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Getting Networked In Church

Houses of worship may understandably feel a close connection to distant parts of the universe, but their physical plants are also hoping that connectivity on signal and control networks are proving beneficial in the long run, too. But networking their audio and video is taking them deeper than ever into a complex realm that resembles IT more than A/V.ChurchNetworking

Networking is a means of distributing digital audio or video signals across a wide area — from within a single structure to across entire campuses and multiple locations — by means of structured cabling, such as Cat-5, Cat-6 and fiber optic, over an Ethernet network such as a local area network (LAN).

Audio is the most common networked signal in use now. The most basic networked audio systems use Ethernet to create telephone systems, also known as voice-over-IP (VoIP). However, full-range audio such as music requires high-fidelity, low-latency distribution systems that do not employ data compression.

Those seeking to network audio for their facilities face a bewildering array of choices, most of them incompatible with each other, which creates understandable concerns about investing in specific solutions. Networking solutions can be divided by the various protocols that establish their operational capabilities:

Layer 1: uses Ethernet wiring and signaling components but does not use the Ethernet frame structure. Layer 1 protocols often use their own media access controls (i.e., proprietary MACs) rather than the one native to Ethernet, which generally creates compatibility issues. Proprietary networks that use Layer 1 protocols include Aviom’s A-Net and RockNet from Riedel Communications.

Layer 2: encapsulates audio data in standard Ethernet packets. Most can make use of standard Ethernet hubs and switches though some require that the network (or at least a VLAN) be dedicated to the audio distribution application. Examples of Layer-2 protocols include CobraNet, AVB (the AVnu Alliance, AVB’s certification body, plans to roll out its switch certification in July, with comprehensive Pro Audio certification expected in early 2013) and EtherSound by Digigram.

Layer 3: encapsulates audio data in standard IP packets (usually UDP/IP or RTP/UDP/IP). The use of the IP protocol improves interoperability with standard computing platforms and in some cases, improves scalability of the audio distribution system. The Layer-3 audio-over-Ethernet protocols are not designed to traverse the Internet. Examples include Audinate’s DANTE, Q-LAN from QSC and Ravenna.

Out in the Field

Different churches approach audio networking from a variety of directions. “Our approach has been to build out our infrastructure to allow for our existing network needs as well as future needs, which would include A/V,” explains Kurt Foreman, director of Operations at Cathedral of Faith in San Jose, CA. “Currently, our campus has a single- and multi-mode fiber ring around campus that primarily carries our data file. However, these data files include sending large video files. Also, our Internet connection comes through this as well.

“We have not yet taken the step to go to an IP phone system given that we haven’t seen the benefit and the cost of retrofitting the cable within our older buildings,” he continues, referring to the church’s view on the costs of networking. “Our approach for upgrading here at the church is based upon benefit/need and balancing that with the cost. How many people will benefit and is the benefit worth it?” He says they’re still assessing that.

Greg Klimetz, production manager at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL says his church is still in the process of determining their long-range networking plans, with wireless control over certain A/V systems being the first step.

“We use Aerohive wireless access points and have had amazing success with them,” he explains. Klimetz uses the access point in the church’s worship center almost every week to remotely control the Venue FOH console and other production computers in the main worship building on an iPad via a [Video LAN client (VLC)] app. “I’m in the very beginning steps of researching A/V over network platforms. I’ve briefly read a few articles on CobraNet and HiQNet systems. We let our IT tech recommend and install networking solutions based off current and future needs. We also utilize a local company called Technologies for Tomorrow to help assist our IT tech with troubleshooting and system maintenance. Streaming has been our priority right now.”

However, says Klimetz, networked A/V is the long-term goal, and streaming will constitute some of its primary content. “We definitely are headed toward A/V over network for signage, services, special events, and overflow situations,” he says. “We would like to be able to simulcast the main worship center anywhere on campus, and our network would allow us to do this. Furthermore, we would like to have the ability to simulcast any of our four main venues all over the campus if desired. This is a bigger dream as it would require camera systems in three of our four main campus venues. Currently we only have cameras in our main worship facility.” Klimetz adds that the church has already begun budgeting for networking, including the hiring of a full-time IT technician.

Adam Holladay, the market manager for the system development and integration group at Harman Professional, acknowledges that house-of-worship technical managers face a complex landscape when it comes to networking. “There are a lot of options out there, almost too many,” he observes, ticking off pros and cons of various solutions: “It’s not a good idea to put networked audio on the same LAN you’re using for voice and data, but we understand that there are cost considerations that churches have to keep in mind; that’s what AVB is designed to take care of but it won’t be fully available for some time yet,” he says. CobraNet is here and simple to use but audio is restricted to bundles of eight channels and it doesn’t support Gigabit operation, he adds. Holladay points to Audinate’s DANTE network product, which has become a de facto standard at the high end of the market, but one that requires substantial knowledge of switch management and other IT-centric issues.

