NAFRA Computer Committee Annual Report - Fiscal Year 2004
The NAFRA website has been enhanced with significant amounts of new material for the commissions and with current issues of TAU-USA. The NAFRA directory is now being maintained in electronic form; once we have a system of passwords implemented, we will be able to make the directory available to authorized users directly from the NAFRA website. Four TAU-USA mailings have gone out using Bob Herbelin's mailing list; Bob is in the process of merging his database into the Internet database, getting us much closer to the goal of a single database. Some significant problems have been corrected in the Internet database, and functionality has been enhanced, especially in report generation. Many smaller problems with the database and the website have been corrected. Dan Mulholland has joined the committee and will be assisting with the increased workload for the website (see web-related items under "upcoming plans").
Many problems have been found and fixed in the Internet database code. (Anyone who wants to know more about the specific problems can talk to Roger, Bob, or Vickie during the NAFRA meeting and find out more than you ever wanted to know.)
Information on people listed in the master database (used for generating the TAU-USA mailing list up to now, with updates from the online database) has now been used to update the online database in turn. All regions that were using Bob Herbelin's database program now have their data in the NAFRA Internet database. These are both important steps toward making the Internet database the only database. There are now over 22,000 names in the Internet database.
Local fraternity numbers have been modified to include a sub-fraternity number (as proposed last year). This allows us to correlate satellites and forming/emerging fraternities with their parents.
The NAFRA Directory is now generated electronically and can be emailed as an Acrobat (PDF) file to anyone who needs it.
We continue to maintain contact information for Regional Ministers, commission members, etc., on the NAFRA website, in response to updates on NAFRA-L or as requested. Many other minor updates have been made to the website as requested.
"Dead" external pages for the Work, Family, and Formation Commissions, and for TAU-USA, have been incorporated into the NAFRA website, enabling the pages to be updated again. Once this was done, we were able to update the Family Commission page with the latest Living by Faith. (This page has now been replaced with a link to the newly developed external Family Commission page.)
New materials were added to the Ecology Commission and Peace and Justice web pages.
Many of the materials from the All-Commissions Conference are now available on a page directly linked from the NAFRA home page.
Starting with Winter 2004, TAU-USA (or at least some parts of it) are now available electronically. Beginning with Summer 2004, we are getting the PDF file used by Barbo-Carlson and posting it to the website. (Fall 2004 is an exception due to a copyrighted article which we don't have permission to post.)
There are now working reports available from the NAFRA database! (Select "reports with multiple output formats.")
Complete the work necessary to get the NAFRA directory available online (setting up password protection).
Complete the work necessary to eliminate the need for a second database (all information needed for TAU-USA and for generating the directory will be incorporated into the Internet database). One step in this process is correlating fraternity (as opposed to individual) information between the two databases.
Given resource constraints (budget but also our time), we are primarily looking at ways we can incrementally improve the existing database system, but we may need to replace some components to achieve needed improvements in the areas listed here (and others that will turn up over time).
Additions/modifications of the data stored in the database - essentially making small redesigns of the database itself. In the course of identifying and fixing some problems this year, such changes have become necessary; more are needed to fully merge the NAFRA directory information into the online database (so we can have a single database). An area in active development is the officer listing; this is being changed from the current "list every variant anyone uses" office list to a small set of standard offices with a description field to elaborate (i.e., all the miscellaneous offices will be councilors with different descriptions). This work is ongoing.
Security. At a minimum, the database interface should be using Secure Socket Layer encryption (the kind you get when a website URL begins with https://).
Access levels. The current access levels make it difficult to use the database to find one's peers at the same level. We would like to make it possible for fraternity ministers to look up other fraternity ministers within their region, etc. Since privacy is a great concern, we need to move carefully in this area; however, many regions today have to keep a separate database to meet their own access needs and we'd like to change that.
Maintainability. Roger is currently working on converting the Internet database programs from ASP to PHP (an open source language), restructuring the programs to be more modular and maintainable in the process. Some of the problems found and fixed this year were duplicated dozens of times in the existing software! At some point, we will also migrate to an open source database such as MySQL.
Continue to improve the reports available.
Implement better database access for spiritual assistants. The original spiritual assistants' page is virtually unusable.
The "to do" list for the website includes the following (some of which will be worked on by our newest committee member, Dan Mulholland):
For the website, some pages need to have their "look and feel" updated to match the rest of the main site.
The regions.html web page, as many of you are aware, does not list all local fraternities. In the future, we may try to generate the data directly from the online database; in the meantime, we want to get all fraternities listed by getting the information from regional ministers.
Continue working with Frances Wicks to streamline the process of getting an electronic version of TAU-USA on the website in a timely fashion.
Work with Bob and Mary Stronach to update the "Press Room" section of the website with up-to-date PR materials.
Continue to add more resource information to the website. As of this writing (actually September 2004), we are expecting more information for the Formation and Work Commissions shortly, and have additional materials for the All-Commissions Conference waiting to be uploaded.
The TAU-USA sub-website could use a navigation bar to give it a more professional appearance. Currently the only way out of pages is to use the "back" button.
We have made a lot of progress this year with both the database and the website, even though there is plenty more to be done. Both the database and the website are becoming more useful resources for the national fraternity.
Vickie B. Klick, SFO
Chair, NAFRA Computer Committee