CommanderBill.net

Insight from a Children's Pastor & Awana Commander

Recordkeeping Software – Approved Workman

I am going alphabetical and the first software interview today happens to be the “new kid” on the block. I found out about the Approved Workman software in its early development. I received a free copy of the software to test/evaluate and since I was beginning a new club, I opted to use it in that real club situation. I do pay for the annual renewal each year. I have met Rick and his wife at an Awana conference in our region and I do communicate with him via e-mail.

Let’s take a look at our interview and see what Rick has to say about the Approved Workman software and the future of recordkeeping software:

I feel the need to share that I do not receive any compensation of any type from any of the software products on my website. The information is made available to help you decide which product meets the need for your club.

Please share your heart behind why you developed and still offer/maintain the software.

In 2004 I was working in the corporate world as a consultant designing software. I decided to take some time off and when our church’s Awana Commander heard this he invited me to attend a club meeting. He put me to work as a listener in Sparks. When those little first graders stepped up and began reciting scripture from memory, it really tugged at my heart and from that moment I was hooked!

As I learned more about the club operation and the many recordkeeping tasks being performed, I began to recognize how time-consuming, error-prone and inefficient the manual recordkeeping process was. And, the club secretary and commander couldn’t really do much with the data that was being collected because it was all trapped on paper. I kept thinking “there’s got to be a better way!”.

I tried all of the software programs I could find at the time for Awana recordkeeping and discovered that they were very different from what I expected, and that none were right for our club. I began to get a vision for a design and so I began working on an Awana database application. I had many questions about club data, and at first I was narrowly focused on just our club but my commander suggested I contact secretaries from other clubs too.  As I got deeper into my research I had a growing appreciation for the tremendous amount of work and responsibility placed on club secretaries.  I came to realize that I had underestimated the scope of what I initially thought would be a small project. For nearly a year I worked on the application and often I wanted to quit, but each time I was about to throw in the towel and go back to the corporate world and get a real job… seemingly out-of-the-blue I would get a phone call or an email from someone at just the right moment that encouraged me to continue. This happened too many times to be a coincidence and so I felt God was keeping me on the path of this project.  Finally version 1.0 was ready, but the application needed a name other than the “Awana Database”.  More than one person suggested calling it the “Approved Workman” database so that’s what we used.

In 2005 when version 1.0 of the Approved Workman Database was released it was very well received by the early adopters and word began to spread. Other than participating in a few Awana conference workshops we’ve done no formal advertising, it has all been word-of-mouth. Today over 1200 clubs across the country have implemented the Approved Workman Database to help them run their clubs more efficiently.  The functionality of the software has grown significantly over the years based on feedback from club secretaries and commanders, and we have a long list of future enhancements to keep us busy in the future.

I never returned to the corporate world to get a “real” job. Instead I have a full-time career continuing the development and support of this Approved Workman Database project. I am blessed and encouraged through interactions with so many Awana folks across the country. It’s great to wake up each day and look forward to getting to work, knowing that I have a worthwhile purpose in serving thousands of Christians who are in turn serving their respective clubs as we all strive toward our common goal of reaching kids for Christ.  I truly love my job!

What operating system(s) does your software currently run on?

 The AWdb application runs on any version of Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7.

Are there plans to have it available on Mac?

Mac users CAN run the AWdb software using virtual machine software like VMware or Parallels. I am aware of several MacBook users doing this. We have no plans to develop a native Mac OS version at this time.

With the proliferation and popularity of Smart Phones and Tablets (iPad, Droids, etc), have you considered having an app for the software? Would that even be feasible?

I am intrigued by the smart phones and tablets and I have indeed imagined a new version of the Approved Workman Database running on them.  Anyone familiar with AWdb knows the majority of the weekly recordkeeping tasks are performed through simple mouse clicks, which would translate to finger taps on a mobile device. The only time it is necessary to use the keyboard is when you enter a new member!

Unfortunately, there are many significant challenges to delivering a version of AWdb that would run on the different mobile platforms, each with their own unique operating system, screen size and hardware limitations.  We will definitely be open-minded and explore future possibilities, but I would not want to get anyone’s hopes up for a mobile version of AWdb in the near future.

Do you think that there will ever be a commercial web-based recordkeeping database for club use?

I think the answer is “yes, eventually”.  The web browser is great for presenting static data, but it is awful when it comes to hard-core data-entry. It is very difficult to overcome the browser’s inherent limitations and provide the same dynamic and user-friendly interface that we’ve come to expect with typical Windows applications.  In fact, we started an effort last year but after several months of work we pulled the plug because we just weren’t satisfied with it.  We plan on having another go at this in the future using a different approach and as we make progress we will share more information about this on the AW Forum.

