I recently had the chance to interview Lee Atchison the founder of ScoutManage, and a major InsaneScouter sponsor. I asked him a bunch of questions and here is his answers.
Can you tell me a little bit about ScoutManage, what it is and how it helps Scouters?
ScoutManage is a tool that allows units to manage their scouting unit in a way that shares responsibility between members of the unit, rather than requiring a single person to be the focal point of all changes. ScoutManage was designed to:
1)To track progress individual scouts have towards their goals, easily managed by all appropriate people within the unit (scout, parent, unit leadership).
2) Make it possible to assign individuals responsibility and authority to perform specific actions within their unit, like manage membership, awards, finance, event planning.
3) Make current, consistent, and up-to-date information available conveniently to all members of the unit, such as events, calendars, notices.
ScoutManage is best utilized when everyone in the unit has a distinct username assigned to them and used to access ScoutManage, so that individuals can get the information they need easily, can manage what they are responsible for easily.
Why did you create ScoutManage?
ScoutManage was designed back when I was a Den leader in a small den in Richardson Texas, back when my son was a Wolf scout. I found it very hard to track what everyone in my den was doing, and figured if I was having that problem, so were other people. I was a big believer in parental involvement in scouting, so I knew spreadsheets were the wrong answer as I became the bottleneck. I wanted something that parents and I could use and share to update their son's progress. The kids always forgot their books, so that wasn't the right answer. ScoutManage came to me as an idea at a scouting conference, and the first version was launched about a year later.
Is ScoutManage kept current to BSA advancement?
We try to. However, we depend on input from our community when they see something that is out of date. Since my son has now moved on out of scouting, we aren't as tied into the scouting establishment as we'd like to be. As such, we depend on our more active users to help us identify when things are changing so we can update them appropriately.
Is ScoutManage secure?
Yes. We require all communication between the user's browser and our servers to be SSL (HTTPS). This is the same protocol that makes shopping carts and credit card submission on the internet safer. Most sites use this for those sensitive pages only, but we use it for everything in ScoutManage.
While we store some sensitive information in our database (such as email addresses, phone numbers, and addresses), we don't store the most sensitive information. In particular, we do not store any financial information (credit card numbers, etc) in our database. We use trusted financial partners like PayPal and Amazon.com to do this for us. Additionally, passwords are stored encrypted in our database using a one-way encryption algorithm. We can't even look into our database and get your password. It's impossible. Even if someone were to get into our system, the information they could get would be of limited usefulness.
The biggest concern I personally have with security is at the local unit level. I would hate for information such as where "Johnny" lives to make it out to someone inappropriate who lives near Johnny. This is why I encourage setting up individual user names for everyone in your unit that uses ScoutManage, rather than a single shared login. I have received much criticism for this recommendation, saying that it is "too much work to setup" and "my parents don't need it and won't use it". By doing it this way, though, a unit can track exactly who has access to ScoutManage, and can disable access to someone when they leave the unit. I'm sure the people who criticize us for having to setup so many users would understand why if they were to talk to one of the units that contacted us asking us what to do because "their unit was splitting" and they didn't want the "other side" to have access to their data...It's amazing some of the politics that go on at the local unit level sometimes.
Why is ScoutManage better then Troop/Pack master or the other web based advancement tracking programs out there?
Very good question. Short answer: it's not. There are many good programs out there and what is best depends on the needs of your unit. None of the offerings are best for all units in all situations. I would be the last to say that ScoutManage is better at everything than the other programs, and I would dismiss any comment by anyone else that says their system is better than all the rest.
For example, Troop/Packmaster is best suited for a unit that has a single person responsible for tracking all aspects of the unit. It runs native on your PC, and doesn't require an internet connection. While you can share the data with other people in your unit, it wasn't designed for that and isn't optimized for that. Additionally, Troop/Packmaster is one of the few tools that supports Scoutnet natively, which is BSA's mechanism for updating scout records during annual rechartering. Other packages, including ScoutManage, require a more manual process. For some units, this is a huge deal. For larger units that don't want to depend on the internet, this also works well.
