Please enjoy this guest blog post from ACS Technologies, a M2SYS partner who provides excellence in information management solutions for the faith-based community.
This post was written by Eleanor Pierce, Communications Strategist at ACS Technologies. A link to the ACS Community Blog page can be found here.
Imagine the rush of people at check-in before church services on a Sunday morning. Hundreds of families, all trying to move through the process as quickly as possible so they’re not the one trying to sneak in after the sermon has already started. Today’s churches are looking for anything that can a) speed the process of checking kids in and b) assure the security of kids and c) create accurate attendance records and pickup lists.
Checking-in 350 kids in 10 minutes
Northwoods Community Church in Peoria, Ill., checks in about 800 kids every weekend, between its four services at two different campuses.
“For our 11 o’clock service, it’s probably close to 350,” said Jason Lee, Information Technology Director at the church. “We’re trying to process that many children in, let’s say a 10 minute window.” Creating a smooth check-in experience isn’t optional, it’s necessary.
“People don’t come early just to check in. We needed to create something that accommodates the attendees, because we could say sure, we’ll just put in one kiosk, but you’ve got to come 30 minutes early to church to check in,” Jason said—but of course, that approach wouldn’t won’t work for the attendees.
That’s why Northwoods has several self-check-in stations that use biometric technology. There’s a guest services desk for those who are not yet in the church’s database, or those who have brought a child that’s a guest, perhaps a cousin or neighbor. For those who are already entered in the system, there are stations where parents can check-in their kids quickly and easily, using a biometric scanner.
The preregistration requirement allows the Northwoods staff to be sure they know the kids who are being checked in and to assure that parents have signed any release forms. Once the paperwork has been handled, staff help parents pre-scan their finger so that they’re entered into the M2SYS system.
Returning parents who have been entered into the system can check-in at an express kiosk. “They walk up, scan their finger, and then it comes up and displays all the children in their family that can be checked in,” Jason explained.
Using the finger scanner with parents instead of the kids assures that parents are actually dropping their kids off in person, rather than just pulling up their cars out front and letting their child come inside alone. While it might save a parent time, Northwoods doesn’t like the safety issues for kids younger than 5th grade.
One key benefit to biometric scanners is that there’s no way to forget what you need to check in.
“You could use a barcode, any sort of RFID, but you can forget those at home,” Jason said, “But it’s pretty challenging to forget your fingers unless you get in a fight with a lawnmower.”
Midwest dry skin = tough-to-capture fingerprints
Northwoods initially used a fingerprint scanner, but tough Midwestern weather means that there can be problems getting a good fingerprint. One problem is that cold winters and dry air can make fingerprints difficult to capture. Also, people who work outside and have calloused hands just might not have a good fingerprint at all. For that reason, Northwoods is in the process of transitioning to finger vein scanners for all check-in. They’ve already begun using the new scanners at one of their satellite campuses, and they’re getting ready to move the 1,500 parents who have been entered into their system using finger prints to re-scan using finger veins.
“The scanners are easier to use, the technology is not environmentally dependent, and it’s very accurate,” Jason said. While testing the machines with his own hand, he tried to create an error.
“I tried to get my finger to scan wrong, and unless I turned my finger sideways, it worked,” he said.
A real partnership
One aspect he’s been very happy with is the working relationship between ACS Technologies and M2SYS. Northwoods uses M2SYS in conjunction with its ACS Technolgies check-in software. It’s a totally integrated system that helps the church keep track of the families that attend the chuch.
“It’s nice to have a partner. That ACS Technologies said M2SYS is good, go work with them, and it’s not some just random third party that we’ve picked up off the shelf, that’s key for us; knowing that we have the support and backing of ACS Technologies and that they have the backing and support of M2SYS.”
Jason Lee also writes a blog called “Bytes about bits in church IT”