Archive for June, 2005

When Is It Time To Change Your System or Software?

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles

© 2005 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine

Ministries change computer systems and software for a variety of reasons.  Some of these are good, and some are wasteful.  What are some of the “right” reasons to change?

Software-Related Reasons
It’s unfortunately true that there is no such thing as “perfect” software.  You will always experience a percentage— hopefully small— of unmet expectations or needs.  If you need your software to do things that it currently cannot, and these are critical issues of ministry or productivity, then it may be time for a change.

Changing systems always has a cost.  Some mistakenly think it will only be the cost of new hardware, software, and engineering.  But there is more:  the cost to your team’s efficiency and productivity as they transition from your current system to a new system as well as a likely change in ongoing support costs.  The end result may be worth it, but the full cost needs to be counted up front in the decision-making process.

Explore Your Options
If you’ve been generally pleased with your hardware, software, or engineering vendor, consider talking with them first about the issues that are driving you to consider a change.  It may be that your system has become dated, and all you really need is an upgrade.  Or it may be that your vendor is readily able to meet your new needs.  Making these foundational changes slowly vs rushing to judgment may save your ministry a lot of money.

If the change you’re considering is regarding your church or donor management software, your current vendor may be willing to further develop their product so that it fully meets your new need.  If the rest of the product serves your team well, this may be the best solution.  One caution though:  any custom programming they do should be done with the understanding that it will be included in their product as a regular feature from now on.  This will help you ensure that the changes you need will be supported through future software updates.  If you find your software company to be unresponsive to your needs, this may also be an indication that it’s time for a change.  As a ministry, you need a programming and support team behind you that has a servant attitude and a felt desire to empower you in your ministry.

Hardware-Related Reasons
Some software is written so it can only run on certain kinds of hardware.  If the support for your hardware is too costly, or the hardware is so out-of-date that you’re always having to work around it, or it can’t run many of the programs your team needs, this may also mean it’s time for a change.

The Bottom Line
A wise church business administrator told me that the cost of his hardware and software was the smallest portion of his operations and productivity cost.  He correctly calculated that the cost of lost productivity would quickly out-pace the cost of bringing his system up to current standards.

If your system is costing you in support or lost productivity more than it would cost to change, then good stewardship would suggest that it’s time for a change.   If your lost productivity is due to a lack of training, however, then it might be a better decision to invest in your team than in hardware and software by getting them some good training.  The goal is ministry.  Let’s give our teams what they need to accomplish the goal.

Changing Your System or Software? What Should You Expect?

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles

© 2005 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from The Clergy Journal’s Faithful Finances

When churches change computer systems or software, they’re often surprised at the enormity of the task.  The time and costs often run over budget, and the transition often leaves a trail of unmet expectations.  With a little understanding of the process and some preplanning, however, these unmet expectations can be minimized and even avoided.

Is there a perfect fit?
Many believe they need to find a system that perfectly meets all of their needs.  Unfortunately, there’s no such system.  A 90%-95% match is as high as they should set their sites.  With that in mind, how can you increase the likelihood that your system will meet your needs?  Do it right; don’t skip any steps in the process.

  1. Brainstorm with your team, listing all of their new system hopes.
  2. Identify which of those needs is the most critical for your ministry.
  3. Research the best software that meets your highest priority need.  Begin by looking in your favorite Christian publications (like this one!).  Next, check with your denomination and any other ministry associations.  Now you’re ready to call some of the churches whose operations you regard highly and ask:
    1. What they use;
    2. If they’re satisfied with how the company takes care of them; and
    3. What they’d do differently if they were making the same decision today that they made when they chose their current software.
    4. Then contact three or four companies who look promising and request full demonstrations of their products (demo disks rarely give enough of an impression on which to base a decision).
  4. Buy hardware that optimizes the software.  (Note that this is always the last step.)

Adjust or Customize?
The system you identify in the above process will probably be a good fit— if no shortcuts are taken along the way.  But still, the best you can hope for is a 90%-95% fit.  So what should you do about that portion of the system that isn’t a perfect fit?  Choose one of the following:

1. Hire a programmer to customize the system, making it perfectly fit your exact needs.  Many ministries choose to follow this route. It is rarely successful, however, because its success depends on the following:

  • You have a comprehensive grasp of your total system needs, both current and future.
  • You have effectively communicated your needs to the programmer.
  • The programmer you hired is capable of efficiently doing all you communicated.

If each of these is true, then your system has a chance for success.  To the extent that any of these is not true, however, to that extent your team will be hindered in building the Kingdom.

2. Challenge your team to adapt the way they do business to the system’s design.  There will always be some unmet needs or differing processes in any computer system.  That’s reality.  The team that does its homework will usually find that the solution they’ve chosen is as close a match as is possible.  The remaining differences need to be adapted to.

Ministries willing to bend a little find system implementation— not painless— but livable and usually successful.  But that means a willingness to change, which reminds me of one of my favorite church jokes:

Q:  How many church members does it take to change a light bulb?
A:  What do you mean, change?

Guidelines for System Success
Following are six relatively simple steps that virtually guarantee success when transitioning from one computer system to another.

  1. Management (the decision-making and vision-giving authority in your ministry) must decide that they are not looking for a quick fix, but rather, a right solution.  They must commit themselves to a process that will likely take a few months just to identify which system is best for your ministry.  That means this process should be scheduled; not done in response to an emergency.
  2. Management must acknowledge that implementation, once begun, will likely take a full year to complete.
  3. Management must communicate their commitment and timeline expectations clearly to the entire ministry team.  This will eliminate unrealistic expectations at all levels within your team.
  4. Management should assign a trusted team member the responsibility of coordinating the brainstorming, research, and implementation.  The authority given to that person must match their responsibility and be fully supported by management.
  5. Include a solid training plan in the implementation plan to teach the staff how to effectively use the new system.
  6. Every step along the way, inform the entire team of the project’s progress.

Many system implementations go beyond what anyone thought they would cost.  Worse than that, the time they take to complete usually goes beyond what anyone expected.  By following these guidelines, your ministry can transition to a new system that meets nearly all expectations.  It will likely boost team morale and empower your team in their Kingdom-building efforts.

The best part will be that, following these guidelines, you may get to hear those richly rewarding words: “Well done, good and faithful steward.”