At Evening…

grasshopperI love that my daughter longs to read to me at night…  It is a great joy to me and a wonderful way to end her day, and mine. Tonight, the story she read to me was a beautiful reminder of just how fast life moves… and why I need to slow down and enjoy the road.  It is worth sharing.

It is taken from “Grasshopper on the Road” by Arnold Lobel.

At Evening

In the evening Grasshopper walked slowly along the road.  The sun was going down.  The world was soft and quiet.  Grasshopper heard a loud sound.  ZOOM!  Grasshopper heard another noise.  ZOOOM!

He saw two dragonflies in the air.  “Poor Grasshopper,” said the dragonflies. “We are flying fast.  You are only walking.  That is very sad.” “It is not sad,” said Grasshopper. “I like to walk.”

The dragonflies flew over Grasshopper’s head.  “We can see so many things from up here,” said the dragonflies.  “All you can see is that road.”  “I like this road,” said Grasshopper. “And I can see the flowers growing along the side of the road.” “We are zipping and zooming,” said the first dragonfly. “We do not have time to look at flowers.”

“I can see leaves moving in the trees,” said Grasshopper.  “We are looping and spinning,” said the second dragonfly. “We do not have time to look at leaves.”  “I can see the sunset over the mountains,” said Grasshopper.  “What sunset? What mountains?” asked the dragonflies.  “We are diving and dipping.  There is no time to look at sunsets and mountains.”

ZOOOM!  The two dragonflies raced across the sky.  Soon they were gone.  The world was quiet again.  The sky became dark.  Grasshopper watched the moon rising over the land.  He watched the stars come out too.  He was happy to be walking slowly down the road.

Grasshopper was tired.  He lay down in a soft place.  He knew that in the morning the road would still be there, taking him on and on to wherever he wanted to go.

Just beautiful.

As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes.  For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.  But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children.” Psalm 103

Help desk Solutions – A Review of Desk.com

desk-com-logo-white-thumbAre you shopping for a new help desk solution?  We’ve recently made a switch and wanted to write a quick review of the Salesforce desk.com product.  A little bit of history.  We have been a faithful (if not patient) user of the Spiceworks helpdesk platform for the past 4+ years.  If anything, we are a little picky about our tools especially when it comes to cost and features.  Before Spiceworks, we used Kaseya which was a good tool, but difficult to work with and costly for our organization (which at the time was a single site).

As our organization has grown, we needed a tool that would best allow us to handle multiple sites, multiple departments, etc.  After doing quite a bit of “asking around” and research, we found ourselves looking at the new desk.com product that is part of the Salesforce umbrella.  For those of you who who work in the non-profit space and don’t know about the Salesforce Foundation, you really should.  The Salesforce Foundation provides deep, deep discounts on their flagship products for 501c3 organizations.  For example, we are using the Enterprise Edition of Salesforce for one of our ministries at no cost to us.  We actually get up to 10 licenses for free, and additional licenses are deeply discounted.

Ok, enough about that.  Let’s talk about the Desk.com help desk product.  First, the cost.  Today, Salesforce provides an 80% discount for non-profits.  That’s right, 80% off.  Licensing is done by “agents”, not users… meaning you have have as many people as you want creating tickets as help desk users and you are only paying for your help desk workers, or agents.  For us, we started out with 9 agent licenses, which was enough to cover our IT and Facility Operations teams. To give you a scale of the discounting we received… the regular price for these 9 agents would be $4212 annually.  By doing a one year prepay, you save 25% on top of the 80% that you save as a non-profit.  That means that we got a $4212 solution for $626 annually.

Now $626 is not free, which means it is more expensive than Spiceworks.  True statement.  But when you start to compare feature sets, I think it’s easy to see how we made the switch.  Let talk about features for a bit.

  • Cloud based – Desk is cloud based, meaning never having to deal with putting it on one of your servers.
  • Multiple Departments – Desk works well for multiple departments in a single install.  This was difficult to do with Spiceworks, as you almost had to do a separate install for each department who wanted to use it. We now can do that with ease on a single install.
  • Integration – Desk has a ton of built in integrations with other tools.  You would expect this from a Salesforce product, and you won’t be disappointed.  For example, we easily integrated with HipChat (which we use for team communication) so that every time a new ticket is created, we get a message to our team in HipChat.
  • Mobile apps –  Desk just released a new version of their iPhone/iPad app which is really great.  But even without it, their solution is responsive and beautiful using the web version on a tablet or phone.
  • Customizable knowledge base – While users can still submit tickets by emailing the help desk, they can also use the portal and take advantage of the customizable knowledge base.  It’s pretty amazing and really does help prevent tickets from being created for common issues.
  • Email Workflow – Updating tickets generates and manages the communications back to the user, but even better it allows you to change who the email notifications are sent to, meaning you can add other people into the ticket at any time if you need to widen the scope of the conversation.
  • Tagging – You can create custom tagging for tickets, which can be driven by customizable rules.  For example we have tags for tickets that are “waiting on equipment return”, “waiting on equipment order”, “waiting on user”, or specific to a campus “Fort Worth” or “Dallas”  This allows us to filter based on tags.  The tags for location are automatically generated because the user creating the ticket has a campus associated with them.  Ticket tagging in this case is automatic.
  • Search – It’s search.  I don’t need to explain it.  But it’s awesome.
  • API – As you would imagine from Salesforce, it has a solid API which makes integration possible.  For example, we are using our existing login system for our staff users to authenticate them via our portal.  They login and then are automatically connected to the desk.com product using those credentials.
  • Usability – I’ve saved the best for last.  This is simply the easiest product I have used for help desk.  From a UI/UX perspective, they’ve done it well.  Need to see the details of a ticket?  Just mouse-over the subject line.  Need to send a response, update, and resolve a ticket.  One button.  Want to create a macro that will do a canned response to a certain type of problem, send it, note the ticket, and resolve it?  Easy.

