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Janet Saulter-Hemmer on Avoiding Data Disaster at Your Church


jshJanet Saulter-Hemmer is a friend and co-worker from Liquid Church. She left her corporate role in information technology at a major financial firm to come and help us with clean water and data systems. [See her story here.] In this episode we talk about a dark data disaster we had our church … listen up because we don’t want you to suffer the same fate! She provides some sober warnings and helpful tips to ensure you don’t end up where we did!

Episode Highlights

00:36 // Rich introduces his friend and co-worker Janet Saulter-Hemmer and welcomes her to the show.

01:03 // Janet talks about her two roles at Liquid Church.

01:46 // Rich tells us that Liquid Church lost a significant amount of data which resulted in him inviting Janet on the show.

02:54 // Janet talks about losing the data at Liquid Church, the impact of that and how it happened.

05:03 // Rich tells us why the decision to backup was deferred and how painful that proved to be.

06:30 // Janet tells us what churches should be considering and what data they should be backing up.

08:13 // Janet talks through the process Liquid Church will take for both short term and longer term solutions.

08:57 // Janet talks about the importance of small churches backing up data and gives an example.

10:09 // Janet suggests Dropbox as being a simple, inexpensive solution for backing up data.

10:42 // Rich explains the benefits of using Dropbox Pro Plan.

11:27 // Janet stresses how time consuming IT support can be and their decision to work with an external company.

12:25 // Rich talks about the impact of losing membership information if data is lost.

13:23 // Janet suggests churches look for IT expertise within their congregation.

Lightning Round

Helpful Tech Tools // A voiceover capability in iPhone

Book Worth Reading // Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud

Inspiring Ministries // Andy Stanley’s

Inspiring Leader // Hillary Clinton

What she does for fun // Volunteering, Serving, Snow Skiing, Cruise Ships

Contact // [email protected]

Episode Transcript

Rich – Well hey everybody, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. My name’s Rich the host around these parts. Thank you so much for taking time out from your busy week, I know you’ve got a lot going on. Thank you for trusting us, putting us in your earbuds as I like to say. Today we’ve got a bit of a different episode here at the unSeminary podcast, we’re actually talking with a friend and co-worker Janet Saulter-Hemmer from Liquid Church. So Janet welcome to the show.

Janet – Thanks Rich, it’s a real honor to be on here with you. I feel like I’m in great company here.

Rich – Oh great, well I appreciate you taking some time out today and we’re hoping that we can help some churches today. So I’m just glad that you’ve taken some time to be with us. So Janet, tell us about your role at Liquid Church, what do you do at our church?

Janet – I actually wear two hats at Liquid. I joined Liquid two years ago as the Director of the Clean Water cause. After about a year we realized that wasn’t quite a fulltime job and my 30 years’ experience before that was in IT. So I was asked by the leadership team to take over and help develop IT systems and processes within Liquid Church as we continued to grow. So I became the Director of IT and that’s now my second hat.

Rich – Nice. Now I know if you’re a smaller church today I don’t want you to tune this off and say, “Why are we talking to someone who’s like involved in IT?” because I think you’ll see that today’s episode has relevance regardless of the size of your church.

A couple of weeks ago, let me just kind of set this up. So a couple of weeks ago we had a guy from IT came in and said, “Hey we’re having a problem with the server,” he came into me, this is how I first heard about it and I said, “Oh what’s the problem?” and he said, “Well it appears to be deleting all the data,” and I was like, “What?”

So what ended up happening, we found out, was we had a significant data loss on our core video server and so actually seven years, it still pains me to say it, seven years of video data was lost in the end. So every message, testimony, video, outreach video, Clean Water thing was gone.

So today we want to talk a little bit about what we can learn from that. So I said to Janet, I said, “Hey what if you were to come on the show and help us understand kind of what went wrong and then try to apply stuff to churches?” So why don’t you give us the story from your perspective? What did we lose? What did that look like? How did we get ourselves in this spot?

