MissionConnect is a new and comprehensive database management software package for United Methodist Conferences. MissionConnect contains all of the functions our customers have come to expect from Great Spirit Systems over the past 14 years, and offers expanded functionality with the added ease and convenience of Internet access and cloud based data storage.


The Great Spirit Systems team will be in Denver on September 20, 21 and 22nd, following the annual meeting of UMITA*. This is the same time that the Brick River group will be hosting a customer conference. Paul and I both thought this would be helpful as we have several customers in common. We will both be set up at the Renaissance Denver Stapleton hotel.

We are not planning an extensive agenda of sessions for this meeting. Rather, on Wednesday evening and all day Thursday we want to be available to talk with current and prospective customers about whatever you want to talk about. We will also offer couple of short “showcase” presentations about our products during that time, at a couple of different time slots each.

On Friday, Lori, Jacob and I will be having a planning session of our own, setting the direction for our software for the next year and more.

If you or anyone on your staff is planning to attend the UMITA meeting in Denver, or the Brick River conference, I hope you will stop by to visit with us at Great Spirit Systems and share any needs, thoughts, and ideas you have for the future of our software. Let me know ahead of time and I will make sure to let you know where to find us.

And if you won’t be coming to Denver but would like to chat about our software for a few minutes, let me know and we’ll pick a time to talk by phone.

In Partnership,
Al Fifhause
President, Great Spirit Systems

*UMITA is the United Methodist Information Technology Association. More information about the UMITA meeting may be found here.

Carousel or Turnstile?

It’s fun to ride the carousel, even as an adult, especially if you have a child with you.

Late June and early July always feels to me like a carousel coming to a stop to drop off and pick up riders; the end the ride, and the beginning of other. Most of our customers’ annual conferences are over, and we’re helping them with Journal reports and other “wrap up” type of database activities for the previous church program year. I also receive a number of calls from customers who are moving into a planning process for a the new program year, and have a new ministry emphasis, or an existing program that is undergoing a few changes, and they want to know what our software can do to help them manage this new ministry.

This year, though, the carousel doesn’t feel like the right metaphor. It feels like many of our customers are striving to move forward rather than to ride that carousel around again. The metaphor that has come to mind a few times during this past month has been that of a turnstile rather than a carousel. When I go through a turnstile it is because I am going somewhere. Whether it’s to board the “L” to Wrigley field to see the Cubs, or to go through teh security checkpoint to board a plane, the turnstile is a passageway to someplace else.

It feels like many of our customers, perhaps most, or even all, are walking through that turnstile this year, rather than getting back on the carousel. There are new ministries, and plans to improve upon current ministries. The United Methodist Church is moving forward. I invite you to contact me to chat about what we can do from the software side of the table to support you as you begin a new journey.

In Partnership,
Al Fifhause
President, Great Spirit Systems

MissionConnect™ Conversion

This past month marks a significant turning point for our software. We have launched the new MissionConnect: PAL application, which is our management and billing program for Property And Liability insurance (hence the acronym “PAL”). What is significant about this is that it’s the last major module of MissionBase to be converted into a MissionConnect app.

It has been a long road. We first began discussing the need to replace MissionBase back in 2007. We spent two years evaluating platforms, identifying possible ways to rewrite MissionBase, determining roles, and looking at hundreds of details. We began the actual writing of the software in 2009, and launched the first implementation of MissionConnect in March of 2011. It was a pretty “bare bones” product, and we had to push certain data back into MissionBase for those modules that were not yet developed in MissionConnect (which was everything except the core system). The past three years have been spent writing the MissionConnect apps for each add-on module that was in MissionBase, converting customers into MissionConnect, and doing our best to keep up with the many daily needs of our customers as we went. So converting final app into MissionConnect is very significant for us.

We do have many loose ends to tie up, and several reports that need to be added before MissionConnect will truly be complete. We will continue to work on that list until it is completed.

However, software is never really complete. There are always more ideas on the table, more changes that are required due to new data needs, and new technologies that afford new opportunities for the usefulness of the software. But for the moment, and for just a moment, we are pausing to take a deep breath and enjoy the feeling of reaching this important milestone.