“I think the most fundamental question you have to ask before getting into networking is centered around how confident you feel about operating and maintaining a network,” Holladay concludes.

Networking is complex, even at its most basic levels, although making product choices as manufacturers jockey to position their proprietary solutions in an increasingly crowded marketplace make it even more complicated. The best investment you can likely make when it comes to audio networking is in IT knowledge, in the form of a consultant, or via your pro audio retailer, many of whom are adding this to their own knowledgebase.

What’s On Your Network? Pretty much any type of A/V systems can operate on a network. • Audio is the simplest media for a network due to its small file sizes and low complexity. Both audio content and control data can be easily networked. • Projection is bit more complicated. Still images are no problem for most LAN networks, as is control data such as on/off information. More complex networks can also offer monitoring of crucial system components, such as bulbs. But full-motion video content over a network requires significantly more bandwidth than audio or still images.

By Dan Daley, Worship TechDecisions

Are my church’s media and message ready to go social?

social media 4 churches

Do you remember when organizations would only provide their address or a toll free telephone number at the end of an advertisement? Neither do I. These days, more and more businesses and churches are forgoing such standard contact information and are urging their customers to be their “Fan” on Facebook or to “Follow” them on Twitter. What makes online social media (or social networking) platforms different from more traditional forms of “customer” engagement and marketing? And how do you determine if it makes sense for your church?

The answer to the first question is simple. Nearly 25% of the entire world population, cutting across all demographics, regularly conducts business or hangs out on a social networking website. Within these “global hubs,” individuals and organizations gather and break news, promote themselves or their services, target their preferred audience, and decide whose conversations they want to hear. And much of this comes thanks to the growing number of mobile phones, which make it easy for users to access and update their social networking accounts on the go.

In addition to the obvious appeal of reaching millions of people at little cost, one primary advantage for churches to have an online social presence is to be found when someone decides to look for the message they’re spreading (for examples, archived sermons) or the services it provides. But if your church’s primary mission is to evangelize, then online social networks are no replacement for pounding the pavement, knocking on doors,  or visiting people in their need in hospitals, prisons, and  orphanages. Also, by setting up an online identity, your church would be exposing itself to the wild wild world of cyberspace, where reputations can be enhanced–and just as easily destroyed!

And yet, more and more churches are beginning to “go social.” According to this infographic(below), 46% of 250 churches surveyed said that social media is their most effective method of outreach; that’s followed by knocking on doors (24%), and advertising in the traditional outlets of newspapers, radio, and TV (a combined 30%). But the beauty of social media is that it’s not an either/or proposition: You can literally knock on doors and tweet about it at the same time.

Churches and Social MediaHow Churches Use Social Media [INFOGRAPHIC] July 31, 2012 by Amanda Pittman

Is social media right for your church, and is your ready for social media? Here are five questions you should answer before deciding:

Does your church want a two-way conversation with your followers? Unlike the church blog, a social-networking follower can post content (if you allow them to) on the church’s Facebook Page for all to see. Or a complete stranger can send a Direct Message to the pastor’s Twitter inbox. Or church members can chat with the clergy, or hold church business meetings, in a Google+ Hangout.

Does your church do frequent outreach campaigns, musical concerts, or fundraising? Then you definitely need to be active in the social media sphere.

Does your church want to target the young and unchurched? Social networking is NOT just for the kids, but naturally, the young and young at heart gravitate to these relatively nascent media platforms. Also, the millions of people who may not feel comfortable stepping inside a church door could very well visit your Facebook page from the comfort of their home.

Does your church want to educate the broader public, affect change, and at the same time protect and shape your reputation? The promise entering the dynamic world of social media is that you are on the same stage as politicians and celebrities. Anyone can find your church’s account, and what you say or do online can go “viral.” And that’s also a danger. If an improper photo or message is posted to your church’s social media account, its reputation can tank within minutes. It pays to be aware of social media’s unwritten rules of conduct.

Does your church already have an existing, but inactive, or ineffective social media-presence? It’s possibly because someone just doesn’t have the time needed to keep it “fresh” by making updates several times a week–in the case of Twitter, preferably at least once daily. But to be effective, your social media manager, whoever it may be, also needs to learn social media’s best practices, such as responding to questions or comments.

Social Media Quick Guides

Social media is a huge topic in business as companies are trying to figure out how to maximize returns on investments, reach an online audience of millions, and continue to brand well. This trend to find a new audience online is slowly moving towards the church and with this unventured trail, we want to offer you some great insights into how to use social media well in ministry with volunteers, congregation members, and people who have not even been to your church yet.

social media on iphoneHere are some social media statistics to throw at you on how big social media has become as well as how diverse and ever-growing it continues to develop towards.

