Houses of Worship Get IoT 'Religion'
INTEGRATORS SEEKING BIG OPPORTUNITIES in the Internet of Things might find their holy grail in houses of worship (HOWs) that today are packed with technology. Changes in attendee behavior, growing security concerns, and an endless need for cost savings are driving HOWs toward smarter, more connected operations—and IoT solution integrators who can keep them up and running.
The IoT opportunities at HOWs fall roughly into two categories: visitor experience and facilities management.
The visitor experience is changing fast. Choirs and organs are losing popularity, according to a 2015 study by Hartford Institute for Religion Research, and the shift toward concert-like music experiences demands fully integrated audio, visual, and lighting—likely controlled from an iPad.
Add to that a growing number of “multisite” megachurches (2,000 or more attendees) where experiences might be coordinated simultaneously among three or more locations, according to the Hartford Institute study. HOWs are also setting up Wi-Fi so visitors can use personal devices to engage with staff, look up scripture, or receive targeted messages based on where they are in the building.
On the facilities side, HOWs are using sensor-detected occupancy to control lights and HVAC, and video surveillance and sensors to monitor entrances and parking lots.
HOW solutions require a network of sensors for gathering data, field gateways for securely transmitting it to the cloud, and applications that manage data and services, says Boris Shiklo, CTO of ScienceSoft. On the hardware side, vendors such as Harman are creating packages for the HOW vertical that include everything from exterior lighting to control rooms, wireless headsets, and digital signage.
A Foot in the Double Doors
An older model of using volunteer tech staff has become inadequate for the seven-day schedules and complex technology in today’s churches, says Corey Kirkendoll, president and CEO of 5K Technical Services, a managed service provider in Plano, Texas. The company built a niche serving Dallas area churches, starting with Kirkendoll’s own church in 2006.
He suggests channel pros open the door to IoT sales via more familiar offerings. For instance, VoIP phone systems can help churches reduce the cost of communicating with their ministers stationed overseas. HOWs also want robust Wi-Fi infrastructure and security against hackers who could use their email to target unsuspecting donors. Physical security and surveillance services are another good entrée for those with minimal or outdated coverage, especially if they deal heavily with children.
Full service for HOWs requires a nimble integrator. Kirkendoll suggests capability with both Mac and PC, and proficiency in lighting, projection systems, audio, video, and control board protocols. Embedded software development, experience with cloud computing, and expertise in data analytics technologies might also be necessary, Shiklo adds.
Partnering is key in this market too. 5K Technical Services developed in-house specialties in customer relationship management software, audio engineering, and light engineering, and depends on partners to handle things like rigging lights and cables and providing the control boards.
Language of the Faithful
Although HOW goals are much like any enterprise operation, don’t phrase it that way, Kirkendoll warns. “They don’t like when you turn churchy stuff into business stuff.”
Instead, church operators want to hear about how IoT can keep people engaged as membership grows, or increase congregational giving by 30% to 40% via mobile options. Plan to explain how video surveillance can generate useful information on visitor movement, reach remote viewers, and increase security. Kirkendoll says losing membership to more progressive churches is a pressing “business” problem with tech solutions.
To familiarize yourself with the tech needs of the industry, read publications such as Church Production Magazine and Worship Facilities. It’s also crucial to learn each customer’s unique buying process, which could include multiple layers of approval from board members, ministers, and staff, says Kirkendoll.
Overall, the opportunity for IoT integration services and ongoing relationships is big, but not unlimited, cautions Kirkendoll. “They will spend the money on things they know are going to move the needle. But the nice-to-haves, not really.”
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