United Methodist Information Technology Association hears from industry professionals

September 28, 2017
Story by Charmaine Robledo, Director of Communications for the Mountain Sky Area
and David Topping, Computer Systems Manager for the Desert Southwest Conference

The United Methodist Information Technology Association, or UMITA, held its annual conference from Sept. 18 to 21 in Denver, Colorado. Members gathered to network, to learn from industry professionals about cyber security, TechSoup, Microsoft programs, and to hear from the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) about new services.

Douglas Ward, president of UMITA, opened the event Sept. 19 by emphasizing the "essential" in the workplace and knowing what to prioritize. The morning sessions continued with a presentation from Eileen Kane, of Wespath, which handles The United Methodist Church's pensions and health benefits. Kane spoke about cyber security and best practices, as well as staying up-to-date with the latest software patches. Ben Harsch, IT director and website administrator for the Western Pennsylvania Conference of The United Methodist Church, demonstrated Power BI and how this suite of Microsoft tools can help database managers and district offices organize church and clergy information.

During the afternoon sessions, attendees heard from a representative at TechSoup via video conference. TechSoup is an online repository of donated or deeply-discounted technology solutions for nonprofits. TechSoup is now the recommended source for things formerly found in the discontinued United Methodist TechShop, and all conferences and local churches are eligible to join and receive the membership benefits.

The rest of Tuesday afternoon was about the General Council on Finance and Administration's services. Topics included GCFA offerings such as Shared Services, the EZRA apportionments module, significant IT infrastructure upgrades at Africa University, and security tools. The work done by GCFA staff at African University focused on providing upgraded campus-wide WiFi infrastructure that will enable the students, faculty, and staff to securely access internet resources from almost anywhere on campus. For more information about GCFA's services, email Derek Preston, GCFA Director of IT Infrastructure at dpreston@gcfa.org.

The final session on Tuesday was given by Calvin Scott, IT Coordinator and Archivist for the Central Texas Conference. His presentation covered his attempts at leveraging Microsoft's Azure cloud services to host archives-related databases. After Scott's presentation, the group adjourned to dinner, including the first-ever gathering of a group of conference IT representatives from the Western Jurisdiction.

UMITA members spent Wednesday, Sept. 20 at the 2017 Denver Biz Tech Expo at Coors Field in downtown Denver. The event draws thousands of attendees to hear panelists, participate in workshops, and see the latest in technology from a variety of exhibitors that include Panasonic, Microsoft and Nvidia.

After a full day attending the Denver Biz Tech Expo, the UMITA members and guests reconvened Thursday for reports from United Methodist Communications, a report on integrating districts and local churches into conference accounting systems, and a business meeting, including board member elections.

Sheila Mayfield of UMCom detailed changes to the centralized online presence of the UMC, which over the next year will consolidate a larger number of its websites into just three: UMNS.org, UMLeader.org and UMC.org. There will be a new Global Preferences Center, and both a new customer-relationship management (CRM) and content-management system (CMS) were described to the group, along with a projected timeline for implementation.

A presentation on accounting system integration was given by Mary Myers, the information technology director of the Oklahoma Conference. During the closing business meeting, Palmer Lee of the Arkansas Conference and Barbara Eastman of the New York Annual Conference were elected to positions of the UMITA board. The annual event concluded with a lunch meeting of the UMITA board, during which members discussed plans for future gatherings and board initiatives.