We are already working to identify a process for receiving, organizing, prioritizing and developing existing and new needs, requests, and ideas for taking MissionConnect beyond what it is today. We need your input, and we’ll be creating a better method for receiving it. I’ll talk more about that next month.

In partnership,

Al Fifhause

Benefits: Changing Billing Entities

When a pastor changes appointments the benefits he or she are participating in continue on as they move to the new appointment.  However, where the bill gets sent for these benefits usually needs to be updated.  Here are some steps to follow in the Benefits application after appointment changes have been made to ensure that the correct billing entity gets the bill.

For this example, Jim is ending his current appointment at Roscoe on 06/30/2012 and beginning a new appointment at Union Avenue on 07/01/2012.  In order to change where his bill gets sent we will set a stop date for all of his billing entities associated with the Roscoe appointment and add a new billing entity associated with his Union Avenue appointment.

While this example involves a clergy person, the stop all billing entities function can also be used for laypersons.

After searching for and selecting Jim from the participant list we select the Roscoe appointment from the “Current/Future Appointments” dropdown.  Notice that immediately below this dropdown we have added a new shortcut for stopping all billing entities for the selected appointment.

This new function will put a stop date on any billing entity that is associated with the selected appointment for that participant.  It even works for split billings or bill by dollars situations.  After clicking the Stop button you will be asked to confirm the selected information.

Once confirmed the stop date will be added to all billing entities and the benefit types tabs will be refreshed, reflecting the newly added stop date.

We have successfully stopped billings for Roscoe after 06/30/2012, next we need to add a billing entity for the new Union Avenue appointment.  To do this select the Union Avenue appointment from the “Current/Future Appointments” dropdown and then select a billing date that is on or after the appointment start date.  Click on the Global Billing Entity Panel and select the add new plus button in the lower left corner.

Search for and select Union Avenue as the new billing entity.  Enter the Billing Percent, Payment Method and Start Date for this billing entity, then click Done and Save.  If you need to do a split billing, then before clicking Save, click the green plus button a second time to search for and select a second billing entity to split the billing with.

By using the Global Billing Entity panel, after we click save, the billing entity we entered has been applied to all benefit types for Jim associated with the Union Avenue appointment.  If one of his benefit types needed a unique billing entity situation, it can be edited on that specific benefit type tab after using the Global Billing Entity.

Shortest Path to Add New Benefits Participant

We have received some questions recently about how to most efficiently set up new benefits participants under MissionConnect.  Due to the number of variables involved, different benefit types, premium categories, billing entities, setting up a completely new participant will always be a multi-step process.  If you have several new participants to add this could be somewhat daunting, so we want to make sure that MissionConnect: Benefits is streamlining this process as much as possible for you.

Part of that is making sure that you, our users, are aware of the most efficient route to follow through the program, the following will be a step-by-step example of that including screenshots.

In order to add a new benefits participant the person must be in the database, if they are not in the database, then you first need to use MissionConnect: Center to add a new person.  For clergy the person would need to be setup with an appointment and then have compensation added before calculated benefits, like CRSP, would be able to calculate correctly, all of this would be completed in Center before starting these steps in Benefits.  For this example I have added a new pastor to the database, his name is Joe Riggins and I have appointed him to the Albuquerque First UMC 07/01/2012 and given him fictitious compensation in a test database.

1.  Since Joe Riggins is not a participant in any benefits at this point I cannot use the regular search, instead I will use the “Add Participant to Tree” button.  Then using the Find Person search box we locate Joe Riggins and select him as the participant that we want to add.

2.  After Joe has been selected all of the participant management panels load for him, but they reflect data as of the current billing date.  If the participant is being added for the current billing cycle then this is fine, in our example however we are adding him for the future and since his appointment doesn’t start until July 1 we need to change the billing date dropdown at the top left to show 07/01/2012.  Once we do that it will correctly show his Pension Base Comp.

