By: Mike Sole, Director of Sales at LBMC Technology Solutions
Is the Cloud an option for churches? This was a question I was asked recently along with an invitation to present on this topic for a local conference. Being the sales professional that I am; constantly looking for opportunities to connect clients to the right solution, and a believer, I thought to myself… “If I can’t sell heavenly things to people of faith, it may be time to consider a new profession,” so I anxiously volunteered.
Of course, in this case, the real discussion was around the latest technology advancements and if they were a realistic option to churches, from a cost and functionality perspective. As I usually like to do, I started the session by asking the folks in the room what they would like to hear about, what their concerns were, and what challenges they face today. The conversation fell into three common and basic categories.
This is almost always the first concern companies have when moving to the cloud. Asking them to expound on their fears, one individual spoke up and said “I just can’t give up that server in the middle of my office…I want to see it, feel it, and hug it, if needed.” Initially, the comment garnered laughter, but my years in technology and data center management caused a series of concerns to rush to my mind. I knew full well there were likely no protections on that server against evils such as Ransomware, viruses, hacker intrusions or disgruntled employees. And if there is no backup system in place…all of their valuable information was at significant risk.
The truth of the matter is, there are no guaranteed, fool-proof systems available today, whether you are on-premise or in the cloud. There are actually bad people in this world that spend all of their time and energy creating chaos and disruption. However, it should be considered that cloud solutions, especially well-established solutions, have extremely high standards and are able to leverage as a collective group of customers investing in technology, which no individual group or organization would likely be able to implement on their own accord. These companies know security is the top question on customers’ minds, and it is their primary focus. Now, let’s go back to that precious little server sitting in the middle of the office. First, unless it is disconnected from the world, it actually is isolated and a much easier target to those who wish to do harm. Second, experience tells me, especially with churches, the IT function of their “IT person” isn’t even their full-time role so in comparison, clients should take some level of comfort that a cloud solution is a safer alternative. All things considered, customers should work with a trusted partner to evaluate solution alternatives, develop best practice organizational procedures, and investigate purchasing a Cyber Security insurance policy.
Not leaving the security topic quite yet, I asked the group how they reported information and distributed it to a broader audience. The immediate and very common response was Excel spreadsheets that were sent via their Yahoo or Gmail email accounts. I took a moment again to ask them “Why are you concerned about security in the cloud?”
I figured I had made my point on the security front, so we moved onto more exciting topics. I shared with them an experience I had been involved in a church building project and discussing the fundraising ideas with the committee. One member shared his insight and stated if the congregation had more visibility into the goals and status of the project, the memberships would be more engaged and willing to invest. One of the financial systems that LBMC Technology Solutions supports actually creates dashboards that graphically show donations, member involvement trends, the number of meals served, fundraising expenses and efficiency, food service, and volunteer service hours, all available via the web or mobile device. Cloud solutions now are much more integration-focused, so all of this data can come from multiple sources and consolidated into a single view. With this increased visibility into these good works, excitement grows…enabling even more good works.
You can’t write a tech blog nowadays without mentioning the term “Digital Transformation,” but in truth, it is real, and it impacts every one of us. Today, you can no longer take a narrow view into any activity. Almost everything we do is now tracked and reported in the digital world. It’s amazing that when shopping on Amazon, you find yourself magically presented with items you are currently interested in, or that a viral video of someone pouring ice over their head for charity is seen by millions in a matter of minutes, or even your refrigerator is messaging to tell you that you are running out of milk. The digital world is changing, and gathering information in Excel spreadsheets just isn’t an efficient way to store and share data anymore.
One simpler example, from a church perspective, is using CRM systems to gather information about your membership. CRM systems are a very efficient way to connect active members of the churches to others in need. I recently sat with a group of retired men at the church where I attend, and they wanted to use their talents, whether in construction, electrical work, financial planning, counseling, etc., to help others in need within the congregation. I’m certain this same scenario happens in other congregations, and having the ability to inventory and match up these skill sets to the needs of other members is critical to the success of good works.
After considering these factors and others, I would suggest that the cloud is a perfect match for the church, both from a spiritual and a technological perspective.