You surely have a ton of other questions about what EmpowerDB can do and the services we provide. The section below is an attempt to answer all of the common questions we receive. Please 224-255-2062 if there is any other information we can provide you.
About the Company
Is EmpowerDB taking new customers?
In August of 2018, due to an incredibly high back-log of existing work, we put a complete hold on all sales related activity. That meant not only stopping taking on new projects, but also stopping even having sales related conversations with potential customers.
We plan on taking new customers again starting January of 2019. But we have a long list of organizations who wrote us during this half-year period who are waiting to have the opportunity to join the system. We have been keeping good records of the time in which these inquires came in and feel like it's only fair to go about responding to them on a first come, first serve basis.
This means that any organization who is not currently on our "Interest List" will still unfortunately need to have their names placed in the queue until we have time available to have discussions with them.
Not having dedicated sales staff at EmpowerDB is an intentional choice. We would rather have all of a customer's interactions, right from the beginning, be with the people who they will actually work with. Our project managers are also the people who know the system best and can answer a potential customer's questions quickly and accurately. Not having sales staff, though, does mean that we have limited time to do demos and answer the initial questions that organization have.
In general we have decided that going forward we will make an extra effort to only take on the amount of work that we can comfortably do. The back-log of work that we experienced, and the resulting anxiety it caused our existing customers, did not sit well with us. We would much rather work with a limited number of organizations and provide them with great service than stretch ourselves thin and risk not being able to stick to our standards of quality.
Taking on a limited number of customers will surely mean that we will not be able to help some organizations in urgent need of a database solution. Any organization who is in urgent need of an HUD/HMIS solution can always sign up for our yellow-bark
of EmpowerDB; then upgrade to a paying customer when we have the availability. But for all other situations, there's nothing more we can say besides we apologize that we're not able to bring you on board at the speed at which you're requiring. We deeply care about programs like yours and it breaks our heart to not be able to come through in these situations. But it breaks our heart even more to not keep the promises that we've already made to our existing clients.
You should still write us to let us know you're interested. We'll put your name on our "Interest List" and get in touch with you when it seems like we would be able to start with you three-to-four months out. Thus giving you some time to ask questions, have a demo, get the contract and payment settled, etc. We will not send a contract or invoice before we are ready to get to your spot on the interest list; no matter the situation.
If you are looking for answers now, perhaps your questions about the product can be answered by looking through the FAQ section of our web page. We try to put every single bit of information a prospective user of EmpowerDB would need to know in that section.
If you have questions about pricing, you can visit the pricing tool on our web page. When people call us to get a quote, we just go to that tool to get the price. So that pricing tool will give you the exact number we'd give you (unless you're a state coalition or one of the very rare mega-non-profits with dozens of different types of clients). There are no hidden costs besides what the pricing tool describes. Just make sure to read each section in that pricing tool so you understanding how it works.
If you'd like to see a demo of EmpowerDB, there's a video we made that takes you through the demonstration version of the system. You can see that here: /www.youtube.com/watch?v=83IBLbFsyto
If you'd like to experiment with the demo version of the database you can do so here: /www.empowerdb.com/#demo Just remember that the demo version of the database is just an example of how things could be set up. It is not how we'd set your organization up.
Why was EmpowerDB created?
EmpowerDB was created in 2008 by Steven Jenkins, a techie turned social worker employed as a fulltime child advocate for a Boston-based domestic violence program. Witnessing firsthand the maddening inefficiencies that plagued the shelter's data collection and reporting practices, Steven set out to solve the problem by combining his technical knowledge with his direct experience of the challenges non-profits face every day.
The simple to use database Steven created thrilled staff. The resulting database completely revolutionized how the organization tracked its shelter and community participants. Staff had easy and secure access to all client data; administrators and development staff were able to quickly run their own reports; and a domestic violence advocate who had been previously corralled into taking on the role of "data-collector-in-chief" was able to go back to providing direct service to clients again.
Word of mouth from that successful in-house project quickly spread. EmpowerDB was born.
EmpowerDB is not just a software platform. It's a community of organizations that all benefit from a collective approach to solving the many challenges surrounding data collection and management. Steven Jenkins is committed to using his skills, experience, and ability to provide secure and user-friendly solutions to improve non-profits' understanding and comfort with all things data.
How long has EmpowerDB been in business?
This one's actually a little hard to answer.
The first database that would eventually become EmpowerDB was created in 2008. At this point, the system was just an in-house project for the domestic violence shelter EmpowerDB's founder, Steven Jenkins, worked for at the time.
A few years later, the Massachusetts DV/SA coalition contracted Steven to build a similar system.
In February of 2011 the coalition lost financing for the project, the name "EmpowerDB" was created, and the project carried on as an independent business.
So, to summarize, we've been doing this work since 2008 and we've been an independent business since 2011.
How many organizations do you work with?
As of the Spring of 2018, about 150 organizations will be using EmpowerDB.
All but four of these organizations provide services to survivors of domestic violence and/or sexual assault.
Do you only work with victim service organization?
The majority of organizations we work with provide services to survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault. But we are happy to work with any organization looking to do good in this world. Our focus on DV/SA providers is simply a reflection of our staff's original direct service experience in this field.
What happens to us if EmpowerDB ceases to exist?
Platform sustainability is an important question for a product your organization will invest so much time and money into. We recognize that our smaller size makes this question slightly more meaningful.
We have taken the following steps to help assure our customers that they will not be left high-and-dry in the very unlikely event that EmpowerDB ceases to exist:
First, the agreement signed with each organization is a section that describes that if this situation were to ever happen, the organization would be entitled to not just their raw data, but the full EmpowerDB source code and a document describing how to set up a server to host the system. Thus, the organization could either host the database themselves, or join forces with other EmpowerDB members in the same situation.
Second, in the event that no EmpowerDB staff is physically able to extract the EmpowerDB source code, information on how to access the EmpowerDB server is kept with a trusted third party organization. An agreement in place with them dictates that they are to release this information only in the case of EmpowerDB staff being physically unable to maintain the system.
We'd be glad to share more information about the contract wording and this third party organization if you'd like.