  • The average Facebook user spends 405 minutes a week on the social media site.
  • 80% of social media users prefer to connect with brands through Facebook.
  • 70% of Facebook users are on via their phone and 61% of them use it every day.
  • 32% of all Internet users are using Twitter.
  • Only 23% of tweets get a reply.
  • 26% of retweets are incited by a request to retweet.
  • The Google +1 button is used 5 billion times per day.
  • Websites using the +1 button generate 3.5x the Google+ visits than sites without the button.
  • Google+ active users spend over 60 minutes a day across Google products.

For the next several weeks, we will be doing a series of social media quick guides to help you get your church from nothing to running well on several different social media platforms. They will include the basics of using the specific network effectively, how to not use the network incorrectly, and how to take advantage of each network’s uniqueness. The culmination of all of these tips will be three new eBooks that we want to give exclusively to the ChurchTechToday community.

Below is a list of the topics that we will be covering over the next several weeks:

1) Facebook for Churches: Key to Social Media Success

2) Five Facebook Ideas for Churches

3) Twitter for Churches: Key to Social Media Success

4) Five Twitter Ideas for Churches

5) Google+ for Churches: Key to Social Media Success

6) Five Google+ Ideas for Churches

Written by Jeremy Smith  //  April 15, 2013  // Church Tech Today

Getting Your Network Ready for BYOD

Most employees now own and carry very powerful personal communications devices, particularly smartphones, laptops and tablets. Increasingly, they want to use these personal devices for work, particularly for access to privileged information and applications.NetworkingPaone

That can create big problems for IT managers and C-level execs, who might pine for the days of closed corporate computing networks, where every work-related mobile and portable device was provided by, and strictly controlled by, the employer.

Those days are gone, and they aren’t coming back. Employees don’t want to carry two smartphones around, one for personal use and one for work. They’d like to use their personal laptops for productivity applications, their own iPads to read work documents. They want (or need) access to their work network at any time, no matter where they might be — at home, on the road, even on vacation.

The emerging concept of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is based on the idea of formally integrating these personal devices into corporate and organizational computing networks.

BYOD may sound simple, but it presents a host of challenges for any organization. That’s why extensively planning for BYOD is so critical, because once you open this particular Pandora’s box, it’s difficult to close it again.

On the surface, BYOD would appear to be great news for employers, who no longer need to invest nearly as much as they had been on laptops, phones and tablets for their employees’ use. Because BYOD devices are the property of the employees, employers can also enjoy reduced maintenance costs and can adopt new technology more quickly.

However, BYOD opens up a whole other can of worms.

“BYOD leaves the CIO in a conundrum,” says Chris Spain, vice president of Product Marketing for Cisco Systems’ Wireless Networking Group. “He’s thinking, ‘The rate of change is far bigger than anything I had to deal with before, with more devices changing more frequently…and my IT staff hasn’t gotten any bigger. So how do I get these devices on network easily and securely?’”

To ensure an organization’s BYOD roll out is solidly designed, IT decision-makers must address numerous issues, such as:

Security. What if an employee’s personal device is hacked, stolen or lost? What if an employee’s child wanders into sensitive documents on her parent’s iPad? What if the employee purchases a new device and passes the old one on to a family member or friend?

Change of employment status. What happens when an employee is fired, laid off or quits? In the past, employees would simply surrender their company-owned devices when they left the company. Now matters are not nearly as straightforward. Without a solid BYOD strategy in place, former employees could still use their own devices to access the network in order to take confidential documents or wreak havoc on the company’s information systems.

Liability. If BYOD gear is damaged or lost on the job, who is responsible for repair or replacement?

Who pays? Do employees get financial considerations for using their own devices? Who pays for Internet and phone service? Are the costs shared?

Administrative infrastructure. Employees and systems must be put into place to support, update and service these personal devices.

Permissions and policies. What information can an employee access? When? On what device(s)? From where?

Is your wireless network up to snuff? Employees want to use their personal devices as full network nodes within a workspace. Your wireless network must be able to handle all of this traffic while providing quality of service and reliability commensurate with that of your hard-wired network.

As you can see, BYOD is a daunting task for any organization. Fortunately, bundles of products and services are emerging to help decision makers implement effective BYOD systems.

“Don’t fight BYOD; feature it,” says Michael McKiernan, vice president, Business Technology with Citrix. “Keep it simple. Embrace self-service. Secure your data and the service, and leverage your infrastructure broadly.”