It has been my experience that most of the time when someone asks about a web-based version, they aren’t so much insisting that it run in a web browser, but rather what they really want is to have a central database somewhere so that multiple users can get to the records from home or church.  For those folks, a viable solution is to install the database on a server at church and grant users remote access to it using some variation of remote desktop.

In this culture where people want immediate responses, if someone has an issue with the software during club, or at an odd hour of the night, is there any help for them? What type of support do you offer for the software?

We provide support via email, telephone, and remote control connections as needed. Our normal office hours are from 8:00AM to 5:00PM (Central Time Zone), Monday through Friday.  We can also schedule an appointment to help those who need support in the evenings or on weekends.  The AW Forum is available 24 hours a day and it is a great resource filled with Frequently Asked Questions and Answers, some training videos, and AWdb users can post questions and answers, and share ideas with others.

How often do you update the software, and what do you do to help you decide what updates, or features, to add?

The Approved Workman Database software is frequently updated. The first major upgrade each year addresses changes and/or additions to the curriculum and the Awana supply catalog. This upgrade is always released in late summer just before the new club year begins. (We have to wait to get our hands on the new curriculum and supply catalog just like everyone else.)  Then, we usually have at least three or four more releases throughout the club year to fix bugs and add new features.

We add features based directly on the feedback from our users, and we try to prioritize them so that we can safely deliver the greatest functionality to the highest percentage of users in the shortest possible time.

What are the key features of your software?

  • An intuitive user-friendly interface that makes it easy to get up to speed quickly and navigate between the different modules. The application just simply makes sense to most users and it is easy for them to view and collect data and take advantage of the many features.
  • Powerful grids make it easy to get a high-level view and quickly sort, filter, group, print and/or export your club’s data.
  • Portability. AWdb can be run directly from a USB flash drive and moved from one computer to another.
  • Networked multi-user capabilities. AWdb can be installed on a server so multiple users can access the data simultaneously.
  • The Database Check-out/Check-in feature provides non-networked multi-user capability as it allows one or more clubs to be checked out of the Primary database as a Secondary database on a USB flash drive. The Primary and Secondary database users can work independently and then later merge all of the data from the Secondary back into the Primary.
  • The Member form provides a well-organized view of individual clubber or leader details along with the related household contact info and other household members. You can track multiple photos, phones and email addresses for each member.
  • The Check-in module provides an efficient single screen to view and record attendance, dues and handbook sections.
  • Points and statistics are automatically calculated and awards are automatically triggered as you perform the data-entry.
  • The Ledger system makes it easy to track Fees and Payments and produce Household Account Statements.
  • Reports. There are many formal reports and most of them allow custom selection criteria, sorting and grouping options. All reports may be previewed and output to a variety of external file formats such as: Excel, RTF, HTML, and PDF.
  • Pre-filled Registration forms make it easy for parents to re-register, especially when they have multiple children.
  • Robust Inventory Tracking System (with photos of all items) that is integrated with Book Assignments and the Automatic Awards Generation.
  • New Year Setup prepares for the next club year in just minutes and handles school grade and club promotions for you.
  • SQL Workbench for techies.
  • An active user forum for access to FAQs, training videos, and sharing of ideas with other AWdb users.

Some people think that some of the record keeping software is an Awana product. I know that you are a “third party” product, meaning that you are not developed by, or supported by Awana, you are completely independent of Awana. How do you find out about revisions to the Awana program (like the change to bones and patches from seals for T&T)?

We have to wait for information through the usual channels just like everyone else.  Your website [commanderbill.net] is a great resource as is our Awana missionary.

What is the best way for someone to see and evaluate your software?

Go to www.ApprovedWorkman.com  and read some of the testimonials, skim the information found on the Features page, and then use the link to download a free, fully-functional 30-day trial.

Please share anything else about you and the software that you think would benefit clubs that are looking at which software package to use for their club.

I believe that any club still keeping records only on paper is wasting a lot of valuable time that could be better spent on the children. When the club data is not trapped on paper it can be used in powerful and efficient ways. For instance you can produce in mere seconds award reports, attendance reports, financial reports and all of the end of year reports. You can print contact lists, name tags, mailing labels, registration forms, worksheets and much more. You can also pro-actively manage inventory levels and ordering so you’re not wasting money on frequent supply orders. There are many benefits to move beyond paper records.

I’m sure that all of us investing our time developing and supporting software for Awana clubs want to do a good work and produce a tool that will be truly helpful. Each of us has taken a unique approach and I encourage folks to go to each vendor’s website and download the trial version and see which one seems right for their club. Naturally I hope that they will choose the Approved Workman Database, but the most important thing, regardless of which system they choose, is that they make the transition from their paper-based system to a computer-based system and strive to become more efficient in their club operations.


To learn more about the software, please visit their web site

Click here to read some comments by users of the software and if you use the software, please feel free to share your experiences with it. (You must be join the  CommanderBill.net community to post a comment there, joining is free)

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