Meetinghouse Technologies (2012 LDSTech Conference)
The Meetinghouse Technologies project incorporates many different groups. Wiki links to the various projects, as well has the home wiki page (mhtech.lds.org), are available. Some projects include webcast, personal video conferencing, clerk computers, meetinghouse internet, and digital media.
A few points about some projects:
Clerk computers: New computer management software was released a couple of weeks ago to help maintain clerk computers. This will eliminate the need for the stake technology specialist (or someone) to constantly check each computer and make sure patches and updates are installed. Only approved software should be used, and the antivirus software (Sophos) should be running and up to date.
Meetinghouse Internet: The Church intends to replace all old firewalls with the 881W version in the next little while. A pilot program is out using LDS Account to log on to the internet in meetinghouses. A technology manager application is also under consideration to help priesthood leaders manage who can access what content over meetinghouse internet.
Digital Media: The Roku box is being tested in some buildings as a streaming device.
Also, a reference was made to another presentation in which it was mentioned that the Curriculum Department is currently working on redesigning youth curriculum to be heavily based on online content. This could mean having such things as iPads and tablets available for checkout from meetinghouse libraries. But these are currently simply plans and ideas.
At the 2012 Technology Conference several Key Church employees reported on progress and status of several technology services that are available to members and leaders in local meeting houses.
The Meetinghouse technology Department offers several technologies to the meetinghouses for member and leader use. Among the offerings are: Clerk computers (including software and desktops), internet devices, VOIP, Media Players, Webcasting, Personal Video Conferencing, Audio and Sound, and meeting house internet. Services in support of the devices include training, wikis and the mhtech.lds.org website.
Communication with Local Stake Computer Specialists
The point was made that the department has been lacking in communication with what they consider their core audience, the stake and district computer specialists. To improve this communication the Church has created the first private, role-based subscription channel to the mstech.lds.org website. All stake and district computer specialists are automatically subscribed to this channel. Stake clerks and presidencies may also subscribe through the subscriptions page of their LDS account. This channel automatically give the Church communication with a list of over 3200 stake specialists that cover all but about 500 meetinghouses Church-wide. The Church currently has 20 languages that materials are translated into. Of those there are a top 10 languages that cover 90% of the membership of the Church. There is currently a project starting to translate the technical support and help information to the top 10 languages to help local leaders with their technical training and issues.
Webcast and PVC
Meetinghouse webcasts are used for 1 way communications such as broadcasting a stake conference to multiple meetinghouses to reduce member transportation expense. The Church offers a few different software packages to achieve this. Among them is Webcast Communicator. This is still a product the Church is supporting and the point was made that it is not going away. The other software discussed was Meetinghouse Webcast 3.0 with its extra features including the ability to broadcast audio only. It also features camera preview, HD and audio gain adjustment. Using these tools thousands of events were events are webcast each year. Support forums are located at: tech.lds.org/forum. There are many folks who are familiar with the various software that monitor those forums to help members.
Personal Video Conferencing is available to Church leaders outside of the state of Utah. This is a 2-way communication tool that is not available to all members. It is available to church employees who need it in their jobs, It is available to many Church leaders to allow for leaders who are spread over a large area to communicate without incurring travel costs unnecessarily. Leaders in Utah who need it may get a variance. Leaders who qualify for it can get set up at pvc.lds.org. It will run on PC, Mac and many android devices. Function is similar to Skype, but meets Church needs for communication better.
The PVC requires a current PC to run. Old equipment will make for a bad experience with video conferences. A hard wired internet connection is also preferable with a desktop PC being preferred over a laptop. Do not use the built-in microphone on the computer. It will cause echoes and it will be a major distraction. Use of proper peripherals such as a separate directional microphone, a good camera and head phones will make for a much more pleasant conference.
The Clerk Computers department has begun the roll-out of a new patching software. They have already installed it on over 14,000 units without a single call with an issue. This software will cut the time spent patching computers by stake technology specialists and will give them more time to train end user. In order for this to work properly, the systems need to be left on long enough for the patches to be applied. Encourage the clerks to log on before the Church meeting block and leave them up until after the meetings are done for the day. That will allow adequate time for the software to do its work.
The church has announced a 5 year replacement plan for all Church owned computers. No longer will clerks be stuck with a computer that is hopelessly out of date while the last bit of usefulness is milked from it. There are Dell and Lenovo options for replacement depending on service locally the PM group will determine the one to use in your area. Please set them up using the approved naming conventions and set-up instructions on the MLS download page.
On the subject of MLS download availability the group is looking at the best way to make the downloads available. It could be left as is, given as a tool on lds.org, access based on calling, redesign of mls.lds.org or a new clerk site. The group would appreciate feedback with any ideas from stake computer specialists.
Clerk computers are supposed to run approved software. While some shareware if free for home users, bringing it into a corporate (which the Church functions as) environment may trigger costs and licensing problems. Let’s avoid the issues that this can bring up.
All Church owned computers should stay with the Sophos anti-virus. All systems will be upgraded from version 7.2 to 9.5 in the near future. If you have a virus issue you can’t solve, call support. If they can’t get it fixed in 15 minutes, have the problem escalated to Sophos. Don’t spend more than 60 minutes trying to clear the virus, reimage the system and go on.
The meetinghouse Internet group spoke of the problems with control of internet connections in the Church’s buildings. Part of this challenge involves old hardware. The Church is actively working to upgrade all chapels to the latest approved firewall, the Cisco 881W, while still supporting other models that are still installed. There are about 18,000 chapels worldwide. 8000 have the 881W, while about 6000 still have older firewall models, the rest have no internet at all. The goal is to by sometime next year have the 881W in all buildings.
The current firewall plan requires that the URL be sent to a central server for vetting and then either allowing a connection to the site or rejecting it. This is a process that takes time and in the interest of speeding up user experience the church is investigating a cloud based option for URL blocking. This project is ongoing.
Accountability for use of the connection is another issue being addressed. The current system has its own set of issues. You start out with a password protected connection and then the password gets shared, then you have it getting out of control and there is no accountability for who is connecting. The goal is to make the LDS account be the standard for login on the internet. This will give accountability for the use and local leaders will be able to block individuals from access as needed.
The Church over the last year has been running a beta project in 50 sites of the Roku streaming device. This is a consumer device that costs from about 60 to 100 dollars. It was supposed to terminate at the end of March, but the users asked to keep it active until after General Conference.
MSD and ICS are working to determine the best way to deliver content to local meeting houses. The goal is to make it easier to use. One idea is to set up media servers and use the Roku for content and language control. The Mormon Channel is available for the Roku box. If a local unit wishes to purchase one. It was noted that the wired version gives better results than the wireless versions at this time. A suggestion was made during the Q&A period that webcasts be streamed through these devices.
Another option is the Western Digital Live or Media Hub products. The Media Hub has a 1TB drives and can connect and playback from a member’s device. This will allow the member to find content online at home for use in teaching a class, then be able to connect to it and play it back using the Western Digital device.
All new Church owned buildings are built with wiring and access points built in for both wired and wireless connectivity. In older buildings leaders will have to work with the FM group to upgrade as needed. The church has a wireless system available through the FM group that costs about 300 dollars. Wireless coverage is up to the Stake President through the FM group.
Family History Center Computers
The Family History Centers often have many old and donated computer systems. Local leaders should work through the FM group to see how many of these systems are qualified to be upgraded. This will depend on local budgets. It was noted that the family history centers are one area that has been neglected in the past. The Church is working to correct that.