Do you work with any coalitions?
Yes, we currently work with four state coalitions.
EmpowerDB is structured in such a way as to easily allow multiple member organizations to have their own unique database, but still adhering to a certain set of standards pre-defined by the coalition. The organization can add onto their system with as much data as they would like to track internally; but all fields mandated by the coalition cannot be changed.
A custom reporting tool then makes it so at a click of a mouse, an organization's data gets sent to the coalition version of the database; either in aggregate or de-identified individual level data. The coalition then has immediate access to the information to run coalition-wide reports.
There's a lot more to explain about this exciting process, so please get in touch with us for more information!
Note that the Pricing tool available here doesn't quite work for coalitions. We'll need to talk in order to give you a price quote.
Where is EmpowerDB based out of?
EmpowerDB does not have a central office, so we're not really based out of anywhere. Our staff happily work from home and are scattered across the United States and Canada.
When Steven Jenkins created EmpowerDB he lived in Boston, Massachusetts. And by that virtue many of our other staff and longest participating users are in the Massachusetts area.
Will you provide financial information about your company?
Sorry, we do not provide financial information. We strive to be transparent and open about basically every facet of our work. But we believe the particulars around our annual income and expenses are private.
If your rationale for requesting financial information is to get a sense of EmpowerDB's growth, we will be glad to share with you information around how many organizations we've worked with over the years, number of staff, etc...
General Use & Information
Is EmpowerDB Web Based?
Yes, EmpowerDB is entirely web/cloud based.
Web based software brings considerable advantages. You don't need any infrastructure besides a browser and an internet connection. Updates happen automatically; no downloading and installing a software package every time there needs to be a software change. And (properly built) web based software works the same across all browsers and devices.
On the other hand, web based software typically comes with a great deal of risk. With most providers, you're required to place a great deal of trust that the company will properly protect your data. You must trust that every employee at the vendor will always act responsibly, no developer will ever make a mistake that would result in a data breach, and that management would rather see the inside of a jail cell than turn your data over in a court order.
We believe this is too much trust to place in people you have no control over for confidential information. That's why EmpowerDB was built with a zero-knowledge encryption setup. Because the data on EmpowerDB's servers is encrypted with a key that only you control, you're able to take advantage of all the benefits that web based software provides - without having to massively extend who you trust.
Can we add or edit database fields ourselves?
Yes, you're able to customize the questions and options in the database completely on your own. And we provide lots of documentation on how to do this. For example, you if you log into the demonstration version
of EmpowerDB and click on "Database Documentation"
in the Links section, the first category of support articles will be related to how to administer the database. The "Quick Skills Videos" section are particularly helpful for learning how to complete one specific task.
There is one exception in what kind of changes you're able to make yourself. Any variable that is tied to one of your automated funder reports will be locked for editing. Any changes to this field must be done by us. That way we can make sure the automated funder report always knows how to properly handle all questions. Making these kinds of changes for clients is usually done at no charge or charged only a quarter of an hour's time.
Can we add our own user accounts?
Definitely! Users with Administrator privileges are able to add, edit, or disable user accounts at any time. And remember, there is no limit or price difference on the number of user accounts that can be added.
Will you answer some questions from our IT department?
Sure! You can give them our contact information.
Before they reach out, though, would you mind pointing them towards the FAQ section on our webpage first? We try to have as many of the typical questions an IT person would want to ask already answered here.
Also, please make sure they know there is literally nothing we need from an IT department in order to get an organization set up on EmpowerDB. Since everything is completely web based and we don't use any special plug-ins or extensions, there is truly nothing an IT person will need to do in order to get the system up and running.
But, yes, if they have security/structure concerns that aren't answered in the FAQ section, please send them our way. We want to make sure the people you trust to give you technical advice are confident about your choice in a client management database.
How does EmpowerDB handle differences in funder requirements?
Most agencies we work with have more than one funder and as you have probably experienced often times various funders wants similar data collected but not always in the same way.
For instance, you may have a client that identifies as "White" and "Asian". Some funders may want this client to be counted only as "Multiracial" whereas another funder may want them to be counted as both "White" and "Asian".
We're able to program the system to know precisely how to handle all of these situations. Each report is custom programmed to understand exactly how to translate your single list of options into the funder's list of options. This lets you collect data in one, unified way that is perfectly suited for all funder needs.
Which browsers can we use?
EmpowerDB will work on any modern, updated browser. We do think it looks a bit nicer on Google Chrome, though. But it works equally as well on Microsoft Edge, Firefox, and Safari.
Note that this does mean EmpowerDB won't work on Internet Explorer. Microsoft stopped updating Internet Explorer and now only updates Microsoft Edge. You may think you're still using Internet Explorer but are actually using Microsoft Edge. Microsoft made the logos almost identical. A very Microsoft thing to do.
Will EmpowerDB work on a smart phone/tablet?
Technically EmpowerDB will work on a smart phone or tablet, but most of the site is not "mobile optimized". Mobile optimized web pages are designed in such a way so that compared to using a desktop or laptop computer, the layout is much more compact, simplified, and friendlier to touch inputs. Because EmpowerDB is not mobile optimized, the site will still work on a smart phone or tablet but it will require some more pinching and zooming to navigate through it.
We actually don't encourage people to use EmpowerDB on their smart phones or tablets. We feel like having all of an organization's confidential client information accessible in someone's pocket poses a bit of a safety risk. But since we know there are some emergency situations that come up where mobile access would be needed; we do make it at least possible.
There ARE some pages that are mobile optimized. Certain forms in EmpowerDB can be set to be entered "Off Site". The form will be available to anyone, even users who aren't logged into your version of the database. Via these special "Off Site" links, it's only possible to input data into the system. In this case, yes, these pages have been made mobile optimized to encourage use on smart phones and tablets.
This is commonly used for collecting anonymous survey data, hotline calls from volunteers, client intake data entered by volunteers or clients themselves. But you may have another way of using this functionality!
If you'd like to test how this works, here are some pages on the demonstration version of the system:
(mobile optimized off site page)
Inputting Hotline Form While Being Logged In
(not mobile optimized)
(entered via either of the links above)
Feel free to test all of those links on any device you'd like. The content of your final system will be different, but these demonstration links will at least let you experience the same functionality.