For many units, a simple spreadsheet works wonders. There are plenty of free spreadsheets out there, and for smaller units, units with central control, or units that have very little internet connectivity (such as rural areas), they work well.
From an online package standpoint, I truly believe ScoutManage is the best. There are others, such as Scouttrack, that have been around longer than ScoutManage, but ScoutManage has been growing and improving every the features we provide every year. There are some newer ones coming online as well, so we'll have to see how they work out over time and what features they offer and specialize in. They may very well prove better for some types of units as well, we'll have to see.
There are people who have valid concerns about using the internet for things like scout unit management. I do understand those concerns and for those individuals, Troop/Packmaster or spreadsheets are a great idea. For those that really believe the internet is an asset to managing their unit, then ScoutManage has many benefits for them.
Were you / are you involved in Scouting?
I first got into scouting back in 1972 as a Bear scout. My family lived in a small town in rural western Wisconsin (Prescott, WI), and I loved scouting. I got back involved with scouting again when my son became a Tiger cub scout in 2002. We moved to Richardson, TX which was part of a strong scouting community in and around the Dallas area. I served various roles in my Pack including Den Leader, Asst Cubmaster, Cubmaster, Committee Member, as well as running Scouting For Food, Pinewood Derby, etc. I also served at the district level as a trainer and was a member of the district roundtable staff.
We moved to the Seattle, WA area for family reasons where we continued involvement in scouting until my son was no longer able to (he had special needs no longer compatible with our local unit's abilities). Now, my involvement in scouting is virtual thru y'all. :-)
What do you do when not Scouting?
I'm a Sr. Development Manager at Amazon.com in Seattle, WA. This is a company I truly love to work for.
What do you wish you could do with ScoutManage but have not been able to?
Many, many things. :-) My list of things to do is quite long.
However, one thing I would really like to do is simplify the user interface and make the user interface more consistent across all the different components of ScoutManage.
What features / services do your users find most beneficial?
Achievement tracking is the biggie. Next most popular is calendar. The blogging and financial services are rarely used. The ability to send email to members in their unit is not used by all units, but by some units it is used very heavily.
Can you tell us about a time when everything just went wrong at ScoutManage and what did you do about it?
By far the biggest are when my service provider has a problem. I had one time when the organization hosting ScoutManage went down for the better part of a day. This was horrible as scoutmanage was unavailable for that entire time. This was many years ago. We now are hosted on Amazon's AWS infrastructure which is very very stable and has not caused us any problems.
Woha I was going to sign up but $45 seems like a lot to ask for...
Now that's *per year*. That's only $4 per month to manage your entire unit for you, any number of scouts, any number of users. 12c a day.
How much does it cost in gas to get to your den meeting? :-)
Seriously, I occasionally get requests from "small" units for a cheaper price, because they don't have that much money in their scouting account to use for this. I certainly understand that, and perhaps ScoutManage isn't the right solution for them. But what often happens is some parent in the unit just writes a check and calls it a day. It really is not very much money to run your unit for a whole year.
I will say that I am considering a "ScoutManageLite" offering that will provide only the basic services (the most popular scoutmanage ones, like achievement tracking) at a lower price or per-member pricing. Any thoughts?
Can ScoutManage help us with recruiting or fund raising?
That's a very good question, and quite frankly I hadn't thought of it. Seriously, do you have any ideas? I would be more than glad to hear about them.
Do you have any advice for other Scouters or Scouts?
Big message for Scouters: remember why you are involved. You're involved for the kids. Don't let unit politics get in the way of enjoying scouting with your kids. Don't take any of this too seriously, this is all for the kids. If you get too caught up in the little things that bug you (like whether you can earn Bear Achievement #13F more than once), you'll miss the truly important stuff (like the smile on your son's face when he finishes his derby car).
Thanks Lee for taking the time to answer my questions and at the same time help people better understand what you offer.