3.  Now we need to start adding benefit types for Joe, to do so click the green plus button shown in the screenshot above and select the benefit type to add, for Joe we are first going to add CRSP DB.  The Benefit Types panel is automatically opened for us and since Joe does not have any billing entities set up the Find Billing Entity search box pops up.  We search for Albuquerque First and select it from the list.

4.  Next we have to enter the start date for both the benefit type itself and the billing entity, as well as the billing percent. Click Done and then Click Save and Joe will be all set up for CRSP DB.

5.  Joe also wants to participate in CRSP DC, so following the same steps from above we click the green plus button and this time select CRSP DC from the list of benefit types.  Since we set up CRSP DB to bill by percent and Joe does not have multiple concurrent appointments, the system now sees that he has a “Global Billing Entity” of Albuquerque First.  When we select CRSP DC from the add benefit type list it will now automatically populate the billing entity panel with all of that information.  The only thing we have to fill in this time is the start date, click Done, click Save and Joe is all set up for CRSP DC.  The following screen shot has a blue square indicating all of the billing entity information that is automatically filled in on the second and subsequent benefit types when the participant has a Global Billing Entity.

We could continue following this process to add more benefit types for Joe.

Important tips for using the Global Billing Entity concept:

1. Global Billing Entity only works if you are billing by percents, it will work with a split billing by percent as well, for example if Joe Riggins was responsible for 10% of all of his benefits and Albuquerque First covered the remaining 90% it wold work the same as the above steps show.  If you choose to use “Bill by Dollars”, then the system cannot extrapolate that across other benefit types since they all have unique billing amounts.

1a. If you do use billing by dollars for one benefit type, for example Medical, but for all others you bill by percent, then the way to streamline this setup is to follow the above steps for all of the bill by percent benefit types first and then add Medical as a bill by dollars benefit type last, that way the Global Billing Entity will automatically fill in until the end.

2.  If the participant has multiple concurrent appointments the Global Billing Entity concept cannot be used.

Please feel free to comment with any questions that you have about this process or with any suggestions that you have for improving the workflow.

Overpayments Enhancement

In the MissionConnect: Benefits Enter Transactions function if a billing entity overpaid the balance on their invoice it can be over-applied, therefore leaving a credit balance held for future use.  However, if all of the invoices for that billing entity had previously been paid in full and an additional payment was received there was no way to apply it to that billing entity without creating a separate payment adjustment since zero balance invoices do not load in the payments grid.

We have now made an enhancement in the way that the payments grid loads invoices.  If a billing entity has paid in full, the payments grid will now automatically load all invoices for that billing entity from the prior 31 days.  This will allow an overpayment to be applied without creating a payment adjustment and it will work in the same way that it has for other overpayments and hold the credit balance for future use.  In the following screen shot the Burkesville church has paid all of their invoices in full, so when the account is selected in payments it now shows the most recent invoice, notice the 0.00 amount remaining.  If the Burkesville church sent in an extra payment it could then be applied against invoice 2797 and  held as a credit balance for future use.

Help Desk Enhancement

We have enhanced the help desk form that is built into all MissionConnect applications.  You may now attach one or two image files, such as screen captures, to help explain the problem that you are having.  Attaching images is an optional part of the help desk form.  The more detail that you can provide about your issue, either through a detailed description or by using images, allows us to respond more quickly with a solution.

The red outlined area in the image below shows the new image attachment fields on the help desk form.

Benefits Overpayments

After a discussion with many of our MissionConnect: Benefits users, we have implemented a solution to handle overpayments very similar to how they previously functioned in MissionBase.  This restored feature is now available in MC: Benefits Version 0.734.  Next time you open the application you will automatically be updated to the latest version.

Here is a brief example to demonstrate how this functionality works; Jim sent in a check for $182.82 to pay for three months of his dental and vision insurance, resulting in an overpayment.

The following image shows his payment being over applied to each benefit type to cover the three months of premiums.

His next statement will show he has a credit balance and does not need to send a payment.

The credit balance on his account can then be applied against the new invoices as shown here.



This blog page is to encourage discussion about all things MissionConnect.


This blog page is to encourage discussion about all things MissionConnect: Statistics.