McKiernan lays out three BYOD pain points — and (good news) “pain relievers” — for decision makers. The first is “addressing the concerns of all the naysayers to accommodate all hypotheticals.” McKiernan says you must secure buy-in from your organization’s executives, along with a willingness to “acknowledge and manage non-zero risk.” Secondly, he says decision makers must “make the ROI case” by quantifying total cost of ownership, choosing when to use a stipend and how much, and being realistic that while the savings may be small in the grand scheme of things, they are “merited by the less measurable soft benefits,” such as employee happiness and productivity and risk reduction. Third is securing corporate data within a “rapidly evolving device ecosystem”; McKiernan says it is imperative to “implement a data loss prevention strategy while designing a good user experience” — the familiar balance of security versus performance.

Reprinted from Worship TechDecisions by Joe Paone

Do-it-Yourself A/V Installations: A Recipe for Success or Disaster?

“Should we do this A/V/L install ourselves or hire a contractor?” is a question I’m asked often. Too often, the question comes down to budget. On paper, it looks like hiring a contractor is always a more expensive option, but this is rarely the case when all factors are considered.

20569_bannerThe illusion of cost-savings comes from the fact that most churches (and many companies) don’t factor in the cost of labor for their staff. But there is always a cost, and a wise manager will take that into account.

This isn’t to say that doing a job in-house is always a bad idea; it’s simply a matter of weighing the options and determining the best approach for a particular project.

Here are some guidelines that to use when trying to decide how to proceed.

Do the job in-house when:

1) You Have the Skills In-House.  Some churches have highly skilled tech staffs, and it makes total sense to use that skill set to do the work of an install. The team will be working with the equipment day in and day out anyway, so installing it makes sense. Having people on staff who can lay out cable runs, pull said cable, solder, interconnect and commission systems is a blessing to many larger churches. If you have the skills, by all means, proceed.

2) You Have the Manpower In-House.  Sometimes a church has one or two highly skilled people on staff that could do the install, but is that enough? Depending on the size of the project, more hands may be required. Often, larger churches will have larger tech staffs that can put in significant time on an installation. So again, this makes sense.

3) You Have the Time.  Larger churches with sizable tech staffs have those large staffs because the church is very busy doing ministry. If the project is not extremely time-sensitive, it’s entirely possible that this team can get the job done. Deciding two weeks before Easter that you’d like a new video system may not allow the in-house team enough time to get the job done, however.

4) The Budget is Tight.  Sometimes we have to do installs within a tight budget, and the easiest way to save money is to self-install. Even factoring in the costs that really do exists with self-install, it’s often easier to stomach that bill than paying a contractor.  Sometimes it can even mean the difference between getting the job approved or not.

Note that the order of those criteria is intentional; as hard as it is, budget should really be last in the decision-making process.  If you put budget first, you may not truly consider the other three factors fairly.

Hire a contractor when:

1) You’re Hanging Things Overhead.  Very few churches have tech staff that are truly qualified to hang hundreds (or thousands) of pounds of speakers, projectors, screens or other stuff over people’s heads. And even if you are qualified, why would you want the liability?

2) Time is Tight.  Some projects have very tight timelines and the in-house staff doesn’t have the bandwidth to get it done. This is a perfect contractor job. They can bring in additional installers who do this every day, and will probably do better work in less time.

3) Manpower is Limited.  A solo technical director will probably have a tough time installing a complete A/V/L system by himself. Even if he can pull in some volunteers, it’s going to be a long, hard install. Churches that don’t have professionals on staff will almost always come out ahead when they hire a reputable contractor.

4) The Church Wants to Protect Its Staff.  Some churches are wise enough to know that pushing the staff to the limit all the time will not result in long-term employees who are committed to the organization. Sometimes it’s a smart call to let your highly qualified, fully capable tech staff leave at 5PM while someone else does the install. As a church leader, would you rather have energized, fully-engaged and excited or tired, disengaged and aggravated staff? You make the call.

Sometimes a hybrid approach is best; install what you can and bring in a contractor for the rest. I generally recommend hiring the rigging, because it’s just safer. But pulling cables, installing amp racks, consoles, patch bays and the like can often be easily be handled in-house, especially if the install company has helped with the design, making sure things are well thought out.

This decision-making process is not hard, but it should not be taken lightly. It’s almost never as easy as, “We’ll save so much money…” so be sure to think it through. You may find that at the end of the project, everyone will be better off if the install was handled by professionals. Or maybe not.

written by Mike Sessler, Church Production Weekly

5 Innovative Ways Churches are Using Text Messaging

Text messaging (SMS) is fast becoming one of the most-used communication methods, especially among young people. Churches are starting to use text messaging for church communication. Here are some of the innovative ways churches are using text messaging for ministry:

1. Encouragement for Sojourners

One very large church has a dedicated SMS keyword for church members who are away at college, travelling/living abroad for an extended period of time, or serving in the Armed Forces. These are mostly people under the age of 25 who are away from home and their church community for the first time. Subscribers receive weekly words of encouragement, support ,and inspiration from the Church’s pastor — as well as the occasional joke, just for fun.