Janet – Well you know it was interesting, the first day that I actually took over the IT role, I had just done a quick little survey, what do we actually have? Most of our data and applications are all hosted, so I was thinking, “Great this is going to be easy, this is fine.” Then I discovered our

big Apple Mini, 40 terabytes and that’s a big server of data and it’s all our videos.

Rich – It’s a lot of floppy disks.

Janet – It’s stacks and stacks of them. Originally we had gotten this because we were using just all kinds of backup solutions. They had external drives, it was all over the place and they got this server before I came. At the time it was a very expensive purchase for Liquid, it was about $40 thousand and the choice to add a backup server was put off at the time, we would just have the storage and then we would address it later on.

At that point, I came in about a year later and discovered we had no backups. After I picked myself up off the floor, being an IT person, I could barely breathe and I said, “Do you guys really know what this means? We have no backup.”

As time went on, I would bring this up casually and say every time we had a meeting, “Remember we have no backup, we just have the main server,” and it was that constant tension between, “Yes we need IT but this is a lot of money to spend.” The money, the IT, the backup storage.

Then the worst happened. What we discovered was a piece of software corrupted the data and we lost seven years’ worth of video data. Now it didn’t impact anything else, our finance data or anything like that because that’s all hosted on the Cloud. It was a very painful, painful time period and we have spent the past 28 days with some specialty software trying to restore some of it, which we may get some of it back, but it was just very…

I don’t think people realized it until we said, “Okay let’s go and put our baptism video together,” and it was like, “Oh wait, we can’t. We have no baptism videos.”

Rich – You know, it’s so funny because like… So I’m in the center of this, this was like, hey I was there, it was part of making the decision to say… before this solution our video guys, I know it’s crazy to say, but our videos guys basically just had a series of hard drives just sitting on their desks.

So this was a step in the right direction, it was like, “Okay we’re moving from a series of hard drives to one central server. This is great, this is going to give us new functionality, them being able to work together and we put off the backup solution even though we needed, at least I knew we needed it and you were saying the same thing.

It was one of those decisions in the course of life where you’re like, it was a tough nut to swallow ordering the original server which was about $40 thousand to then have to do another one of those essentially or some version of that. There was no solution out there for $100 that would back all that data up.

So as painful as it is, it’s one of those problems that came to roost. So once you start listening in today, we’ve all heard it, you’ve got to backup but why don’t we? Probably because of

money and because of time. So why don’t we talk through, when churches think about wanting to backup data how should they be thinking about this? What should they be thinking through? How should they be backing up data?

Janet – Well the first thing is to identify where your critical data exists because some of it may be backed up already automatically if you’re working on any kind of software in the Cloud. So the easy stuff is your financial records, your member data, your visitor data, where is all of that? Your videos, your sermons, your information from events, music, all of your kid’s ministries and then your hidden files, where are processes tracked? One off files that people are keeping on their computers that are actually critical production files. Records that are stores off site. You want to gather a list of where does everything exist right now.

Then the second step is where is it stored? Is it on a local hard drive? Is it a USB? Is it an external drive? Is it labelled? We had stacked of external drives that weren’t labelled and the fun thing was when we actually lost all of this data we got to start going through some of these that were left over and labelling them and saying, “What have we actually saved by accident?”

Then you might have local servers. We only have that one local server. Network servers, if you have anything off site or hosted and then finally determine how is it being backed up currently? Is it manual? Is it automatic? Is it a backup software? Is it just a manual copy? Do you have generations of data so that you can go back if something is corrupted in your financial data and which data files and software should be backed up?

You don’t need to say, “We want a backup every work file that we have.” You want to get down to a point where you say, “This is the critical data and this is what we have to backup.”

Now we’re looking at some short and long term solutions. A very short term solution is we’re getting in a 12 terabyte server that’s arriving on Monday that we’re going to be doing some quick backups to. The long term solution is that we’re getting a large server that will be our secondary server. We’ll do a move of everything that’s going to be backed up to that server and then it’s going to be backed up to the Cloud.

