Computer software will help lighten load
for parishes, schools in diocese
By Renae Bauer
ALLOUEZ -- Imagine having to know 41 languages to do your job.
To a certain extent, that's exactly what a person needs to know if he or she works for or does business with the 160 parishes and 63 schools in the Diocese of Green Bay.
"As pastors and other leaders are asked to take on more and more parishes they often have to contend with different software at each location," says Jason Haen, finance officer for the Diocese of Green Bay. "Not only are there different software packages but each has different capabilities. The end result is parish and school leaders are spending more of their limited time on administrative functions."
To help reverse this trend - by reducing redundancies and providing a more consistent and fuller range of reporting tools to parishes and Catholic schools - a trio of software solutions has been selected and packaged into a new diocesan-wide initiative called NEWCAS (Northeast Wisconsin Catholic Software).
The three web-based elements of NEWCAS are:
- Serenic Navigator: This Microsoft-based accounting package excels in customization. Whether your parish has a few hundred or a few thousand families, Navigator allows accounting features to be turned on or off based on a parish's needs yet provides standardized reporting tools to everyone.
- ParishSOFT: Considered more of the parish management package, ParishSOFT is capable of tracking sacramental records and organizing the "people" information, such as the scheduling of volunteers, tracking people's training as well as having the ability to contact them, to name a few. Imagine being able to e-mail a specific group of volunteers the next time you need help with an event that is only a few days away.
- PowerSchool: As its name implies, PowerSchool is an academic software package that streamlines communications between teachers and parents. Parents can track their child's academic progress on regular basis and communicate with teachers rather than wait for quarterly report cards or parent-teacher conferences.
While each software package has particular strengths, the big payoff is in their ability to come together and share data.
"NEWCAS will give parish leaders a 360-degree view of families unlike any reporting tool we have ever had," says Paula Nault, financial systems consultant for the Diocese of Green Bay and lead person on the software research project. "This is the kind of information parish leaders need to do their jobs."
One of these parish leaders is Debbie LeSage, business manager at Resurrection Parish in Allouez.
"Resurrection has tried to be innovative in technology," says LeSage. "We already share information such as lunch balances and grades with parents via the Web. But this same information did not flow to the database used for tuition billing. The same is true for parishioner contributions to the general ledger. I knew we could do more, so when Paula mentioned that the diocese wanted to standardize accounting software I seized the moment" and became involved in the software research project.
The project began in March 2005 when the Diocese's Presbyteral Council formally requested research into tools that could streamline parish business functions. With the help of parish professionals like LeSage, a committee was formed. The group quickly realized that many of the solutions they were trying to develop for parishes could also benefit Catholic schools. So, after assembling a list of must-haves, the group reviewed 40 industry-specific software providers, participated in some demonstrations and started to narrow the field.
Besides needing a solution that is affordable, scaleable, transparent, integrative and non-redundant, the solution also needs to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, via the Web. To meet these needs and to centralize the data, NEWCAS will use the services of an off-site data warehouse management firm.
"By creating a central software warehouse, the diocese will have real and standard data," says LeSage. "Also, it allows the small parish who cannot afford a server and software to have access to this infrastructure. Software updates and backup management will be taken care of by a central location thus taking the burden off parishes."
Now that the research and recommendation phases are done, it's time for implementation. From July to December 2008, about 14 parishes and schools of varying sizes and needs will participate in a pilot program. The goal of the pilot is to use all three software and to customize them based on needs. Once the pilot is complete, NEWCAS will be rolled out to groups of parishes and schools.
"This is a vital project made possible because of the collaboration of our parish, school and diocesan representatives," says Haen. "All of us who have been a part of this project are convinced that NEWCAS will streamline administrative functions by using technology to everyone's advantage."