Can EmpowerDB track Outreach/Training/Event activities?
Yes, EmpowerDB has the ability to track trainings and collaborative activities staff have either conducted or attended. In EmpowerDB these types of activities can be set up specifically to meet your agencies and/or funders needs.
You can have many different type of activities such as Training, Community Meal or Outreach to a School. For each type of activity you can specify exactly the data you want to collect. For example, you may want to track the number people who attended the training/activity, how many minutes the training/activity was held for, was it an internal or external training/activity, etc.
What kind of support do you provide?
Emergency support is available by phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
For non-emergency requests we provide a Database Support System for support topics to be sent and viewed. One of our support staff will get back to you as soon as possible during normal working hours.
The quality and promptness of support around a product can make a huge difference in how satisfied you are with the system. We've gotten rave reviews from our existing users on both how fast we're able to respond to issues and the depth of experience we draw on to offer solutions.
But every database vendor is going to tell you how great their support is. The only way to know for sure is to talk to other people who've used the system. We're happy to provide references for you to confirm that the support you'll receive lives up to your expectations.
Is there a manual?
Yes, we provide documentation via a Database Documentation section available to all users. Much of the documentation includes instructional videos that show step-by-step how to accomplish a certain task.
You can take a look at the documentation that we provide by going to the demonstration version
of EmpowerDB and selecting "Database Documentation" from the Links section on the top right.
You should keep in mind, though, that every organization who uses EmpowerDB gets set up entirely differently. So there may need to be some extra documentation written that describes to your staff their expectations for using your specific system. For this reason, you're able to add your own documentation articles that only your organization will be able to see.
Can we test out the database?
You can get a sense of what EmpowerDB is like using the demo version of EmpowerDB. Click the word "Demo" you see on the left side and follow the instructions there.
The Demo version will certainly ask questions that you have no interest in collecting or otherwise be set up to not reflect your organization. Please keep in mind that the Demo version of the database is only set up to be an example of one way EmpowerDB can be set up. Your eventual version of EmpowerDB will be tailored to fit exactly your internal and funder needs. But the Demo version of the database does a good job of showing what the general experience is like.
Once we build your version of EmpowerDB there will be a period where you will get to enter in test data in order to make sure its set up the way you'd like. See 346-725-1463
for more on the Initial Setup Process.
Are there different permission levels users can have?
Yup! Here's the basics on each:
Reporting Only: Can only run reports on non-identifying information. Typically used by development staff.
Standard User: General use of the system. Can view the areas of the system you give the user access to. Cannot delete clients. But can delete individual pieces of the client record.
Program Administrator: Can do a few administrator things, like delete/merge clients, send support requests, and approve Access Points. Cannot add new users or make structural changes to the database.
Site Administrator: Can do pretty much anything, including: delete/merge clients, add users, make structural changes to the database, send support messages, approve Access Points.
Beyond those permission levels, there's a lot we can do to make it so certain clients or certain information about clients are only visible to certain groups of users. Get in touch with us about your needs and we'll explain more how this would work for your particular situation.
How many administrator accounts can we have?
As many as you'd like!
Yeah... we don't understand why other vendors put limits on this either.
Can we have a free trial period?
We would love to be able to offer a free trial of EmpowerDB. Unfortunately that's not exactly possible with the way we provide our services. A big part of what makes EmpowerDB successful is that someone on our staff has guided you through the setup process and has developed a database that perfectly matches your organization's needs. And that kind of direct, one-on-one work is something we'd only want to do once under contract.
Instead of a free trial, you can test out the Demo version of EmpowerDB all you'd like. Keep in mind that we'll set your site up with very different fields and options. But by using the demo site you can at least be more reassured on the quality of the system and its ease of use.
Click the word "Demo" to the left and follow the instructions there to access that demonstration version of EmpowerDB.
What happens if we forget our encryption key?
Note, this is posted here so we can have a quick way of describing this information to existing users who write us about forgotten keys. Though it may be helpful for prospective users to see this kind of information.
If you think you've forgotten your encryption key, and can't get past that "Create Access Point" screen, you could potentially be in really big trouble. EmpowerDB Support does not have your encryption key. The EmpowerDB server also does not actually know your encryption key. It can only tell you if your key is correct or not via a process called (330) 488-3250
The fact that we cannot tell you your encryption key is a an integral part of what makes EmpowerDB what it is. Us not having your encryption key protects you against data breaches or court orders on our end. This reality is always very clearly explained to administrators when they first start using EmpowerDB.
Here is your only option of recovering your key...
Ask around your office to see if anyone has access to your version of EmpowerDB. It doesn't have to be an administrator. You're looking for ANYONE who can log into the database at all from their computer. If someone can log into the database from their computer, that means the encryption key IS on their computer.
Once you've identified a computer that can access the database, go to their machine and log in using an administrator user account.
Visit the Database Support system. Send us a message letting us know you have lost your key. We will flip a switch that will make it so your computer will display the key that has been entered on it.
If you cannot find any computer that can log into EmpowerDB, the reality is that ALL your data on EmpowerDB is permanently lost forever. There is nothing more we can do to help recover your data. Proper encryption provides us lots of benefits, but those benefits are all dependent on taking proper care of encryption keys. The proper care of keys is something we make sure to strongly highlight when we're first getting sites set up. It's your responsibility to take care of your encryption key from there-on-out. The only thing we can do is erase all your data, issue you a new key, and get you started again. We can provide you with a backup of your unreadable data in case somehow your encryption key does turn up some day.
Be prepared to be charged for the time spent addressing any encryption key issues. Make sure you clearly explain what your issue is and tell us the exact words you're seeing from the database. Writing us with just "we can't get into the database" could mean any number of things.
The Initial Setup Process
What is the process for getting started on EmpowerDB?
Agency Questions for EmpowerDB
First, it is completely natural and expected for potential users of EmpowerDB to ask lots of questions about the system. You should never hesitate understand all aspects of a database before making such an important decision. We are happy to answer all of your questions about EmpowerDB to ensure you feel comfortable with the system and the process.
