Going Forward…

Rock has literally been consuming my life for the last 3 years. We’re very close to having it rolled out at our church. Once that’s done I’m hoping I can focus more energy on sharing tips and best-practices. I’ll do that through a couple of different channels:

  • Official Rock Website: If it relates to the official documentation or is an organization announcement the best place is obviously the Rock website.
  • Rock Community Blog: If it’s a lesson learned or a best practice from our personal experience I’ll share it on the Rock Community blog that Arran France is helping to run/moderate.
  • Personal Blog: Everything else will land here.

To that extent, my first community post is up on the Rock Community Blog. We all have something to share. What can you add?

RockRMS 1.0 Released

rock1

Wow, it’s been a while since my last post! We’ve been incredibly busy working on Rock. Literally… not sure when was the last time my eye’s weren’t stinging… but… as of two weeks ago we released Rock 1.0!!! Below are a couple of links to help you understand what Rock is…

You might be asking what’s next… Trust us we’re only getting started. There’s still a ton to do. Check our road map for the details of the start of what’s next (there’s so much more that hasn’t been added to the roadmap yet). Be sure to follow the Rock blog to keep up with what’s new…

Mobile App Source

The last few posts have been discussing CCV’s mobile app developed using PhoneGap.  For anyone interested I posted the source on GitHub.  Currently, the app is only released on iOS, but the start of the Android project is in the ‘develop’ branch. Feel free to use it anyway you like as long as it’s non-commercial. Enjoy!

Note: Unfortunately, we can’t support this code or answer in-depth questions about it.  If you have quick questions feel free to post them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them.

Mobile Notes

In two weeks since launch we’re closing in on 4,000 downloads of the CCV Mobile App.  By far the most used part of the app is the digital sermon notes (47% of all events in the app are for notes, more on in app analytics soon.)

How the notes work is a bit hard to explain, it would be best to download the app and try it out.  Basically though there are a series of fill-in the blanks and free form note fields.  Below is an image showing the basic layout.

The note file itself is just an clip of HTML that is inserted onto the page.  We store the HTML in Arena attached to the same record as the podcast information.

The specific formatting of the note HTML is described in the Sermon Notes HTML documentation.  If you have specific questions I’d be happy to answer them in the comments below.

Mobile App Released

Our mobile app was released this weekend.  So far it has been well received.  To date it has been downloaded to 2300 devices.  Below is a quick overview of the features it contains with a short description on how each is integrated into our systems.

(note click thumbnails for larger images)

Application Home

Contains the main navigation with a single promotion.  We’re moving to a “This Week’s One Thing” promotion strategy in our communications team.  This will highlight that one thing each week.  If you touch the ad you get more details.  Currently, this ad is driven out of our Arena database.  This will soon be moved to the Rock ChMS.

About Us

This page of the app shows the location of each of our campuses.  It also has an invitation feature that allows an attendee to send a personalized email to their friends.  This page is a bit of a ‘filler’ page in my mind and probably will be replaced with additional functionality in the future.

Prayer

This page displays a sample of the current prayer requests in our Arena database.  It only shows those that a person has OK’ed to be public.  Each is approved (and possibly edited for privavcy) by our prayer team. From this page you can also add a prayer request.  These requests are added directly into Arena.  This will in time also be transitioned into Rock.

Notes:

The notes functionality is by far the most popular.  This allows attendees to take digital notes during the sermon.  There are a ton of features to this part of the app (fill-in the blanks, free form entry, etc.).  I’ll do a future post just on this feature soon.

Message Videos

The app lets you select and watch sermons directly on your mobile device with support for AirPlay.  This again uses Arena’s podcast functionality to drive the content.  We currently host our messages on Vimeo so it uses their HTML5 player.  We’re currently looking for a better video network.  If anyone has some good recommendations please post in the comments.

Group Finder

This portion of the app allows someone to use their current location, or enter in an address, to find the closest Neighborhood Group (aka small group).  It also allows them to register for a selected group.  The usage of this feature has surprised us.  In the first two days over 25 families have registered for a group.

