March 30, 2018 — Scaling Down


Management often presents challenges to the Information Technologies manager. These challenges will begin with the question: Why do things cost so much? They ask these questions in exasperation because they are trying to fit an exploding IT budget into the tight confines of leaders trying to manage their resources. They know they can visit the local office supply outlet, or big-box retailer and pick up a laptop computer for $300 under the week’s special. Why doesn’t the IT manager pick up one-hundred of the things to distribute to the staff? They might see two-terabyte hard disk drives on sale for $89. Then, why does the disk array in the computer room cost multiple tens of thousands of dollars?

Those answers are sometimes easy. The $300 laptop is not designed to attach to corporate computer networks. They are not designed to survive day-in and day-out pounding for years like the commercial equipment. Consumer hard drives are not designed for the high-speed access required by hundreds of users at the same time.

But, that is not the question for today. But the problem is similar. People in the technology field are often called upon to give advice for their churches and Christian schools. They are asked about the best way to provide decent technology resources to ministers and students. And the advisors will confidently suggest solutions that work well for them in large corporate settings but are frankly overkill for small organizations. Worse yet, many churches and Christian schools cannot afford even the modest solutions. The advisor or committee should consider the ways to scale down to fit the organization.

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind during the process of advising the small entity:

• Solve the problem – too often many of us fall in love with a certain product or technology. We tend to carry that technological hammer around, looking for a nail to drive flat. This results in too many nails that are bent over.

• Scale the problem – for a church with five desktop computers, the problem may be thorny, but it won’t be large. Often consumer based equipment will work just fine for the need.

• Simplify the problem – after cost, simplicity is probably the most important requirement. Most church employees are not technically proficient, nor can they afford training. If they cannot learn how to operate the solution, you do not have a solution.

• Validate the solution – after suggesting an approach to the problem, be willing to assist or even implement the solution. Then stay around long enough to make sure the problem is indeed solved. Church offices are littered with the detritus previous attempts to solve the problem.

• Support the solution – if you are willing to provide advice to your church or Christian school, then you must be willing to be available to assist when things invariably go wrong. Because problems arise because the solution is not complete. You didn’t think of something. The user did something you did not anticipate.

Readers are sometimes annoyed because these problem-solving tracts instruct them on what they need to accomplish, but not how. So, if you are still reading at this point, we will provide an example of how some of these things work.

Let’s go back to the small church. It has five computers. The local cable company has provided Internet service along with a wireless connection for the computers in the office. Let’s say the Pastor’s computer died. Along with it went all his sermon files along with next Sunday’s bulletin. The advisor will be tasked with recovering the files (if possible) as the first order of business. This is followed up by a demand that you do something to make sure nothing like that ever happens again.

So, the problem is easy to recognize. The pastor needs some way to have a backup copy of his files so that he isn’t in trouble the next time something happens (which surely will). Remember, the solution must be cost-effective, simple and solve the problem.

The first option would be to suggest something like Carbonite, which is an Internet-based backup solution. For about $25 per month, each of the office computers will automatically copy any new files out to a secure location on the Internet. If the pastor trashes his computer, you may be called in to help recover his files, but they will be easy to find.

Let’s assume there is not enough money to pay $25 for data storage. Believe it or not, that is often a problem. The simplest solution is to pay for a year of service out of your own pocket. It’s cheaper than most people pay for a month of cable. And if you really needed that money, the Lord will make sure you get it back somehow.

If that doesn’t work for some reason, or perhaps the church doesn’t have an Internet connection, then pass the hat, and use the money to purchase a couple of USB disk drives. Come to church early each Sunday morning and copy the critical files from each computer to the disk drive. Then store the disk at your house. Why two drives? You make two copies, either at the same time, or alternate weeks. Store one at the church and the other at your house.

Why? If the church burns down, or your house burns down (which is another problem, entirely), you still have one copy of the information. Or, just when you badly need those files, the drive might fail. This is like wearing a belt and suspenders, both. It helps avoid public embarrassment.

So, in bringing assistance to the technology issues in your church, first solve the problem, then scale the problem down, simplify, and keep the costs under control. This kind of focus will be of great benefit to your church and to the ministry of God.

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