2. Meeting Planning and Assignments

texting in front of churchMany churches are using SMS for meeting planning and assigning readings for Bible study groups. This also works for men’s groups, women’s groups, etc. This use case may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many churches haven’t thought about segmenting lists for different audiences. TextMarks allows one church account to have a different manager for each keyword, making this kind of setup clean and easy.

3. Thought of the Week

One Youth Pastor sets up a new keyword for each meeting of the youth group and then has attendees text the keyword to discover the “thought of the week” — often a funny, irreverent, or topical way of discussing a core message from the bible. This allows him to take attendance at group meetings while reinforcing his theme for the week.

4. Rallying Emergency Volunteers

Many churches need volunteers for a variety of activities, sometimes at a moment’s notice. These activities include prayer circles, emergency church repairs, collecting donations of food, cash or clothes for a church member in need, or even giving a ride to an elderly church member who needs a lift to Sunday worship. Several TextMarks churches maintain a standing army of volunteers who are ready to act when their mobile phone buzzes, anytime day or night. This is particularly valuable in areas when natural disasters are common– the Gulf Coast, the East Coast, and California come to mind.

5. Text Message Church Announcements

Every church makes announcements before or after services, but often times these announcements are lost in the shuffle of people coming and going. Many churches send weekly announcements to all members via text. These include upcoming events, updates on sick church members, financial needs for the church (and a link to a donation page), special services (particularly around major holidays) , etc.

Should increasing the frequency and effectiveness of the church’s touchpoints be a priority?

Open vs. Closed Wi-Fi Access on Sundays

Ed. Note: While this article is a reprint of an excellent post in ChurchTech, the timing couldn’t be better as I’m fine-tuning the exact Multi-SSID setup described at the end in a church right now.  All three access options are viable, but if it supports the message that your church is conveying, I highly recommend Multi-SSID and it doesn’t have to be cost-prohibitive to make it so!

While the Internet seems like it has been with us for ages, it only has become popular and fully integrated into our lives within the past 8-10 years. While innovation and adoption has moved at lightening speed in the business, academic, and home markets, churches are only now beginning to understand how powerful it can be with ministry and adopting it for evangelism and discipleship.

In some areas, we still are arguing about if we should be using cell phones during the Sunday service and in the same conversation could be wanting to get as many Facebook followers as Rick Warren.

One question that church tech volunteers and staff have struggled with is if they should allow access from the church to everyone that comes in. In a normal business setting, you will not have fifty to several thousand people coming into your building and therefore open access is not a problem, but for a church on Sunday morning you need to decide if you want to open up your churches wi-fi connection or simply expect them to use up some of their data (if you can even get proper cell phone service in the sanctuary).

It would seem that churches have three individual options when it comes to a wireless router:

Closed Wi-Fi

Group of young people having fun with digital tabletThis option simply means that no one in the congregation will be using your church’s Internet.

Pros Great security solution and an IT person’s dream. This means that you do not have to pay for high-speed internet solely if the congregation is using it and therefore may be a short and long term budget-friendly solution. It also prevents any outside people from stealing Internet and ensures that the staff will have optimal Internet speeds.

Cons Do not expect many people to use their mobile devices in church if they have to rely on their own personal data plan and may have restricted service in the building. While this may be a happy solution on Sundays, it can cause numerous headaches and issues in the long run for congregation members, board meetings, youth pastors, and many others.

Password-Protected

The Internet is password-protected and presumably the password is known by some of the staff and church technology volunteers. It is presumed that the password would be given to members as long as they come and ask for it.

Pros You do not have to worry as much about security as compared to it being open. The limited access will ensure that speeds are higher than normal for all people using the service. If at any time you want to reset security for the router without much effort, you simply need to change the password. It also requires congregation members to have a face-to-face conversation with someone to get the Internet.

Cons While the Internet may be available to the congregation, many will not sign on simply because of the hassle of coming and getting the password. As with any security measure, nothing is fool-proof and the password may get lost on Sunday morning and unusable as well as you can still have Internet filtering needs after someone logs on.

Open Wi-Fi

There is no password and the Internet is wide open for use by anyone that can get online from their mobile device.

Pros Less steps between the user and the Internet invites people to use it. If you are a pro-cell phone/tablet church, this maybe the best solution so that they can Facebook share the church’s service and message or access YouVersion online and take notes. This openness inspires people to talk about your church which can be a great way to bless and evangelize to the community.

