Last night I attended the "Tech Talk" for the LDS Church (aka the Mormons). A church sponsoring a tech talk seems sortof like having google workshop telling you how to achieve nirvana. For those uninitiated with the LDS faith, obviously there is a huge interest in genealogical research and making that accessible to the masses. And there are actually huge technology problems around trying to be the hub of all things genealogical (scaling to hundreds of thousands if not millions of users, various languages etc). Yet like any large company or organization, the church has to perform many of the same tasks. Such as supply chain, physical building upkeep, an online presence, HR and IT. And these are all areas where technology can save you larges amounts of time, money and effort. In the words of the CIO technology is used to "decrease administration and increase ministration".

The "keynote" was a talk by the CIO, Joel Dehlin (an ex-Microsoftie). He discussed how the church is keen to adopt technology, and gave the example of having satellite coverage to broadcast it's global bi-annual meetings, called general conference, world wide. The LDS websites receive on the order of 50 million hits per month from 5 million unique viewers. They are currently in the process of revamping many sites, with their new UI design team. They are also adopting technologies such as RSS, and podcasting as well as asking the community what web services could be exposed.

Some of the challenges that the LDS church faces are a little unique (or challenges that only large worldwide companies would face). One example is setting up internet access to meeting houses worldwide. With growth in 3rd world countries, reliable phone lines make this a challenge. Also the members of the church speak 180+ languages. i18n and globalization are huge issues for them. Another issue somewhat similar to startups at the hands of their investors is wise resource management (the church is funded by the tithes of it's members). So adopting open source technology is one way to cut back on IT resources.

Joel's talk was very professional and it looks like he has his hands full. He didn't drink too much Koolaid during his tenure up in Redmond, since he was very positive about open source, complimented Macs heavily, and is pushing a Java dev stack. (Though he suggested at a meetup prior to the talk that OpenOffice is too "technical" to adopt for his users. He went on to clarify that he didn't like mismatches between the screen view and actual printing and that Excel pivot tables are another area that keep them tied to the cash cow of Office). After his talk, there were some 8 or so sessions that were repeated twice. They included streaming video from stake centers (how to allow members to view large regional meetings simultaneously), next-gen genealogical efforts, technology (java web stack), design, development and community. These talks were recorded so the might be podcast at some point. Keep your eyes peeled on YouTube ;)

I attended the Design session led by Tadd Giles (another ex-MSer), director of the newly formed design team. The Church has numerous intranet and external websites, all of which were designed before this team existed. They design team seems pretty strong with prominent designers such as Cameron Moll. Tadd showed some updates to some of the sites and even showed some code, which revealed use of yahoo grids, prototype, and scriptalicious. I was impressed by the talk. Don't be too surprised if LDS sites start looking web 2.0-ish. (Side notes, internal supported browser is IE. All designers are running Macs)

The other talk I attended was the community talk. Led by Tom Welch (old CTO of Linspire) this was sort of a breakthrough moment for the church. Understanding the power of open source and community wisdom, they have opened a technology site, where they are asking for advice and suggestions on how best to interact with their community. Be it open source, exposing web services, or even making some of the church specific apps easier to use. (Visions of genealogical mashups running through my head)

I would've liked to attend the genealogical session and see what the next-gen stuff will be. There is a post on the CIO's blog about the Java stack (which is nice though I prefer other languages... perhaps it will allow them to migrate to jruby. They admit to looking into ruby and python.).

Apparently someone sent the church the Gartner memo that 60% of companies will be using Web 2.0 in the next 2-3 years.