Once you're ready to get started, both parties sign an Agreement that protects both your rights as data owners and EmpowerDB's rights as developers.
EmpowerDB Questions for Agency
Now it's time for us to learn as much as we can about your specific data needs. A data review meeting is scheduled. This meeting is a thorough review of your agency's existing data collection practices, the latest versions of your funder reports, and any regular internal reports you regularly generate from your existing data.
We must also understand a complete picture of how clients move in and out of your program in order to perfectly customize EmpowerDB to your specific needs.
Your Version of EmpowerDB
With an understanding of how your agency operates, we build your version of EmpowerDB. This work typically takes no longer than a week to complete.
After this time, a presentation is made to the administrators of your agency to demonstrate how your version of EmpowerDB works. Administrators can then review what has been created, test the system, and run sample reports.
Feedback can then be sent back to EmpowerDB about what changes need to be made to the database.
If your organization has requested data to be converted from an old system into EmpowerDB, this work is now done. See (806) 826-1234
for more information about that process.
Your staff is then trained on the system and your agency begins using EmpowerDB! We strongly suggest scheduling the training when a complete switch can be made from your old way of collecting data to EmpowerDB. The beginning or end of a significant reporting period is typically a good time to make this switch.
Any staff at your site with administrative privileges will be able to independently add new user accounts, add variables, variable options, and control access privileges on the database. For the tasks that you're unable, or uncomfortable, doing on your own, EmpowerDB is on hand and happy to help!
How long does the setup process take?
On average the setup process (everything described 8314427124
) takes about three months. Organizations who are determined to get up and running quickly can do it in one to two months' time.
We do put in the agreement we sign with organizations a clause that limits the setup process to take place in four months. Otherwise we found that organizations get distracted with other projects and we're unable to know what our workflow will be.
The duration of the setup process typically has very little to do with us. The work that we do, along the various stages, takes place in a matter of days, not weeks or months. It is common, and completely understandable, for organizations to be pulled in other directions at the same time as trying to work on getting set up on a new database. And throughout the process we ask important questions that can sometimes require an organization to have internal meetings to decide how they want to proceed.
Note that some projects, like working with state coalitions, are more complicated. The four month time limit will not apply for these projects.
How soon will you be available to get started setting us up?
This can fluctuate greatly throughout the year. Some times we have availability to get started with you right away. Other times we're at capacity and need other sites to wait a few weeks before we can start with them. Please check with us to see our current availability.
What is the process of converting our existing data?
The first step is to schedule a time for the data conversion to take place. While your data is being converted, you should not enter any new data into your old data system. You can use your old data system to look up information or run reports, but any new data you put in will not make its way into EmpowerDB.
Because of this, we suggest planning for the data conversion to take place immediately before you being using EmpowerDB. That way you have as little time as possible where you're in between databases.
A "go-live" date is set for when you'd like to start using EmpowerDB. Typically this is the day we provide an all-staff training on how to use the system. Then we work backwards to decide when the data conversion process will take place. If we're just converting a single Excel file, we only need a week to do your data conversion. For any other type of file(s), we need two weeks.
Note, most of this section doesn't apply to you if your data is already in Excel format.
Once it's time to start the data conversion process, you will export your data. The export process is different for every type of database. For some of the more common data systems we can offer tips on how to get your data out. But at a certain point, it's up to you to be able to export your data.
You may want to do a practice export ahead of time to be sure you're capable of exporting your data. It's also possible you'll need to check in with your existing data provider, or IT staff at your organization, to get some assistance. Again, doing this ahead of time and doing a dry-run is highly encouraged.
The data must be exported in Excel, CSV, or SQL format. We will not accept other types of files (for example .BAK files). Thankfully there really aren't any systems that can't export to Excel or CSV.
You do not need to do any preparing or manipulating of the data before you send it to us. Leave that messy stuff to us.
Send Us Your Data
You will then send us your data via a special encrypted uploading tool that we've built. It's as simple as going to a link, attaching your file, writing a description of what it is, and clicking send.
We Convert Your Data
Here's where the "fun" really begins! The word "fun" is in quotes because it's not at all fun. Data conversion is an awful and boring process. But we do it because we like you. And because we have this strange desire to make boring things so efficient and streamlined that our pride overcomes our boredom.
Throughout this process we may ask some urgent questions about how you'd like certain data conversion situations handled. There's always one-or-two cases where the data we're getting from you doesn't quite match the way you've decided to do things in EmpowerDB. So we need to figure out how you'd like the information adjusted to fit into the system. You should make sure you have staff on hand that can answer these questions during this time.
You Review Data in EmpowerDB
We usually aim for the data conversion process to be finished a few days before your go-live date. That way you have a couple days to review what we've done and make sure everything looks as it should. If any problems were found, they are corrected with the utmost urgency.
It's very important to find any data conversion problems right away. If staff begin to add new data into the database, or change the data that was imported, it can make correcting problems much more complicated.
Once you've looked everything over and confirm that the information made it over successfully, the data conversion process is complete. We then permanently delete the files we were sent, and created, during the data conversion process.
What type of things count as "Initial Consulting Time"?
Initial Consulting Time, the time you pay hourly during the setup phase, can consist of the following things:
• Reviewing the files you've sent and parsing them into an outline of how they would appear in EmpowerDB
• Phone calls and emails discussing how you'd like the system to be set up
• Building the system for you
• Showing you how to evaluate the system
• Applying the feedback you've given
• Giving advice on how to export your existing data
• Training your staff on how to use, administer, or run reports from the system
• Coding in minor customizations specific to your site (reminders, automatic deletions of data, special highlighting of specific fields, etc...)
• Configuring your automatic funder reports
Will you provide trainings?
Yes. We usually provide an all staff training to show the people at your organization how to use your version of the database. The time spent doing trainings is part of what we normally assume to be the Initial Consulting Time; not an additional charge. Trainings are done over the phone and with screen share. Multiple people can be on the call and viewing our screen share in multiple locations. We can record the training upon request.
We think it's best for staff to just be watching us demonstrate the system instead of asking them to mirror our actions on their own laptops.