Cons This is a big security risk and you cannot simply have your Internet open for anyone to get on. If you do allow for an open wi-fi during Sunday, ensure you have proper web filters to promote healthy online activity. At the same time, letting the masses all online may significantly slow down your Internet speeds and if the church is all on one Internet plan, you can potentially impact other ministries running at the same time or the YouTube clip you wanted to show at the beginning or end of the service.

While no one solution has come to the forefront of usability for the church, there is another option out there that may churches do not realize is available to them.

Multi SSID Solution

So many of the new wireless routers actually provide you with a fourth solution that gives you the ability to do multiple options of the above solutions.

Routers like the Linksys EA3500 or the Netgear N750 offer what is called Multi SSID solutions that can let you setup an open wireless option and at the same time a password-protected solution too. There are many different reasons for wanting to do this with minimal extra setup, including maintaining wi-fi Internet speeds for church staff while still being able to offer open Internet to the rest of the congregation, setting up different Internet filtering for different wireless options (presumably more strict for the congregation), and different wi-fi can allow for network specific solutions and therefore stronger internal security.

Intelligent Building Management is Fast Becoming the Way to Save Money

Building_Energy_ManagementThough we all know the nine-to-five workday is a relic of a bygone era, the buildings we work in are frequently unaware. Lighting, if automated at all, often starts shutting down at a prescribed time even though staff may be working into the night. HVAC systems that require manual switching from winter heating mode to summer air conditioning, usually don’t get switched over until employee complaints become too loud to ignore.

Enter intelligent building scheduling. Play it smart and it becomes possible to use lighting in a targeted manner that is easy on employees’ eyes as well as the wallet. And by tying building controllers into facility scheduling software, spaces, such as conference rooms and classrooms, can be brought to an optimum temperature prior to the start of an event.

“The most effective lighting scheme is one that incorporates ‘daylight harvesting,’ that knows the angle of the sun, whether it’s cloudy or bright, and where the sun is facing in relation to your facility, according to the astronomical calendar for your latitude and longitude,” says Michael Carter, director of Building Automation Solutions at AMX. “There are also lots of other data points to consider, such as how many people are in a room at a particular time and whether the order in which rooms can be booked should vary based on time of day and the amount of natural light each one receives.”

For Kirk Davis, managing principal at the Portland, Ore. Office of sustainable engineering firm Glumac, leveraging maximum daylight comes first when developing any intelligent automated facilities schedule, whether building from the ground up or retrofitting an existing structure. For him, even though daylight is free, it can be harnessed to varying degrees based on the age of an existing building and the extent of updates. With the right tools and an approach that’s flexible enough to change as the project progresses, retrofitting is no longer the challenge it once was. Those tools include automated window shades and sensors to detect the presence or absence of people.

Occupied or Not?

Occupancy sensors, used to turn lights on or adjust temperature when someone enters a room, are not always the best choice for overriding a preset facility schedule. In spaces that do not benefit from natural light — bathrooms, windowless lecture halls, and printer alcoves among them — it makes sense to use occupancy sensing to turn lights on. In other spaces, the contrarian strategy of using sensors to detect the absence of people often makes more sense.

One tip for efficient facility management relates to energy and occupancy sensor best practices, according to Glen Marianko, technology manager for Enterprise Software at Crestron. “You don’t always want to use sensors to detect when people are present. It’s often smarter to do the opposite and detect vacancy, the absence of people.” In a simple scenario, Marianko says an employee attending an afternoon meeting might dash into his or her officeat 6 p.m. to grab keys and briefcase then head home. Instead of having an occupancy sensor turn on the lights which might be needed for just a few seconds, it’s better left to the employee. “Let the occupant decide to switch on the light and use the vacancy sensor to turn it off after a brief period of inactivity.”

The question, of course, is how quickly to turn that light off. Through the use of controllers and software from AMX, Crestron, Lutron and others, the timeout value can be varied by time of day. “You want the timeout to be long enough so that lights are not turned off when people in a conference room take a 20-minute coffee break, but you may want to shorten the timeout to five minutes after 6 p.m.,” says Doug Jacobson, vertical markets manager for Lighting and Energy Management at Crestron.

Since lighting is instantaneous, there’s no need to prepare a space more than a few minutes before scheduled use, mainly to accommodate early arrivals or set-up. HVAC is vastly different. An auditorium booked for a 2 p.m. meeting in mid-July needs to be pre-cooled well before the event starts, says AMX’s Carter. “You also have to take into account the heat generated by several hundred bodies in that auditorium.”