On-line Giving

Due to the fact that Apple does not allow donations in a native app we redirect the giving button to our website.  We have created a new highly responsive (thanks Titter Bootstrap) page that is very interactive.  If someone wants a peak at what the giving UX in the Rock ChMS will look like this is it. I hope Apple allows for a more native experience in the future.

For the most part that is the app.  I’ll be posting a couple of deeper dives into some of the features and code in the near future.

Evolution of a Mobile App

We’re close to rolling-out CCV’s first mobile app.  It’s been a long journey.  Before this weekend’s roll-out I thought I might walk through the project’s journey with all of it’s twists and turns.  It all started out over a year ago when we got serious about needing a mobile app. Our first step was to look at the church specific mobile app packages. These services can quickly provide a great looking app for a reasonable price.  Our two concerns with these services were:

  1. Most don’t have features that in our mind get people to come back and use them.  They don’t fell sticky.  They may get downloaded, but how many consistently get 3-4 uses a month per attendee?  I look at the feature list and don’t see something that would make me return.
  2. Starting with these apps was an option we considered, but most get deployed to the App Stores under the vendors account.  We felt that if we did this it would be hard to change course in the future.  By deploying under our own account we can quickly replace the app with anything we like in the future.

We also spent some time discussing what platforms we would support.  We ended up deciding that we needed to support both Apple iOS and Android on both the phone and tablet medium.  Part of me would have rather stuck to just iOS, but looking at the sales metrics, that’s just not an option. Therefore, we decided to embark on a quest to write two native apps (one for each platform).  Our initial features for our 1.o release included:

  • Announcements
  • Prayer Request (both praying for and submitting)
  • Group Finder
  • Sermon Video Streaming
  • Digital Sermon Notes
  • About Us Info (Campus maps, invite a friend etc)

As we’re pretty limited on resources with our current Arena projects and writing for the new Rock ChMS, development was  limited to my free-time.  I started out on the iOS app and go pretty far.  About 60-65% of the way through though I came to the conclusion there was no way with our current resources we were going to be able to write AND support two native platforms.  I quickly pinged a few outside resources to get a picture of what it might cost to have someone else develop the apps for us.  The quote I got back was $120K for both platforms.  That was not an option…

We quickly huddled and formed a new strategy.  We decided to experiment with HTML5/CSS3/Javascript to native wrappers like PhoneGap.  I wrote up a quick prototype in PhoneGap w/ jQuery Mobile and found the progress to be very quick and a good match to our current skill-set.  I have to admit it feels like cheating.  There are a couple of downfalls to this approach.  First of all the apps don’t have a completely native feel.  To be honest the normal user probably won’t notice, but those with a technical eye should be able to spot the difference.   Secondly, the PhoneGap apps are a bit sluggish.  Again the average person won’t notice the difference, but there’s no question that the iOS Webkit control is a bit slow in rendering.  Finally, while the frameworks (PhoneGap and jQuery Mobile) are impressive there still are some bugs. Most of these we were able to work around, but there still are a few known bugs that are impacting the app (they’re small through).

In the end the productivity savings more than made up for the lack of a truly native application.  This is our 1.o deliverable so hopefully we’ll learn a lot through the roll-out.  So far the application has received high marks from our internal testers.  In the end though I do feel like we cheated a bit.

I’ll post more once the app is released this weekend.

Scalable Credit Card Processing

A few months ago our team was handed a challenging problem: how to sell 30,000 books over two weekends to support The Story sermon series at CCV.  To make it harder we at CCV have a passionate hatred dislike of lines.  Defining the problem set we came up with the following attributes of a successful solution:

  • We knew that 50-60% of the transactions would require credit cards.
  • We have a total of 5 different titles to sell (leather bound, hardcover, teen edition, kids edition, children’s picture book and a early children’s picture book.)
  • The solution must be easy for volunteers to use.
  • The solution must be cost effective as we were selling the books for what they cost us (let’s just say they were priced amazingly low).
  • The solution had to scale to allow for 35-40 credit card lines at a minimal cost.
  • The solution had to be FAST!

