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Communication— IT’s Key to Success

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2018 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

How we communicate dramatically affects our success in every aspect of life! We often forget how important that is, and forgetting limits us.

This is especially true in Information Technology (IT). The question becomes, then, How successful do you want to be? And along with that, Do you want to maximize how The Lord can use you?

Biblical Perspective
Paul says in Ephesians 5:15, “Be very careful, then, how you live– not as unwise but as wise.”[1] The phrase to be very careful is translated in some versions as “walking circumspectly”. The word circumspect means to have full awareness of your entire surroundings, like an animal cautiously walking through an open field. That is a good way to communicate, but it’s not easy. It leaves no room for laziness; in fact, it requires a high level of focus! But the wise pay attention!

Getting Practical
Every profession has its acronyms, and in IT we have a lot of them. When IT professionals talk to each other we use those acronyms; when we’re talking with non-professionals, however, using them limits our ability to be understood. It is always the responsibility of the one communicating to do so in a way that their message can be understood by their audience. Is it easy to switch our communication style to match our audience? No! But the wise do so because it is essential.

When I’m talking with a fellow engineer, it’s okay to say something like, “You could speed up that system by swapping the HD with SSD and bumping the RAM.” Simple. But if I’m talking to someone who is not technical, it would be better to say, “You could speed up that computer by replacing the old hard drive with a newer technology, like a solid state storage device and increasing the memory available for processing the amount of data you’re working with.”

Those who can quickly adjust their communication style to match the needs of those they’re communicating with have the greatest chance for success. Who can do that? Anyone who chooses to put out the effort to walk circumspectly. It requires more brain processing power, but that additional power consumption is worth it!

Some who know my story know that before becoming a Christian I was a major drug user. That’s not something I’m proud of, but it is part of my story. One of the drugs I used a lot was LSD. So much so, in fact, that I was losing my ability to communicate! How could I tell? By being observant and interpreting the facial expressions of people I was talking to. Their facial expressions told me they were struggling to understand what I was trying to say. So I started listening to myself while I was talking, and realized that the subject of my sentences was changing so often that I didn’t make sense! No wonder they were struggling to understand me! I concluded that I had work to do if I wanted to be successful.

Humility & Dedication
A good communicator interprets the facial expressions and body language of those they’re talking to and makes real-time adjustments to improve the success of their message. Some are too lazy or don’t care enough to communicate well. Realizing you’re not communicating successfully and making adjustments takes focus, effort, and humility. Good communicators do not insist that their audience rise to meet their communication level, but instead humbly adjust their style as needed.

Knowing Your Audience
When I talk, speak, or write, I try to identify my audience to increase my success. My professional topics are usually related to technology, so I often ask questions after using a term that might be unfamiliar like, “Is that a term you’re comfortable with?” Their response to that non-judgmental question helps me modify my content to increase my communication success.

Often there are multiple audiences we’re communicating to all at once. Writing a response to a support ticket is like that! I usually try to meet the communication needs of the user who opened the ticket, their supervisor, my supervisor, and sometimes (depending on the issue) our legal system. All at one time! Can I do that effortlessly or quickly? No, especially since it’s in writing. I have to re-read the content with each audience in mind and make terminology adjustments before it’s ready for the SEND button.

The Bottom Line
Don’t limit how The Lord can use you or your professional success by not communicating circumspectly. Slow down and make the effort to communicate well to your audiences, whether in a one-on-one conversation, in a group setting, or in writing. Watch for visual cues when possible and make adjustments! Those you’re communicating with will be blessed, and so will you.

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Eph 5:15). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

July – Improve System Security Month!

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2018 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

While speaking at a conference recently, a cybersecurity expert whose company offers email user testing and training stated that KnowBe4.com‘s solution was the best they’d ever seen. Little did they know I was in negotiations on The Church’s behalf with KnowBe4!

What Is It?
KnowBe4 is a subscription-based solution that allows an organization to send what looks like SPAM emails to users that include links, etc. The solution tracks who clicks on the links, and when they do, adds them to a group whose members must watch a short training video online to learn what to avoid. Watching the video removes them from the group.

I’m aware of organizations whose users started at an 80% or higher click-rate. They saw the solution to educate their team and get the percentage to under 10%. The results are a more secure user community, and improved security and safety for the organization.

What’s The Deal?
KnowBe4 offers a 10% discount to not-for-profit organizations, with an additional discount of 25% for a three-year subscription. So, they normally offer up to 35% in savings to charities.

Through our negotiations, KnowBe4 offered to add an additional 20% discount to any who say they were referred by MBS, and who contact a specific employee of theirs to sign up! That means you can get a 35% – 55% discount just by telling Tiffany Yeager (727.877.8226 or ​tiffanyy@knowbe4.com) you were referred by MBS! (As always, MBS makes nothing on your referral business, as per our by-laws.)

MBS Recommends Their Platinum Package
KnowBe4 offers a few packages; we believe the best for churches and ministries is their Platinum Package.

