displays how many remaining seats are in each room.  As registrations fill up, the system dynamically displays to registrants how many seats remain in every segment.

Upwelling

 

After the registrant selects the seat in the time slot desired, the registrant can add up to two additional guests for that time segment (assuming those seats are available).  For this event the rooms are limited to 3 seats by default, and if a group is bigger than 3 they can request a larger room thru the event organizer directly.

Upwelling2

 

On the Administration Side we have provided the event organizer with a tool to manage the teams, rooms and registrants.  The event organizer can define their teams that host each room by adding teams and members in the admin side of the tool.

UpwellingTeamAdmin

The logic was built into the system that a room doesn’t display to the public until the event organizer assigns a host team to each room.  This logic was what we used as the control to how many rooms display at each segment block.

UpwellingTeamScheduler

Finally the event organizer can view, add and delete registrants from the Guest Scheduler admin view.  This is where the event organizer can bypass the ‘no more than three’ guest restriction that applies to the public side of the tool.

UpwellingGuestScheduler

 

Now the questions remain, can we use our reporting and exporting functionality that we are still building out to import the guest and host team information into ACS CheckPoint to print badges and check in guests when they arrive on the day of the event.

Several of you said you would be interested in such a tool if it existed… if you want to talk about what we built email me and we can talk, jason [at]  jasonmlee [dot] net.


Not going To mInistryTECH?

MinistryTech

 

Geeky but grounded?
Plugged-in but cash-strapped?
Interested but otherwise occupied?

If you can’t physically make it to MinistryTech for some end-of-the-world reason, you can still take in part of the excitement virtually. We’ll be streaming selected workshops and all keynote sessions during the conference, FREE!

So fire up your smartphone, laptop, or other cool gadget and keep it with you at all times. Nothing is more important than MinistryTech’09. Here are some things to think about:

  • Wife having a baby? No problem, use headphones. Imagine what an awesome thing it will be for you to be able to say that your newborn’s first geek experience was at age 0.1!
  • Don’t have enough money to travel? This is free. Mooch some wireless at Panera.
  • Actually have a job you can’t get away from? This will help you enjoy that more.
  • Don’t like Colorado? Whatever.
  • Afraid someone will ask what you’re doing? Don’t worry. They know you’re a geek. Tell them you’re logged on with hundreds of other “smart people” discussing the next generation of Church Integration Networking Social Internet Directory Management Infrastructure Ministry — you know, the ChINSIDIMS — 2.0.
  • Get lots of [throw in some acronyms here]!
  • It’s better than trying to follow someone else’s blog that is actually a digest of their tweets which just goes to prove their not really paying attention anyway. 

So how do you partake in this virtual goodness? 

Register Here so we can make plans to reserve your virtual seat (the soft comfy recliners will go first, oh wait, you choose your own seat..)


Avaya IPOffice

Avaya Logo

If you are using an Avaya IPOffice PBX and are planning to upgrade to version 4.2.14 or higher and use a PRI configuring ‘NI2’ (National) calling you might want to be aware of this Technical Tip from Avaya’s Site.

In this release of the software, without the mentioned private build, all outbound calling is rejected by the PRI provider because the PBX is sending calls in the wrong format.

From Avaya Enterprise Tools Knowledge base:

This Technical Tip is to advise customers of a potential issue with T1/PRI lines configured for NI2 that may occur on upgrades or new installations with IP Office releases 4.1(15) and 4.2(4).

It has been observed that T1/PRI line configurations may not accept a called party type set to “National Number”. Certain NI2 line configurations are set to accept only called party type “Unknown Numbering Plan". The network provider may not process calls with the "National Number" format, rejecting the call setup as an invalid number format. This results in the inability to initiate outbound calls. 

Avaya has produced private build 4.2(49601) to resolve the issue by providing the ability to adjust the called party type to "Unknown Numbering Plan". After installation of the private build you must activate the function by adding the following string into the NoUser Source Numbers tab and then merging the change into the configuration: NI2_CALLED_PARTY_TYPE=UNKNOWN

Avaya IPOffice 4.2.14

 


ACS Backup during Updates

Dear ACS Technologies,

ACSWhy is your update installer configured only to occasionally run a backup during the updates?  Historically it has been hit or miss if the updater would run a backup as part of the update process, so as a result we run a backup before every update…. Then sometimes your updater runs a backup too.  Suddenly a 30 minute update now takes well over an hour. 

Additionally rumor has it the backup that runs during the update process has proven un-reliable or makes a corrupt backup that is not usable.

So I have a couple requests:

  • In the release notes, please note if the backup is going to run as part of the update sequence so I can plan to waste the extra 30-45 minutes during the update.
  • Give us the option to disable in update sequence backup… I am fine with this being a command line switch but please let me choose when the backups are going to run. 

Thanks,

Jason


New ACS Pre-Convention Workshop!

ACSConventionAs I previously mentioned, I am really excited about the 2009 ACS Convention… Not only will the new product announcements be exciting, but I really enjoy getting to hang out with my peers at other churches to talk tech and dream about how we can help our ministries become better!  I also am really excited to meet many other ACS clients that I have talked with or corresponded with via blogs and twitter but have never met face to face. 

But now for the exciting news!

We have just finalized arrangements for our team to arrive early to the ACS Convention because of an exciting event on Tuesday afternoon.  ACS has asked us to help host a pre-convention workshop, Let’s Go!  Launching Checkpoint Successfully in your Church.  The focus is for those planning to roll out checkpoint to get a first hand look at the 3-6 month process we walked thru partnering with our Children’s Ministry, Communications and Media Teams to smoothly deploy Checkpoint. 

If you are planning to deploy Checkpoint in your church, make plans to attend both Pre-Convention Workshops: Checkpoint 101 and then  join us Launching CheckPoint Successfully Tuesday afternoon.

 

Let’s Go!  Launching Checkpoint Successfully in your Church

  • Tuesday, May 26th, 2009 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Getting the ACS software solution in place is just one part of the successful launch of a new program.  In this class, we’ll look at all the other elements needed to start up a new check-in system in your church, and help you get started planning for success in your church.

We’ll dig in deep with Northwoods Community Church to explore how they updated their check-in systems with new hardware, new software, and new processes.  You’ll have a chance to examine the fingerprint scanner system now in use at NWCC, and hear first-hand from members of the team who made it happen. Topics covered include IT, Communications, Volunteer Training, and Budgeting.  Real-life examples of emails, videos, training sessions and more will bring ideas and inspiration for a successful launch in your church.

Whether your church is starting a check-in ministry for the first time, or you’re looking at updating your current processes, you’ll benefit from this session.


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!


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