If you'd like, we can also provide a separate training for administrators on how to administer the database. Most people we work with, though, find as they go through the setup process that administering the database is pretty straight forward. And the bits that they don't know are clearly explained in our documentation. So these types of trainings aren't as common for us.
Most organizations do like some training on running reports. We usually ask that you first watch a couple videos we've made that demonstrate the reporting basics. Then we're glad to get on a call/screen share to practice running reports that answer some of your specific questions.
We recommend, when possible, to wait a few weeks after you've started using the system for real, live data before diving into reporting. It's nice to just focus on making sure the transition to a new system is going well first. Plus it's nice if after a few weeks of using the system there can be some actual data in there to see when running some test reports.
Also note that when we talk about "reporting training", we do not mean your automated funder reports. Those reports are incredibly straight forward and don't take any training to learn. The reporting training would be more for answering the various questions that come up internally, or for getting data for reports besides the automated funder reports we've added for you.
Will you provide references we can speak to?
Yes, definitely. And because we're so confident that all of our users have had a great experience with EmpowerDB, we'll do you one better... We'll give you a link to a page where you can pick three of our member organizations to speak to at random. That way you know that we're not just cherry-picking organizations for you to talk to.
Do you need to come visit our offices?
No. We are quite efficient at working remotely. This is the case even for organizations within our home city of Boston. We would absolutely love to be able to see you and work face-to-face. But we like to spend as much time as possible helping organizations like yours with their data problems and as little time as possible sitting in traffic.
How do we get a price quote for the initial startup?
The pricing calculator
on this webpage is a great place to start. For most organizations, the number you get from this tool is exactly the number we'd have given you.
But we'd also be glad to talk to you over the phone to give you a price quote specific to your organization.
We are happy to provide you with a formal proposal for services as well.
Is there anything we can do to prepare for the start of the setup process?
Organizations who are waiting to have an EmpowerDB Project Manager start the setup process with them (either because of being on our wait list or because of waiting for their own funding to come through) may be curious what kinds of things can be done to prepare themselves for the eventual start of the setup process.
Here is our advice...
The first and most important thing you can do is start taking an inventory of your organization's current data collection processes. Trace the steps data takes through your organization. Typically this starts with paper intake forms. Gather all your paper intake forms and write down for us which type of staff fill them out and which types of clients they fill them out for.
Then what happens to those intake forms? Do they go into some other system or spreadsheet? Make sure you understand whatever that next step is and document it for us if you think that would help.
And finally how does that data end up coming together to form your regular funder reports? As much as you can do to understand and be confident of your own existing practices, the better you'll be able to answer our questions once we're able to get started with you.
You can then start to think of what type of new questions you want to ask or new data you want to collect; beyond what's part of your current processes. If it's something that's on a funder report we support then you don't need to worry about documenting what you need added. We will know immediately what kind of information you need in order to comply with the funder reports we support. Think more about what internal data collection needs you want, or don't want, in your new database.
Another line of questioning we typically spend a lot of time on is figuring out what steps you take to figure out which clients are funded by which of your funders...
Are your staff 100% funded by certain funding source? If so, don't bother making a list of staff for us. We'll just set up fields for you to designate which staff are funded by which funding sources.
Are your staff only partially funded by a certain funding source? If so, how does your staff (or an administrator) decide whether the clients they serve are funded via one funding source over another? Try to boil this down into one of those step-by-step decision making flow charts.
Or do certain clients qualify for each of your funding sources based off of something about them? Perhaps by some kind of demographics or their participation in one of your programs?
The answers to the questions above are likely different for each of your funding sources. Try to be as detailed as possible about documenting each. And remember, we the need logical, step-by-step descriptions of how decisions get made. The goal is to program the database to do all of this decision making for you. Databases need things in very absolute and ordered terms. Databases don't do very well with words like "sometimes" and "usually".
Another thing you can work on ahead of time is figuring out the list of services that you provide. We find that organizations can often get into a pretty chaotic place with their list of the services they provide from years of funders changing requirements and using databases that weren't all they were cracked up to be. We recommend starting completely fresh with this aspect of your work. Get a small group of people together who know the work the agency does and start making a list of the types of things you do. Don't think about your funders. Don't think about what your forms or your database says now. Just come up with a list of general categories of types of things that your staff do. The list should be between ten and twenty items long. Once you've made that list for us we'll then go through and see how that related to what your funder requirements are.
There is one thing that we absolutely implore you NOT to do. Please, please, please do NOT go to the demo site and use that as a basis for what you want or don't want. The demo site is not how we suggest getting an organization set up on the system. We do not start you with what's on the demo site. You can play around on the demo site to try and get a good feeling of what EmpowerDB generally does and what it's capable of. But you should absolutely not use the demo site as a benchmark for what you want to do.
Finally, just know that these are only tips on things you can do in order to hit the ground running with the setup process. Each of the items listed here are conversations that we're used to having with people during the setup process. Sometimes we even prefer if you don't do this work ahead of time just so if you're headed off in the wrong direction we can stop you before you get too far. We are only posting this advice on things that you can do to prepare for those of you who are waiting and are eager to be helping your cause.
And if you're on our wait list and you have follow up questions related to this topic, please note that our current focus is the sites that we're helping through the setup process. It is completely understandable to have further questions about each of the items mentioned here. Once we begin the setup process with you we will give you our full attention and make sure all of your questions are answered and your eventual database is a perfect reflection of your organization's needs. But it will take some patience on your part to wait for our availability to begin that process with you.
Can we build our own reports?
Definitely! We have a variety of custom reporting tools that let users of all skill levels get answers to their questions. These reports can be used to answer internal questions that come up within an organization or generate data for smaller funder reports that are simple enough to not merit having EmpowerDB Support build out a full custom built report for.
Once you get a report set up that you like and will want to visit often, it's easy to save it for future access or put the link to that report on your Homepage to allow other staff to easily access it.
If you'd like to get a sense of what these reporting tools look like, you can visit the 918-824-9025
of EmpowerDB. Once logged in, click on "Reports" on the top right.
Or you can view our training videos for how to run the various reporting tools. Here are the three most popular videos:
• All-in-One Report
What if we have a funder report you haven't built?
