Archive for October, 2014

The Community of Church IT People

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

© 2014 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine

Most people who work at churches and ministries are in behind-the-scenes positions. There is a group of these modern day heroes of The Faith who focus on IT that began gathering as peers in 2006 to and encourage each other. They have formed the Church IT Network, and their impact is huge!

Who Is The Church IT Network?
Jason Powell, IT Director at Granger Community Church in South Bend, IN was blogging about church IT needs nearly a decade ago when he offered to host a meet-up of church IT people for a roundtable gathering– a gathering of peers helping and encouraging peers. That first meeting was in September 2006. Since then there have been eleven additional national gatherings, and each time the group grows.

Those attending CITRT (Church IT Roundtable) events include IT engineers, net admins, help desk people, and web development people. A few supporting vendors also attend.

What Do They Do At CITRT Events?
The events usually start with worship and a devotional message that speaks directly to the needs of IT people. That is followed by a schedule of roundtable discussions that focus on general issues, IT Director issues, spiritual challenges of serving where you worship, and various skillsets and solutions and concepts. And, of course, there is awesome geek humor and eating! (I heard one person explain the geek humor this way: “There’s lots of geek humor, and you never have to explain it!”)

Why Do We Need Another Conference?
At this year’s national CITRT I especially enjoyed the vulnerable sharing at one of the spiritual roundtables. I had been asked to lead the session, and we shared amongst each other how challenging it is to do what we do where we worship, and that we believe we’re called to serve in this way. Then I asked if anyone in the room was at the end of their rope– at the point of discouragement where this was their last hope for the encouragement they needed to continue on. One said he was, and a couple of others were close. It was a privilege to serve, encourage, and pray for them.

Another terrific aspect of the CITRT is the free resourcing we do for each other. Everyone there is a peer, sharing challenges and solutions and victories, and asking how others have solved challenges and gained victory. We all want to serve well, and at CITRT we help each other to do exactly that.

When Do They Meet? And What’s The Cost?
There are usually two CITRT events scheduled each year: simultaneous regional events in the Spring and a national event in the Fall. The amazing thing is how inexpensive the events are! The national event is usually just $75– and that’s for three days of conference with meals included! And we eat very well. The regionals are even more affordable.

How do they do that? The events are usually hosted at churches, and the attending vendors pay fees that steeply underwrite the cost. As such, the vendors are called partners rather than vendors or even sponsors.

What’s The Next Step?
Do you know someone who works at a Christian church or ministry in the field of IT? Or in a related field, like web development? I strongly recommend you encourage them to get involved in the CITRT community. They can do so a few ways:

  • Add a Twitter search for the hashtag #citrt. Many in the CITRT community tweet with that hashtag.
  • Login to the website, which you can get to via www.citrt.org. There you’ll see communication threads and a schedule of events, including monthly live podcasts and the various scheduled roundtable meetings.
  • Plan now to attend a Spring regional CITRT event. The cost will be minimal, and there will be many of them (the goal is to have them within a four hour drive of almost everyone).
  • Plan now to attend the next national CITRT. It will be in the Fall of 2015, and will be hosted by Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, CA (this year’s was in October at Northwoods Community Church in Peoria, IL; they bounce around the country).

I hope you act on my recommendations! Whether the person doing so is you or someone you know, it’s more than worth the time and cost. The benefits will be huge for the attender and their church or ministry. I hope to see you there!

Video Calls – Will the Technology Survive?

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

© 2014 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine

When people first get the technology to make video calls, they get excited! But interest in this terrific concept always wanes. What will it take for the technology to survive and, more importantly: thrive?

Why Do People Always Get Excited About It?
I see it over and over again: people get excited about being able to make video calls! Whether it’s friends calling friends, lovers calling lovers, or grandparents calling grandchildren, this is a technology that holds a lot of promise! The tools are plentiful: Cisco, Skype, Lync, Facetime, Tango, GoToMeeting, and a zillion others! Even many VoIP phone systems can accommodate video calls now!

With the technology so prevalent and, truly, at most of our fingertips, why doesn’t it take off? Why don’t we see (pun intended) more people making video calls?

Why Do They Lose Interest In It?
There are a few reasons I’ve seen develop into patterns:

  1. We often lose interest in the ‘new thing’ after awhile, and video calling falls prey to this tendency like anything else does.
  2. Some people don’t like how they look in video calls! I’ve seen entire organizations decide to prefer video calls over audio-only calls, only to have that decision reversed a couple of months later. Let’s face it: we get self-conscious! Plus, we lose the ability to do other things while in a conversation– multitasking feels rude in a video call!
  3. Video calling systems are limited; most only let you connect with someone using the same software or platform. Thus there is often no way to video call someone not using the same system.

The first two reasons can be overcome if the prevalence of video calling could push us to a greater comfort level. But the third will forever keep the technology from becoming widely adopted. What if I don’t like Skype’s user agreement that lets them use my computer to route other people’s calls and consume my bandwidth? What if I don’t have an Apple device and thus cannot use Facetime? What if I don’t want to install yet another video call app on my system because someone wants to connect with me who doesn’t have any of the many video call apps I’ve already installed?

What’s It Going To Take To Become Standard?
The industry that provides apps to access and to power this technology need to agree on standards that allow differing systems to interact with each other without requiring that both parties in a call use the same app. This is exactly what it took to make email so common! Here’s a quick history of email:

  • In 1965, MIT began electronically sending messages within its system.
  • By the mid-1980s there were dozens of systems that could send messages to others using the same network and technology.
  • A standard was agreed to, called MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) that enabled the exchange of email between differing systems. Even so, early systems only worked for those within themselves (remember CompuServe?).

A set of standards needs to be agreed to and adopted so someone using Facetime can video call someone using Skype or Cisco or GoToMeeting. Anyone who wants to create a terrific video call app should be able to, and that will drive technological advancement and advantage to the point of making the video call as ubiquitous as email.

The Drive for Profit and Advantage
Some of the companies offering video call apps and platforms may be concerned that sharing their technology may impact their profitability and cause them to forfeit their advantage in the marketplace. I’m an entrepreneur, and I understand. However, consider the example set by electric car maker Tesla and its founder, Elon Musk. On 6/12/2014 they made this announcement on their firm’s blog: “Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.” Forbes Magazine, in a 7/17/2014 article, said, “Tesla’s gambit challenges… conventional wisdom. It suggests that the highest hurdle that innovative companies often face is not the theft of their ideas, but rather the development of new markets.”

Bravo, Tesla! If the electric car is going to grow in popularity and overcome the challenges of the marketplace, many more electric vehicles will need to be on the road. Likewise, if video calls are to grow in popularity and overcome the challenges of the marketplace, a set of standards must be set so everyone can talk with anyone in a video call regardless of the app either end of the conversation is using.