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Church Software
By: Mike Wygant

Q: I know I should backup the data in my church management software. How often should I do so, and what are my options?
A:  It's a lesson that is usually only learned once, to those that have been in the unfortunate situation of losing data. The causes are many and varied, ranging from lightning strikes to system crashes to simple mouse mis-clicks. With very little time and effort, and little to no extra cost, this can be easily avoided by a well-implemented system of backing up on a regular basis. There are many different mechanisms by which this can be accomplished.
In any application that utilizes databases, like church management software, there should be a backup feature within the program. This is the quickest and easiest way to do a backup, since it would be program-specific and automatically back up everything you need for that program. You should be able to save it to anything from a flash drive to a CD to your computer's hard drive. Refer to your software manufacturer for details on how to backup data for that specific application.
In addition to specific software applications, there are options to backup anything on your hard drive. There are online utilities that can use your Internet connection to back up specified information and runs silently in the background. These have a fee, but are useful since they are automated and require little to no action by the user to keep data saved. The only downfall to this, of course, is the requirement of a reliable Internet connection.
The third most common mechanism used to backup is a local network backup program that is set up by an administrator. They usually run on a regular basis, completely automated so that specified data is backed up, for example, every night and/or on weekends.
Finally, there is the simplest way to backup information, which is to copy it manually. For example, one might purchase an external mobile hard drive and hook it up directly to a PC. Then, using simple drag-and-drop actions, you can save documents, pictures, music, or anything that is saved on your computer to the external drive.
All of these methods can accomplish the goal of backing up data, but a very important thing to remember is that two backups are always better than one. There are circumstances where a system crashes, and, even though backups have been made, there is still data loss. The best method of ensuring that data is not lost is to incorporate three basic rules.

1. Make sure that you use at least two methods of backups. Use a combination of automated and manual backups.

2. Make sure that when a backup is made, it is not continually replacing the previous backup.

3. Make sure that at least one of your backups is kept off-site so that you're protected in case of fire, flood, or theft.

Q: I need to contact support for help with my software. What information should I have available to help them best help me?
A: There are a few steps you can take to ensure your support call is productive and results in the help and solutions you are looking for. Being prepared in advance with the information the support technicians need will not only speed up the process, but make sure you get the correct answers. Here is a list of information to have ready before making the call:

1. Know the exact software versions. This is crucial since most software changes dramatically from one version to the next, and a specific error in one version may mean something completely different than an error in a different version. In addition to the application version, it's very helpful to have the exact version of the operating system you are using. 

2. If you're calling about an error message, be sure you have the exact full error message. There can sometimes be very long errors, or even multiple errors for the same issue. Be sure to have both the error number and the text that follows, if applicable.

3. Have details about what you were doing when the issue occurs, as well as what happens afterwards. Sometimes errors will cause a crash, whereas sometimes you can continue just fine after the error, and it seems not to affect anything. Also be ready to explain exactly what part of which program you were using and what exactly you were typing or clicking on when the problem comes up.

4. Have a history. How long has this problem been happening? What has happened recently that might or might not seem relevant? Have you updated software or hardware, have you reinstalled or rebuilt any hardware or software?

5. Do you have any other important information that might speed up the process? Some good examples include your customer ID, your warranty information, serial number, support agreement, name, address, and phone number, etc.

Remembering to have as much of this information as possible will not only speed up the support process, but will also make for an overall better experience for everyone. Don't forget that having a positive attitude, as frustrated as you might be, is always a good thing! You and the support people you are calling all have the same goal: to fix a problem.

Mike Wygant is a tech support professional at Computer Helper Publishing, home of Church Windows church management software. www.churchwindows.com.

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