It’s July– a good month to improve your system security. This is a great way to do so!

Identifying, Shaping, & Meeting Team IT Needs

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2018 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

A church IT forum discussion came up recently that is worth thinking through. The original post asked for input on how to keep team members from connecting their personal devices to the password-protected staff WiFi. The discussion that followed was a little like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride! Lots of ideas being tossed around, most of which uncomfortably avoided the most important questions.

Underlying Risk
The vast majority tried to help by explaining various ways the team could be controlled or prohibited from attaching their personal devices to the staff WiFi. There were a couple voices of reason that participated, suggesting positive ways forward.

Those not in IT may not understand the underlying risk. Why shouldn’t team members connect their personal devices to the staff WiFi? There are legitimate dangers associated with letting personal devices attach to the staff WiFi.

  • The staff WiFi, usually password protected, is typically configured to give devices full access to the organization’s network as though they were connected and logged in via an Ethernet cable. That is in contrast to the public guest WiFi, which is typically configured to give devices access only to the internet, and hopefully access that is filtered.
  • The organization’s data needs to be protected. Churches and ministries maintain a lot of sensitive data that could hurt congregants and team members if not adequately protected. Data like contributions records, HR records, social security numbers of staff and some vendors, church member disciplinary notes, board minutes, and more. That data needs to be kept private, but it also needs to be kept available for team members to use in the operations of the organization. Malware like ransomware exists because hooligans understand the value associated with appropriate data access, and endeavors to block access to the data unless a ransom is paid.
  • The organization’s systems need to be protected. There are some who would like to disrupt the flow of church and ministry operations by crashing the system or participating in activities that could cause authorities to remove all computers and servers for forensic investigation and, possibly, evidence in a prosecution.

When team members use the staff WiFi on their personal devices, the organization’s data and systems are put at risk.

The Next Question
So, does that mean team members should not use the staff WiFi for their personal devices? Maybe; it depends on why they need it.

One of the forum participants, Jason Powell at Granger Community Church, contributed “Figure out what need they’re trying to solve. It took a while for our staff to be coached that there is no speed difference between our staff and public WiFi. After asking why they wanted a personal device on the staff WiFi, in almost every case, it was because they assumed it gave them something that the public WiFi didn’t. A simple conversation assured them that the public WiFi would do everything they were asking for.”

What if the need is legitimate, though? Jason continued, ‘For legit needs like interns, volunteers, etc needing a personal device to have more access, build a simple BYOD network.” A BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) network is not difficult or costly to do. The cost factors involved are more to create systems that can enforce protections and recover from breaches in case they occur.

Who Decides What IT Needs are Legitimate?
This is the part often overlooked. IT is not responsible for determining what access needs are legitimate or not; that is leadership’s responsibility. IT should communicate the benefits, risks, and any mitigation costs to leadership and ask for direction. Only leadership is responsible for determining who should and who should not have access to systems and data. IT’s role is to engineer and configure, train, monitor, and enforce the decisions made by leadership.

Effects of IT Setting Policy
When IT makes decisions without leadership’s direction, those decisions usually take the form of policies and system settings that frustrate team members. In organizations where that is the case, IT often becomes the “No” people. Some church and ministry teams get dysfunctional in the wake of those policies. Team members– who feel called by God to fulfill their ministry call– often take the posture of doing whatever it takes to fulfill their call even if it means going around IT’s policies and system settings.

Effects of Leadership Setting Policy
Policies set by leadership are ultimately enforced or modified by leadership. IT has the potential of having a ministry-facilitating impact by letting leadership set policy. And leadership should fully fund whatever is required by the policy decisions it makes, which means that IT doesn’t have to try to string together inadequate strategies. If leadership doesn’t fund IT with what is needed, IT should let leadership know and ask for either a change in policy or a change in the budget.

March is IT-Be-Green Month!

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2018 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

March is the month of St. Patrick’s Day, whose modern-day associated color is green. When we think ‘green’, we also think of doing things that are friendly to the environment. What are some quick tasks we can do to make IT more ‘green’?

Why the Green Focus?
Many in our congregations and ministry constituencies want us to be good stewards– not only of our financial resources, but also in the way we consume resources to accomplish ministry. I live in California, and folks– especially millennials– esteem homes, businesses, churches, and more as ‘better’ if they’re more environmentally sensitive. There are many in your congregation or ministry constituency that would be all the more pleased with associating with your organization if they knew that there are initiatives underway to help protect the environment. And that makes cost-effective green initiatives a win-win!

Green Server Rooms
A common issue we see in server rooms is that they become storage areas for all kinds of things. That happens mostly because team members don’t understand the need to keep the server room clean, cool, and secure; many perceive the space as ‘available’ even though it isn’t. Defending the space can be exhausting.

March is a great month to go through the server room and remove anything that shouldn’t be there. In addition to boxes of things others have deposited there, consider what IT-related items are stored there too! Churches and ministries sometimes have a hard time letting go of retired technology that still worked when it was retired, even though they’ll never use it again. “But what if…?”