If you have a funder that isn't on our list of reports we've built already, you have two choices:
First, it's possible that you can use the reporting tools within the database to answer the questions that appear on your report. This is usually the case for smaller city reports or foundation grants. They typically ask for pretty simple demographics and number of people served. This kind of information is a breeze to get out of the built-in reports in the database.
Your other choice is to commission us to build a reporting page for you. Note that the costs involved in this will be a lot higher than what you see on the "Funder Reports" section of our pricing page. Those reports are all used by many different organizations, so the cost of its development can be spread out. But unless the report you're asking to be built would end up being used by many other sites, your organization would be on the hook for the whole of the report's development.
Again, note that you don't NEED an automated funder reporting page; even if you have a report that we do have one built for. Those reporting pages are nice because they have been carefully designed to give you exactly what you need for that report without having to do any initial set up.
We'd be glad to take a look at the report template you have and give our thoughts on whether you could easily get that information via the built-in tools in the system, or whether you would want to look into having us build the reporting page for you.
What if a funder changes their report?
If you've purchased an automated reporting page, and the funder later changes their report format or report requirements, one of two things would happen...
If the change was more on the cosmetic, or logic side of things and required us to simply update the code of the automated report to reflect the change, this would be done at no cost. You would be notified of the change.
If the change required us to have a discussion with you about how you would like to adapt your data to the new requirements or report format, you would pay our hourly rate for the time involved in that process. If the funder released a whole new report format, you would need to pay a new one-time fee for access to this new automated report, as well as any hourly time needed to transition your data to the requirements of the new report.
Note that almost all of our funder reports are used by dozens of organizations. This means that the costs of building a new report would be shared by many organizations.
Do you train us on how to run reports?
Sure! We can give you all the one-on-one training you'd like on how to run reports in EmpowerDB.
We also offer a variety of training videos that demonstrate the basics. Usually we ask people to watch those training videos first, and then we can have a training session to start practicing the skills with questions that are relevant to the organization.
Finally, as you head off into the scary, but exciting world of reporting, we make sure that you know that we're always here to help if you get stuck. Just send us a link to the report you were trying to run, a bit of an explanation of what you were trying to do, and we'll get back to you right away with some advice on how to get the answers you're looking for.
Note: This explanation does not apply to the automated funder reports. Those reports take zero training to use. The numbers just appear in just a few mouse clicks.
Do you charge per user or amount of data stored on the system?
No. You are allowed an unlimited number of users and an unlimited amount of records in the system. We charge based on our time; that's it.
Just as a side note... there really is no reason for any database service to charge based on users or data storage. Cloud computing infrastructure is so efficient these days, saying 500 users take up more room than 5 users is like saying 500 sailboats take up more space in the Atlantic Ocean than 5 sail boats. It's true, but it's irrelevant. The Atlantic Ocean is so huge, the number of sail boats in its waters will never be an issue.
What is included with the Annual Fee?
The Annual Fee pays for the ongoing overhead that keeps EmpowerDB up-and-running. Things like server expenses, domain fees, SSL certificates, etc.
You do not get a certain amount of support time with this fee. All support time is billed on an as-needed basis at our hourly rate. A fair amount of organizations go the whole year without needing any hourly support time. Of those that do use some support time, most need less than five hours a year.
EmpowerDB is updated regularly. New features are added all the time. We suppose you could consider the Annual Fee as paying for this development work too. All new features get rolled out to all users at no cost.
Can you provide a price quote in writing?
Sure! (450) 999-2527
, we'll chat about what you're exactly looking for, and we can send over an official proposal for services.
Free HMIS Comparable Database
Really, a free way to run our HUD reports?
We are offering a completely free version of EmpowerDB's HMIS Comparable database. Fully functional. No strings attached. Any person, or organization, who wants to use this service can go to this initial setup page
, follow the instructions, and they'll have access to their very own, private version of EmpowerDB capable of generating the HUD CoC APR or ESG CAPER reporting files.
We are offering this version of EmpowerDB as a free service because we believe too many victim service providers are having to spending too much time and money in order to comply with the requirements of one funder; and that most of the software platforms that victim service providers are being asked to use are not suitable for tracking confidential information on victims of abuse.
Our goal is for victim service organizations, large and small, to be able to receive HUD's much-needed funding with as minimal an administrative burden as possible.
This project is the culmination of our efforts to make fulfilling HUD's report requirements as easy as they can possibly be. We are excited about the potential to make such a large impact in a service area that we care deeply about.
To help organizations get the most out of the free product we're offering, we've created two instructional videos. One, an (226) 616-6877
to help explain how to set up the system, its user accounts, and run the HUD report. And a General Use Training Video
that describes how to enter data from a standard user's perspective.
We've also done our best to fill this FAQ section with the answer to every question we've ever been asked or think someone would want to ask. Please review the rest of these FAQs to learn more about how this database can work for you.
What assurances do we have that it'll work?
Though you may applaud our sentiments, we understand that you may be apprehensive about entrusting the important task of generating your HUD reports to a free service. We have full confidence that this service will meet all of your HUD needs and is an HMIS Comparable database. Here is our rationale to help give you the same level of confidence:
First, we've been in business for ten years and have supported HUD requirements for almost the entirety of that time. We have about 80 paying customers who depend on the HUD reports running flawlessly. This makes the project sustainable and gives us incentive to make sure the report works properly for all users of EmpowerDB, paying and free.
Second, you can test the system out and see it for yourself. Since it's totally free to sign up and start using, you can go set up an account
at anytime and give it a try. Put in some fake records, run the CoC/ESG report, and see for yourself that it's getting everything into the right format and that the report clearly explains how to generate the data you need. You can even export a Zipped CSV file with your fake data and upload it to 5059239551
to make sure it's accepted as a valid Zipped CSV package. Perhaps your CoC Administrator can also take a look around to make sure they agree everything is working as it should.
Third, we will sign a contract with you that puts in writing our assurances that this product will work for you. See below for more.
