With all the marketing hype around church software, churches have to wade through what seems to be an endless sea of marketing terms boasting various technical features. We can understand why church leaders feel overwhelmed; blogs, websites, and press releases often use confusing – and sometimes even misleading – marketing and technical jargon.
But do these technical differences have any significant impact on the organization?
Many times further investigation is required by an experienced IT person to see if the technical capabilities of the system actually hold up to marketing claims. With the popularity of cloud computing (or anything popular, for that matter) imitations of the concept are created when others jump on the bandwagon to try and get a share of the profit.
This first post in the series lists questions you can ask software companies so your church can weed through the counterfeits and find a truly cloud-based system.
Check back next week for the second part of this series, which will help you identify the technical features that are the most important to look for in a church management system.
Important Questions to Ask a Software Provider:
1. Does the software rely on a program other than a web browser (e.g. Citrix, Microsoft Remote Desktop) for its interface across the Internet?
Many times a dashboard is used to execute day-to-day tasks. The dashboard connects the user through a front end user interface such as Citrix to the back end database, which is located at the software vendor’s facility (i.e. it makes the solution appear to be on the Internet.)
While remotely accessing software through another program works, there can be issues with many things including:
- Portability, which is defined as the “usability of the same software in different environments by making the interface appear identical across multiple platforms”. We’ll explain portability more in question number four.
- Speed is sometimes slower since the page needs to refresh and load every time you make a change or save new data in the system. Working for a longer period of time with a system that refreshes often can also cause eyestrain.
- Data Transfers are slower because these systems are not built to work on the web. They have unnecessary software and hardware protocols that taxes both the users and the servers the application runs on. In comparison, software that is made for the web and uses the built in components of the browsers require fewer hardware resources and allow for greater scalability.
2. Does the software require licensing for “x” number of people to be on at the same time?
With the non-web-based solutions mentioned in the previous question, there are additional licensing requirements for the number of “concurrent users”. Using a third party to access software remotely costs substantially more. For example, Citrix gets licensing money for each person accessing the system. Calling the software vendor to add more users isn’t always convenient, either.
3. Are there any hardware requirements (servers, specific operating systems for desktops, networking requirements) that are needed on your end to run this software? If so, why are those components needed?
You will not need to install any additional hardware such as servers or processors, and having a minimum amount of memory available is not required to use a truly web-based system. Typically, the only thing you need to access a web-based system is a computer with Internet access and an Internet Browser (e.g. Internet Explorer, FireFox, Safari, and Google Chrome).
4. Can the software be used on a Mac? How about a Linux operating system?
Many potential clients ask how Icon Systems can provide IconCMO for a huge cost savings in comparison to other solutions. A large part of the answer is something we touched on in the first question: portability.
Portability is the pathway for reducing development costs. This is where truly web-based systems have clear advantages over traditional desktop, client-server, and hybrid systems.
Web-based software only has one set of code, but it can still be used on a PC as well as a Mac. Having to maintain a different set of code for each operating system would greatly increase the time and effort needed to maintain the system, therefore increasing the overall cost to the customer.
The Movie Theater Analogy
A trip to the movie theater isn’t exactly cheap. The average cost of admission to a movie is $10 and most of it goes to the people who made the movie. But the theater still has overhead they need to pay for including the building itself, all the equipment, maintenance, and employees. The movie theater gets its revenue by selling extremely over-priced concessions. Just buying popcorn and a soda can easily double your overall cost of the outing. Bringing along the whole family? That will cost you even more since you will have to purchase an additional ticket for each person.
Now let’s take a look at another way to watch movies: online streaming. You can watch the movie anytime you want, wherever you want as long as you have an Internet connection. All sorts of devices can be used to play the movie: gaming consoles, computers, tablets, and even cell phones. A month’s subscription to an online streaming site can cost even less than just one ticket to a movie theater. Want to bring the family? Want to watch another movie after? No problem, you still pay the same price – you don’t have to pay for each additional seat.
Well, maybe it’s not so much an analogy as a parallel; taking a look at how the Internet has changed a different and somewhat more familiar industry. Please note: we’re not saying that movie theaters are bad and streaming movies is good or vice versa. They both have pros and cons. It’s just another way to look at the pricing differences between truly web-based products and products that use an interface to remotely access the software.
Make sure to check back next week for part two!