Now because we’re working with video it takes a long time, so we have to allow for that process to exist without interfering with everybody working on a day to day basis.

Rich – So I know this may sound like, it’s a little bit of like it’s a champagne problem, large churches, when you’re talking about that much data. Is this the kind of thing smaller churches should be worrying about as well?

Janet – Yes definitely. In fact smaller churches, it could be an all or nothing situation because generally smaller churches are working off of one or two PCs. So I’ll give you an example. I was at a smaller church before I came here and they had one computer, it wasn’t networked, it was in an office that admin and everybody else worked on. They took a power hit and the power company fried their computer.

Rich – Oh gosh.

Janet – There was no backup of anything.

Rich – Oh my goodness.

Janet – Actually they had discovered two years before somebody ran a backup and had stuck it on a disk somewhere and they tracked that down so that at least they had something. But that was everything; their membership records, financial records and it really created a huge gap for the church because they didn’t have IT people. Something as simple as a backup online could have prevented that for a small church.

Rich – So if you think about that, let’s talk about that, kind of a smaller church, maybe in a similar situation. Are there tools or online services that you’ve bumped into that would be helpful for them, to help with the backup process?

Janet For a small church Dropbox is the best. Very simple, not expensive and if you get more people to sign up, the church can actually get free storage on there. I think it’s $100 a year for 100 gig of storage; not very expensive and it’s very simple and admin can work it quite easily and it gives you access, not only from that computer but anybody that could sign in and had the criteria to sign in could look at that data from remote sites as well.

Rich – I think Dropbox does do, for people that don’t know, Dropbox basically creates a folder on your computer that then mirrors that out on the internet. So when you put something into that folder it’s then mirrored on their server, which then they’re backing up those files on the server.

So we’ve had in the past, where if you delete one of those files, you can actually, I think with their Pro Plan, the plan you pay $100 a year for, you can actually go back and get revisions of older files that are in there, which I know has saved our bacon a few times before all of this happened. So that’s a great solution.

Now as you look at kind of a larger system obviously this 12 terabyte server and all that, now are you just doing that directly or are we working with a third party and how is that working?

Janet Well that’s a great question because what we are trying to do here at Liquid Church, IT is not our core service, that’s not what we’re looking to do. We don’t want to build an IT department. So while I am working with our support for the server, the server that we lost all the data in, we pay an external company to support that server.

We’re also looking at a company to provide IT support overall. So this would be support for desktops, support for laptops and that has an expertise in Windows as well as Mac and Chromebook, which we use all three.

So we are trying to move all of that support to an expert company that is able to support a small staff but growing and move that off of right now, there’s two of us right now in the office that do

that kind of support, it’s very time consuming.

Rich – Absolutely. I appreciate this. The thing I just want to underline for folks is, particularly if you’re in a church and you’re storing… take something as simple as your membership information locally, that data represents relationships in your church, that data represents your ability to connect with people when they’ve got birthdays or there’s things happening in their life. If they need someone to connect with them that is that information. The information is what allows you to connect with them.

So taking time out to care for this, although it sounds like such a technical item, is important for your ministry. For us, a part of what we do is proclaim the message of Jesus and actually our core content, video content, is the way that we do that or is a core way that we do that. So that loss is painful to our mission for sure.

Janet – It is.

Rich – Is there anything else you want to say to folks as we just think about this whole issue of data backup or just data management in general for churches?

Janet Well I think if whether you’re a small church, medium, large, if you look to your congregation you will generally find people who are working in the IT industry who can help you and guide you through this so that you don’t have to hire an expert, you’ve got them in your congregation already.

If you’re a very small church without expertise the best thing to do is to partner with some external company. It could be a small local person who’s willing to give you a break on the rate and work with you because you’re a local church and it could be a larger service if you’re a bigger church. But really you want to pull in some experts and not have someone who just, “Yeah I can do this on my PC at home so I’ll do it for you.”


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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.