And finally, by offering this free product, we are putting our reputation on the line. We know from our years of experience that word travels quickly in the nonprofit world. If we say we're going to provide a great, free tool that will get organizations exactly what they need for their HUD reports, and then don't
deliver on that promise, it will reflect incredibly poorly on us as a company. We have every incentive to ensure that this service works well and our reputation is upheld.
If there are steps we could take to help ease any additional fears you have please get in touch with us and let us know.
What assurances do we have the data will be secure and confidential?
Our business is built on providing organizations with safe, secure, confidential data management.
EmpowerDB is the only cloud-based database that offers zero knowledge encryption. This means that your data is encrypted on our servers with a key that only you know. Even we can't read the information saved on our system.
For more information on our security specifications, please see the Technical/Security section of these FAQs.
Will you sign a contract with us?
We have created a contract template that covers all of the important points we think you would want to covered. It has the signature of Steven Jenkins, EmpowerDB's owner, already on it. You can simply sign it and keep it in your records. We don't need you to send us a copy back.
If you think the contract above is good but just want to make a few changes or additions, you can download Swinburnian
, modify it however you'd like, sign it, and get it back to us. If your changes/additions are things we can agree to, we'll simply sign and send it back. If you've added things we think everyone would want added, we'll also add them to the signed version above. Please send back both the signed PDF version and the unsigned DOCX version so we can easily either just sign the agreement you send or propose revisions.
If you'd like us to sign something completely new, feel free to send that contract over to us. We ask for your help in making this process easy on us. Please send us the final version ready to sign. Please write your agreement in actual English, not legalese English that we'd need a lawyer to translate for us. And please ensure what you ask of us does not make unreasonable demands of our capacity or time. If your agreement is straightforward and reasonable, we'll sign it.
You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What limitations are there?
The free HUD HMIS version of EmpowerDB will have the following limitations:
• You will not be able to add new input fields or edit any of the existing input fields. These need to be locked so that we can easily update your system if/when HUD changes their requirements.
• You won't have access to the advanced reporting tool we've created, the All-in-One Report, to be able to run more sophisticated reports using your data. You will have access to the basic reporting tools.
• When we provide you with support, you will most often get pre-written responses back. See the "What kind of support will you provide" section for more.
• If you don't use the service for 90 days, all your data will be deleted. See the "What happens if we stop using the service?" section for more.
If in the future if you want to switch to the paid version of EmpowerDB, you would not have the above limitations.
The free HMIS Comparable version of EmpowerDB will have no limitations on the following:
• The number of clients you add
• The number of user accounts you have
• The number of HUD contracts you have
• The number of times you run the HUD report
What kind of support will you provide?
This is probably the trickiest part of this whole venture. We stand by the quality of our work. But we're not perfect. If you've encountered a problem we want to hear about it and we want to get it fixed right away.
But as we've seen with our paying customers, it's not always clear whether the problem is on our end or yours. And we don't always get the information we need from you in order to look into the situation. It takes time to work all of this out. And time is the one resource we at EmpowerDB are limited by.
In order to provide you with the support you need as efficiently as possible, we will use pre-written replies when responding to support requests about this free service:
We have one response for "You didn't provide enough info, here's what we need from you", another for "We found the error and fixed it, thanks!" and a final one for "This is actually a data entry error on your part. Here's a list of typical things people usually get wrong."
Please make sure you are comfortable with the potential of getting mostly pre-written responses and don't get upset at us for it. (At our core we're delicate flowers who hate when people get upset at us.) It's just we have to be economical with how we use our time for this project.
What happens if we stop using the service?
If your version of EmpowerDB is not used in a 90 day span, it - and all the data contained inside of it - will be deleted. All active administrator user accounts will receive two separate warning emails 20 days and 5 days before this occurs. The warning email will tell you that you simply need to log into the system again to keep your account active.
It may be the case that you really only need to use your version of EmpowerDB once a year to run your report. So you may need to go through a few rounds each year of receiving this notice, logging in to show you want to keep your account active, and getting another notice a few months later, etc. If so, we're sorry for the inconvenience.
The 90-day non-use limitation is necessary at our end to ensure that abandoned accounts aren't draining our capacity.
If you intentionally stop using the service, we won't delete your data before the 90 day expiration time. Even by request. With EmpowerDB's zero knowledge encryption setup, however, deleting your data is as simple as forgetting your encryption key. (Side note, if you plan on continuing to use the service, don't forget your encryption key!)
How long have you been supporting HUD's requirements?
EmpowerDB began in 2008 and we began supporting the HUD requirements a couple years later.
Are you on the HUD developers mailing list?
Yes. This mailing list is very helpful for keeping us up-to-date and prepared for any upcoming changes in reporting requirements.
What happens if HUD changes their requirements in the future?
This isn't a question of "if", this is a question of "when"! HUD makes changes to their data requirements about once a year.
The majority of changes that HUD makes do not require interaction from our customers. They are either wording changes or slight changes in the processing of data. For these we would simply make the necessary changes and add a log entry to the reporting page letting you know the nature of the changes.
Sometimes HUD makes a change that would require our customers to take action. For example, the addition of a new data field or the splitting up of an existing data field (necessitating your input on how existing data gets re-categorized). For these kinds of changes, we would make the change to your systems (the limitation, described above
, on your ability to edit existing input fields exists so that we're able to make these changes for you quickly) then post a log entry letting you know that a change has been made that requires you to make some adjustment to your existing data.
We would not charge you for any change made to the HUD report.
Is EmpowerDB FVPSA/VAWA compliant?
We believe EmpowerDB is compliant with FVPSA/VAWA regulations. We don't flat out say "yes" because there's no real certification process for this. Our understanding of these regulations is that FVPSA/VAWA funding recipients cannot store their data in a readable format outside of their own walls. EmpowerDB is cloud-based, which means organizations using EmpowerDB are storing their data outside of their own walls, but not in any readable form. Because EmpowerDB has zero knowledge encryption, your data is encrypted with a key only you know, making your data unreadable to anyone else. No one - including EmpowerDB and its hosting providers - can read it but you.
For more information on our security specifications, please see the Technical/Security FAQ section below.
Can we talk to other paid EmpowerDB users as references?