With pre-planned and ad-hoc events continually at odds with a structured hour-by-hour facilities schedule, there is universal agreement when it comes to implementation – it’s okay to be energy efficient, but it’s not okay to be annoying. If you’ve installed sensors in a conference room to detect occupancy or vacancy, overlaying system-wide time-clock scheduling on top probably will not work. The converse, however, giving the sensors precedence over the clock schedule could work much better.

Yet, even the exceptions have exceptions. During in-session school hours, it may make more sense to have the control system disable or disregard occupancy/vacancy sensors installed in hallways to prevent lights from turning off when classrooms are full and hallways empty. After school hours, hallway lighting could switch to a low mode in which only every second or third fixture is illuminated. Sensors detecting occupancy could then turn on the remaining lights as needed for a set interval or turn them off in response to vacancy sensing. Similarly, the handling of parking-lot lighting is not simply a time-of-day matter. “You could start with a time clock, but adding a photocell may help, especially when a summer thunderstorm rolls through and darkens the sky, even though it’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon,” says Crestron’s Jacobson.

In the end, facilities managers invariably discover that intelligent building management is an iterative process that warrants periodic re-visitation. Assumptions about workday length made when schedules were initially developed may not be reflective of current employee work patterns. Desks may be shared by people working staggered shifts. Fortunately, with individual lighting fixtures controllable by flexible systems over the corporate network, keeping lighting and HVAC in sync with employees’ work patterns — while minimizing energy consumption — has never been easier.

By Joel Shore

Everyday Remedies for Conflicting Video Standards

imagesCAW25BZ7In 2010, Intel, AMD and PC makers Dell, Lenovo, Samsung, and LG announced that they would phase out VGA connectors (or ports) by 2015. Their reasoning: digital formats such as DisplayPort and HDMI allow for slimmer laptop designs and higher resolution with deeper color than is possible with VGA.
In early 2012, analyst firm NPD In-Stat released a report stating that DVI ports will also disappear from PCs over the next five years, setting the stage for “standardization” on HDMI and DisplayPort. There are several other issues driving the phase-out of VGA and DVI interfaces. One is that VGA does not allow for content protection, so it may be phased out due to digital content license agreements. A more practical issue for manufacturers and users is the size of the connectors: VGA and DVI connectors with thumb screws are difficult and sometimes impossible to accommodate in ultra-slim notebook and netbook designs; connecting and securing these cables to monitors is difficult in confined spaces.

So why do we still need two digital interfaces?
DisplayPort and HDMI are very different technically, and each has a different product focus. HDMI is the de-facto standard in home theater and is used widely on HDTVs, and some PCs and monitors include HDMI to enable connectivity with HDTVs and other consumer electronics gear. DisplayPort is focused on PC, monitor, and projector applications as a replacement for DVI and VGA where high performance is critical, and allows backwards and forwards compatibility over standard cables. The DisplayPort connector is compatible with HDMI signals, enabling product interoperability. And, to make content owners happy, DisplayPort 1.2 supports HDCP v1.3, ensuring that protected content such as Blu-ray disc movies may be easily viewed over a DisplayPort connection that includes HDCP support.
Video connectivity standards seem to change or “evolve” every time a new video source or display technology is introduced. This presents obvious problems for integrating new components into existing systems. The problem is not always the change, since rarely do standards disappear completely. The challenge is juggling multiple standards; old standards must often co-exist with new standards.
Sorting out the connectivity issues is complicated by the fact that it involves different formats, standards, and physical connectors. Before digital, the VGA format (developed by IBM in 1987) was the most common video signal format, and it was considered “standard” although it was never adopted by an official standards-making body. For many years, most PCs output VGA, and displays and other sources accepted it. VGA uses the common DE-15 connector, still seen on many PCs.
That’s all changing with digital video signal formats. For commercial AV applications, the most common digital formats are DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort, and SDI. Within each format, there are multiple variants and connector types.
PLAN YOUR CONNECTIONS Whenever possible, try to determine the connector type of all possible sources and displays before any installation project or ad hoc presentation. Check to see if there are matching connectors on installed AV devices (projectors, flat-panels, switchers) and connectivity interfaces (pop-up access panels or wall  plates, etc.). If you’re lucky, the issue is easily resolved with a single format cable of the appropriate length. When that is not possible, there are three courses of action:
1. USE ADAPTERS Adapters provide the simplest solution, but with digital video signal transmission, there can be drawbacks too. For example, don’t expect to get audio from a DVI connector (it’s video only). Also, most adapters are passive devices, and won’t convert from digital to analog, or vice versa.
2. USE AN ACTIVE SIGNAL CONVERSION DEVICE A very common scenario in which connectors present problems are group presentations, where multiple presenters each bring their own laptop. But combining multiple formats is considerably easier than it used to be, by using presentation switchers. A presentation switcher accepts and scales a wide range of video signals to a common, high-resolution output rate.
3. CHECK ALTERNATE INPUTS ON DOWNSTREAM DEVICE Many display devices (like video projectors) offer several input options. Instead of concentrating on making the connection work at the source end, try working backwards and check to see if options are available on the next device in the chain.

