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.
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 data conversion:
- Exporting and importing the data
- Data worth (Is the data worth exporting or should we start over?)
- Mapping the current database fields to the new database
- Software compliance after conversion
- Price (Can we afford the data conversion?)
The first part of the blog will discuss the first two points above, while the second part will discuss the remaining three points – stay tuned for the second part. Keep in mind these are not all the issues that a church may run across.
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.
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.
- 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.
How can you know? The first step is to export the data and view it in a program like Excel. Do you see inconsistencies in the columns? For example, a column used for the status of the members/households – is it right for each one? Date field inconsistencies can cause a lot of havoc when importing. To illustrate I will show one date which could mean two different calendar dates depending on the format of the column – mm/dd/yyyy or dd/mm/yyyy. When these formats are different throughout the column it is nearly impossible to convert the data with any accuracy. They all should be consistent (either mm/dd/yyyy or dd/mm/yyyy) if you expect to have a church software that will produce usable reports.
01/04/2012 – using the first format above (mm/dd/yyyy) this date would be Jan. 1st, 2012, whereas, the second format would be 1st of April 2012.
Another issue to look for is “unknown” dates like the following example. Does the data have dates in the column like 01/04/xxxx, 01/04, and Jan. 4th with some unknown year in all three? While programming for one of the three variations would be acceptable, having all three in data makes it harder to bring in the data with accuracy. In other words all of the dates should follow one of the variations.