Diocese continues software advancement to assist parish computer needs

By | October 4, 2012

“A parish can lose a computer, but not lose data,” said Paula Nault, diocesan financial systems consultant, who oversaw the ParishSOFT transition at the diocesan level. She told of a parish that had its computers ruined by storm damage. “We had all their accounting data on our system as well as their membership data, so that was all there for them, they didn’t lose anything.”

She explained that parishes no longer need to worry about whether or not they have backed up vital computer information. The system is now automatic.

“I’ve been here for seven years and at least once a year I would get a call from a parish saying ‘My 10-year-old computer died and they’re telling me our backup isn’t any good. Now what do I do?'”

Before ParishSOFT all Nault could do was direct the parish to an out-of-state service that, for “thousands of dollars,” could recover data from a broken hard drive.

“I haven’t had a call like that in at least a year now,” Nault said.

Lisa Shelton, bookkeeper for St. Anthony Parish, Oconto Falls, has seen ParishSOFT in action. In February, when arson destroyed much of the parish school and damaged all their computers, the offsite back-up came to the rescue.

“The insurance company wouldn’t let us use our computers again,” said Shelton. “All of our membership stuff was still there — on the ParishSOFT servers. We could not have rebuilt the information — not all the history or the support (records). This way, we didn’t lose any history. We were back up and running in days.”

However, there are still bugs to be worked out of the system. Other parishes contacted by The Compass were not as glowing in their reviews of the new system, complaining about slow speed, difficulty with passwords and complexity of operation.

Nault has heard of these problems, as has the diocesan IT staff, which is working with her. They stress that the parishes need to bring the problems forward so they can be resolved.

“Things need to be fixed — that’s why they hired me,” said Karen Szczepanski, IT support specialist, who started with the diocese earlier this year. She told of one parish that transferred its member lists to ParishSOFT and about a dozen of the names doubled. Szczepanski was able to locate the bad links and fix the problem. She hopes more parishes will contact IT for help. “If I don’t know about the problem, I can’t fix it,” she said.

Nault said that there are ParishSoft user groups for parishes and ongoing workshops. The workshops have been offered for several years.

“For three years, if anyone could get 10 people together,” Nault said, “I would go to them (to give a training day).”

She hopes that pastors will find ways for their staffs to be trained on ParishSOFT. Some parishes, she said, have to rely on volunteers to learn the programs. And with shrinking budgets, Nault realizes the difficulties, but she maintains that the benefits, in the long run, are worth the effort.

Addressing the problems, Nault said that, as with any new system that links massive amounts of data together, things take time. “I understand it’s a challenge, but we’re here to walk with them,” she said.

The next step for ParishSOFT, according to Nault, is the parishes’ online giving programs. She said that ParishSOFT’s flexibility will allow donors to access their own parish giving online and make changes as they need to do so. Also, when people can’t get to their parishes because of vacations, illness or become homebound, they can still sign in and control their weekly support of their parishes.

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