By Mark R. Mayfield  On March 04, 2013

5 Considerations When Converting Data to New Church Software

There are many reasons for churches to change the software they use to track membership and financial records. Software companies can go out of business, or their views of technology trends may not match the church’s views. Also, changes in church leadership can have a powerful effect on what software is used. These matters are only some reasons churches change their software vendors on occasion.

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If a church has been managing its records with any given software, and if that church decides to use a new vendor and new software, it may be a good idea for them to convert their data from the one software to the other, rather than reentering it all. But is such a conversion a good idea?

Here are a few important things to consider for a church software data conversion:

  1. Exporting and importing the data
  2. Data worth (Is the data worth exporting or should we start over?)
  3. Mapping the current database fields to the new database
  4. Software compliance after conversion
  5. Price (Can we afford the data conversion?)

1) Exporting and importing the data can stop a data conversion dead in its tracks.

The church should really try to export their data from their existing system before shopping around for new software. Why? If you can’t export the data into a usable format to bring into a new system, two big questions are answered. It tells you that you will need to plan for the church staff or volunteers to enter in the data. Also, it will save the church money because there is no cost in the data conversion.

After you successfully export the data, the next question is: can the new vendor bring it in? Typically, only the software vendor can answer this. We recommend that you send them a sample or the whole “data set” so they can determine if it is possible and give an estimated cost for their work.

2) Data Worth

Is the data worth exporting or should we start over, inputting the data from scratch? Many times, for various reasons, data just is not worth importing.

Some considerations:

  • Maybe the database was neglected for many years or not updated – making the data obsolete.
  • Maybe data has not been well organized.
  • Some organizations must keep records for historical purposes. So while some organizations may not care about records from 1900, others do.

Whatever the case may be, the church is stuck with a decision to make – export the old data or start over. Sometimes starting over, while it sounds like a long process, is actually easier and cleaner depending on the current state that your data set is in.

3) Mapping the current database fields to the new database

This can pose problems when the new database doesn’t have the fields available for all the data. The first decision is if you want that data to be imported – in other words do you still use that information? As time passes, some data becomes obsolete and this is the best time to remove it before it is imported into the new system. Second, if the data is needed, then where should it go into the new system? This is called mapping the data. For example maybe a household has 3 different phone numbers. In the old system each went to an individual member in the household because the system did not have a primary phone number field. The new system may have that primary field and also the ability to save the phone number to each individual member. Would you still put the phone number on each individual and leave the primary blank, or put in a primary phone number from one of the three that are available?

4) Software compliance

After a data conversion, software compliance is essential to a church maintaining their tax exempt status. A data conversion must consider the implications of bringing a data set into a solution that may not have all the required fields that are needed to stay compliant. On membership data, this typically is not an issue, but in contributions and accounting, it could be a problem. For example, if you imported contributions and the “giving dates” were missing for certain records, the contribution statements do not meet IRS guidelines. In accounting, every transaction not only has to be associated to a chart-of-accounts line (e.g. expenditure, revenue, etc.) but also an accounting fund. If the data set does not have both elements, the end result is a system that is not compliant. That’s why many, if not all, church software companies do not import accounting transactions into their solution.

5) Price

Can we afford the data conversion in addition to the initial cost of the church software? Price is always a concern when coming on board to a new system. The first rule is to ensure you have a firm data conversion price established from the software vendor. The next thing is to ensure that they know exactly what you want done for that price. Software vendors many times will ask to see the data first to give a price estimate and the church needs to be open to this. After all, a mechanic probably wouldn’t give an estimate for fixing rough running car without seeing it.

As a church, you should compare data conversion cost closely and realize this is a sunk cost; in other words, if you are not happy with the product in 10 months, you lose this data conversion money. Ensuring that the new product will do what you want is essential first before moving on to it with a data conversion. Quality in data conversions across software vendors really doesn’t play much into the decision. They all know their product and how to convert data in many forms. When the quality is comparable and both products are similar in features that you need, there is not much of a reason to pay $700.00 to go with one company verses $200.00 with another.

How will your church approach data conversion?

jay at iconcmo

Jay has 20+ years in various technology sectors of industry and currently uses his expertise at Icon Systems, Inc to help churches further their mission. Jay blogs at http://churchsoftware.iconcmo.com