After looking at several credit card solutions we determined we needed something that had a point-of-sale feature set.  This would allow a volunteer to punch in a person’s ‘order’ (book types with quantities) and get a sub-total (no calculations required).

We looked at several iPad solutions but ended up using Squares Register app. The beauty of this solution was that it required very little cost to deploy.  We asked that volunteers bring their iPads to use for the event.  The card readers are free which was the single largest factor that made Square stand-out.  All we needed to provide was printers for receipts (these could be shared 1 printer for 5-6 iPads as most people don’t require a receipt) and a WiFi network.

The only real challenge we found was sharing the printers.  The printers themselves need to be on the same VLAN as the iPads. But… if there are several printers on the same VLAN it’s hard to know what printer to pick from the settings on the app as they all have the model as the name.  Our new IT specialist Chris Upshir found a brilliant solution that used several old Linksys WRT54g’s to provide a specific SSID for each printer.  So if a volunteer showed up at say the Pavilion selling point he/she could connect to the SSID ‘Pavilion Printer 1’ and know where to expect their receipts.

Square’s customer service was great.  We started communicating with them about the project several weeks ahead of time.  After leaning about the size of the event they agreed to send us 40 card readers (something that they said didn’t not happen often).  I also had some worries if their solution would work for such a large event.  I was able to speak to several people in the company and they were able to walk us through some tips on making the event a success.

Our team spent a lot of time thinking through the details on this project.  We provided our volunteers with advanced training on how the POS would work so when they showed up they knew more or less what to do.  Our team also created order sheets that could be filled out in the service so by the time someone was in line they knew exactly what they wanted.

The result was a huge success.  As you would expect the sales come in waves with 95% of the sales coming immediately after the end of a service.  With our 40 credit card stations we were able to process through the lines in 9-11 mins.  Many of our attendees made comments about how quickly the lines moved.  I met two accounting professors from local colleges and they were amazed at the efficiency of the lines.  One wanted to know if we had video of the event that he could show his students.

After the first weekend we have sold over 24,000 books, 11,500 of which were sold using credit cards with 2500 unique transactions (think swipes).  Doing some rough math that comes out to about 35 transactions a minute during our peak times.

While we still have another huge weekend ahead of us, I would highly recommend this solution to other churches who need to sell a large number of resources in a limited amount of time.  Not only is it cost effective, but it also scales to reduce lines.

NetSpot is Spot On

I recently upgraded my home WiFi AP, after much research, to the ASUS RT-N66U. Much of this was based off of this Jeff Atwood post.  So far I really like the AP and while I was going to install Tomato on it, after playing with the stock firmware and reading comparisons I might just keep it stock.

One utility I broke out soon after the upgrade was NetSpot on OSX.  It’s a very simple, yet powerful, utility to map your WiFi coverage.  Oh, and best of all it’s free.   Just up load a map, give it a reference point on the map for scale and then walk around and take some readings.  Below is a quick video walk through.

We’re installing a new Ruckus system at CCV.  This tool will be great it helping us visualize our coverage.

Free Online Statistics Class

Ok, now that I have your attention from the tantalizing blog title let me tell you about an exciting new opportunity… to learn about statistics… no really! There is no better way for an IT guy/gal to add value to an organization that becoming a master of data (remember the I in IT is for “Information”), and there is no better place to get started than a class from Sebastian Thrun. Sebastian is a research professor at Stanford and the creator of the Google Car (RefeshCache attendees know all about him).

Put away your excuses and register now.

Are You Changing?

To my RefreshCache friends… are you the same person you were in October?

I’m happy with my effort, but not necessarily my output. Still much to do… If you’ve made progress let me know.

(For everyone else… sorry for the cryptic reference. Attend RefreshCache. It’s not only an Arena conference this year… All church developers welcome.)