When I visit clients, I often offer to clean out all those old CRT monitors, Pentium computers, keyboards, roller-ball mice, and cords that are gathering dust (a fire hazard) and are taking up space. Seriously, if you haven’t used it in a couple of years, it is probably trash. It’s actually good stewardship to let them go! Here are just a couple of reasons why:

  1. There are many electronics recyclers that are willing to help, and usually for free! If they’re certified electronics recyclers, you can even trust them to erase hard drives, etc as they do their recycling! And recycling is a good thing.
  2. The more things that are stored in a server room, the less cool air is available to absorb the heat exhausted by your servers and other electronic gear. That can contribute to running hotter and consuming more electricity, and cause a shorter life for some equipment. Clean server rooms are always best.

Green Systems
There are a few things worth considering and doing that will help make your IT systems more ‘green’ in general.

  1. Virtualize your servers. Virtualization is a software technology that makes it possible to reduce the number of physical servers in your organization. It uses an app called a hypervisor that allows you to install more than one virtual server on each of your physical servers, which we then call hosts. In addition to saving money by not having to purchase a bunch of physical servers, virtualization reduces the amount of electricity consumed because the number of physical servers is smaller. It also helps reduce electricity consumption by reducing the amount of heat in a server room that must be overcome by air conditioning systems because there are fewer electronic devices exhausting heat!
  2. Move Servers to The Cloud. In addition to virtualizing your local servers, consider going a step further by determining whether their roles can be moved to a hosted cloud service provider. In recent years my firm has moved many clients’ entire group of local servers into our cloud infrastructure, dramatically reducing electrical consumption while also outsourcing the responsibility to maintain those servers. The cloud is a terrific way to make your systems more green, while also reducing capital expenses.
  3. Clean Dust from Inside Computers. It’s amazing how much dust accumulates in computers. For those computers that remain on-site (servers, workstations, etc), consider cleaning their cooling fans. Perhaps organize a volunteer work party that goes to each workstation and cleans their insides! Cleaning them out every March as part of your ‘green’ initiative will reduce their electrical consumption and may extend their life because they’ll run cooler!

St. Patrick’s Day! What a great time of year to clean up server rooms– or maybe even eliminate them by moving into the cloud! And a great time to clean the dust from inside your servers and workstations (before the weather begins to warm up).

February is IT ‘Love Your Team’ Month!

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2018 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

February is the month we celebrate Valentine’s Day – you might say it is the Month of Love! How does that look in church and ministry IT?

The IT Challenge
IT is often perceived by those not on the IT team as “The NO Guys”. Some of us have worked hard to earn that title and enjoy it! Most of us in church and ministry IT, however, are often caught by surprise when reminded by other ministry team members that we’re perceived as The NO Guys.

There are at least a few reasons why we’re often perceived that way. One is that we try to enforce good IT policies, and few outside of our discipline understand the need for some of those policies. A second is that we typically lean towards being introverts vs extroverts. That characteristic has a number of side effects, like that we don’t often communicate as warmly as others, talk in acronyms, and so on. And a third is that we have a difficult time with certain people of the ministry team, and grow passive/ aggressive styles with them that can communicate inflexibility.

Okay, enough psychological analysis.

Why We Should Try
The answers are obvious to us. We’re commanded to love one another, and we’re told that by doing so, observers will know we are Christians. If you’re like me, you find those kinds of verses encouraging, but also a little frustrating. It’s hard to express love in our professional discipline sometimes!

But Jesus is not surprised by technology, and he understands the need for order. So, it’s worth coming up with ways that our non-IT team members will know that we love them. And that we love serving them. And that we are their ministry partners.

What Are Some Things We Can Do in February?
February is thought of by many as the month of love. In it we celebrate Valentine’s day– a universal day of love! So, it seems like a good time of the year to ask our fellow ministry team members to ‘be our Valentine’ through our actions. Which James tells us is necessary (see James 2:14-17).

Here are a few very practical, tactical ways to show your team members that you love them:

  1. Clean their monitors/ displays, mice, and keyboards. After hours, go through the offices and clean the gunk off those devices! If your organization’s team is too large for that to happen, organize some volunteers to help you! There are members of your congregation who would love to join you on this.
  2. Pray for those on your organization’s team, and send them a handwritten note or email or text saying simply that you prayed for them: for protection from the enemy–for them and their family–and for their effectiveness in ministry.
  3. You could even combine the two! Encourage the volunteers helping you clean monitors/ displays, mice, and keyboards to pray for the team member while at their task, and to leave behind a brief note saying they were prayed for.

You may even want to add this to your task list as a recurring task every February!

This seems so simple, but even so, it can have a huge impact on how those on the ministry team perceive those in your IT Department. Or you, specifically. Maybe it’ll help get beyond the prevalent misperception that the IT Department is where The NO Guys are.