Bottom line, we have been very happy with the transition to the new tool.  If you are looking for a flexible, easy to use, help desk product, you should take a look at desk.com.

Remembering Barry B…

Church IT lost a good friend last week to brain cancer.  Our friend and colleague, Barry Buchanan went to be with Jesus this past Wednesday.  Barry was a funny guy, crazy smart, and a good friend to many.  He spent the last 10 years of his life as the IT director at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, TX.  I first met Barry back in 2007 at a “Large Church Gathering” here at Watermark.  I remember liking him from the very beginning.  His wild, long, red hair and crazy wit made me think he was some sort of slightly insane viking.  But if he was a slightly insane viking, he was a kind one, with a infectious laugh.  One of the many things I loved about Barry was his creativity.  Over the years, he began to draw webcomics… many about life in the IT world at a church.  If you haven’t seen them, check them out at www.dontfeedthegeek.com.  One of my favorites was a comic he drew for me after a church IT roundtable that we held in Dallas in 2010.  Check it out below.

2010-11-04-the-IT-roundtable

We loved Barry, and we will miss him.  But we also know that he is with Jesus… and that is FAR better.  There is more laughter in heaven today because Barry is with them.

Is there a doctor in the house? – A supply and demand problem with IT in the church.

Stethoscope on a computer keyboardIs there a doctor in the house?  Being in church IT for the past 14 years sometime feels like playing doctor.  You see ministries that need help, you know there are things that you could prescribe to them as solutions that would help them.  At the same time, you also know that you only have enough medicine available to help some of them.   Others will have to wait and suffer.  It’s a supply and demand problem.  You want to increase supply, but you can’t.  You might also want to limit demand, but you can’t do that either, and probably don’t want to.  Demand means ministries are happening.  So the sick will go and find other medicines to help them (and it might work for a while), but ultimately might just make them sicker.

I have wrestled with this for years.  Over the last 3 years, I’ve only seen this opportunity increase, especially as more and more people are consumers of IT.  (see this article for a good summary of the consumerization of IT in the church)  As a manager of IT (or a DOER of IT) you probably enjoy dreaming, at least a little bit, about how every ministry at your church could be better.  Many of us are maximizers and futurists.  We dream about what the future could be, and how we can use our training to help others get there.

However, many church leaders don’t understand the value that IT can bring to the organization.  They often like us… mostly because we provided the shiny new laptop they are using, and we can fix their printer every week when they forget to load paper in it.  (kidding…somewhat).  What they don’t understand is that their church is far less effective than they know.  People are leaving and no one knows why.  People want to serve, but have gotten frustrated finding a place of service and have given up.  People want to be in a small group, but don’t know how to find one.  The membership process drops people through the cracks. We want to plant a new campus, but we don’t know where people actually live.   The list goes on.

We want to help.  We have the medicine.  We want to dispense it.  But let’s be honest…. we want to help everyone.  And we can’t.  And it’s hard.  When you help everyone equally, you end up helping no one.  Prioritization becomes very important.

So what are some solutions?  Can we outsource?  Somewhat yes but that’s expensive medicine in many cases.  Can we use volunteers?  Also yes, but you will need a significant season where you are investing in people and getting very few tasks done.  It’s a great model, once you get the balls rolling (and then work to sustain momentum with volunteers).  Add staff?  An option if you can get approval AND find talented people who have a passion for Kingdom work (and often the pay cut that comes with that decision)

How are you doing with the issue of supply and demand in your church?  What is the most effective way you have seen to create organizational change from the bottom up?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

With this great phone, who needs wi-fi? Everyone, apparently.

lteI remember when the promises of LTE on mobile carriers made me question (for a moment at least) our decision of deploying campus-wide wireless.  Had we made a mistake rolling out all of the capacity? But as time passed, I’ve come to realize what a sound investment it is.  AT&T and Verizon continue to make their fast LTE internet service painfully expensive, and worse… capped to make it completely unusable.  I thought this article from bgr.com summed up the situation very well.  “Verizon has instituted a system where I actually have incentives to not use its network.”

You can read the entire article here:

http://bgr.com/2013/09/27/verizon-att-lte-data-cap-criticism/

What has your experience been with mobile carriers?  Do you find yourself using free wi-fi as much as possible?