Sorry, we want to respect the time of our existing paid customers and are only asking them to serve as references for organizations looking to use the full, paid version.
However, we currently serve victim service providers in twenty-three states, and EmpowerDB's owner, Steven Jenkins, is a frequent presenter at NNEDV's Technology Safety conferences, so there's a fair chance you know someone who knows our work. Feel free to ask around your circles to see if anyone has worked with us or can otherwise vouch for us!
Hopefully after some time there will be enough users of the free system that we will be able to create a list of references that potential new users of the free system can contact to get their thoughts.
Do you support both the CoC APR and ESG CAPER?
Yes. When you go to run your HUD Report you'll first be asked which of those two funding sources you receive. Please make sure you are sure which one you receive. We've had paying customers report to us errors with the reports EmpowerDB generates, when they were actually just picking the wrong of those two funding sources!
What project types do you support?
We support all project types except for Street Outreach and Services Only. The behavior of the HUD reports differs dramatically for those two project types and we have yet to have a paying customer need them from us, so we haven't felt the need to support them. This would only change in the future if we had paying customers looking for these project types.
Also, we only support the "Entry/Exit Date" method for tracking Emergency Shelter bed nights, not the "Night-by-Night" method. The "Night-by-Night" method is used for shelters who really don't know who will be under their roof on any given day. So every day they enter into the system an entry to mark who was sleeping there.
All of our existing paid EmpowerDB users (and we anticipate all users of this free product) would use the Entry/Exit Date method. Someone moves in, you add a record of that happening. Someone moves out, you add a record of that happening. And the report functions based off those move in and move out dates. (Yes, we do support the possibility that someone could have had an approved leave of absence outside of your shelter for a few days. See the 618-447-3610
video for more on that.)
Can you generate the Point in Time Report?
Yes. Via the same HUD CoC/ESG Reporting tool simply select a single day as the time frame and the Point in Time report will be shown. Our Admin Training Video
explains this more.
Can you generate the HMIS CSV files?
Before we answer this question, we just want to make sure it's absolutely clear that the "HMIS CSV files" are NOT the same thing as the Zipped CSV files that get generated from the CoC APR or ESG CAPER report and uploaded to Sage. We definitely do support those. That's not the file that's being discussed here. What's being discussed here is a whole separate file format that lists each client row-by-row.
We do not support generating this HMIS CSV file. All of our paid EmpowerDB members are victim service providers who are exempt from creating this file since it would provide identifying information about their participants. In fact, because of this, it's pretty likely that you didn't even know that this file was something that even existed!
Since none of our members would ever be required to generate this file, we have not put the time and effort into having the system create it. It is our understanding from recent discussions with a HUD TA provider that an HMIS Comparable database is not required to generate this report.
Can we have multiple HUD contracts?
Yes, this is easy for you to set up on your own. You'd simply add a different "Program" in EmpowerDB for each of your HUD contracts. Then, when adding in a client entry you would select which of your HUD funded programs the client was in during which dates. If one client moves from one program to another it's a simple thing to just add in the new information about the new enrollment; you won't need to add in a whole new client entry.
Every so often we get organizations who have contracts that overlap in weird ways. So let's say you have three residential programs and four contracts. And perhaps your fourth contract is a combination of two of your other residential programs. This situation isn't exactly supported in the free version. You could probably find a workaround, like setting up all four contracts as separate programs and when you add a client to one of your overlapping contracts you'd just add more than one program enrollment at a time. For any of these weird overlapping contract situations, feel free to sign up for the service, add in some test data, and see if a workaround like this solves your problem.
Is there a way we can get data imported from our own database?
Yes. We can build an import tool for you that will allow you to upload data from your existing database to EmpowerDB's free HMIS Comparable database. This is work we would charge you for.
The cost would be $1,000 plus our hourly rate (currently $70/hr) for our time involved in building the import tool. (The $1,000 flat fee pays for previous work at EmpowerDB to make building a tool like this possible, plus the initial time spent coordinating with you about the development of this tool before we officially go on the clock.)
The tool would allow you to import data as often as you'd like. If any issues came up in the future with the import tool we built, or you want to request we make changes, we would charge our hourly rate (currently $70/hr) for whatever work was involved, with a 1 hour minimum charge.
It is expected that the data that gets imported in will not have all the same fields as what is set up in EmpowerDB. Your staff will then go back through the records and make sure all relevant information is filled in.
Here are some other (mostly technical) parameters that we would set for this kind of work:
• The file that you upload to EmpowerDB must be one Excel file. That file format is easiest for us to work with. If your data is stored in multiple tables your one Excel file can contain multiple sheets.
• The file should have codes for dropdown or select multiple values instead of the text. So, for example, for the "gender" field you could have code 1 for Female, code 2 for Male, code 3 for Trans Female, etc. Processing codes instead of text values makes it so if you ever change the text wording on your end, the import tool we make for you will still function properly.
• You can set up your codes to be whatever you want. You don't have to match our codes. You do, though, need to provide us with an alternate document that lists what each of your codes are.
• The import tool can be fed in data for records that already exist in the system. If the record already exists, it will overwrite any information that is currently being imported in. Thus the following situation could happen, Client A gets imported into EmpowerDB, User changes Client A's gender in EmpowerDB, Client A gets imported into EmpowerDB again, the gender value that was set in EmpowerDB will be overwritten by the gender value set from the import tool. If no gender value was set via the imported data, no overwriting would take place.
Can we use this database for our other reporting needs?
If you are able to use the basic reporting tools in EmpowerDB to get you what you need for your other funders, then that's great! But since you can't add in additional fields to this free version of EmpowerDB, it's likely that you will not able to track certain information that other funders require.
If you'd like, you can become a paid member of EmpowerDB. At that point we'll be thrilled to work with you to create a database that meets all of your funder reporting needs in one, simple, easy-to-use tool. You won't have any of the restrictions mentioned 8324890945
, so you'll be able to add new fields on your own and run advanced reports on the data you collect.
If you do decide to become a paid member of EmpowerDB, you won't lose any data you enter into the free version. We'll simply take the free version you create and modify it to do all the things you need it to do, as well as take away the restrictions we've mentioned.
Is there a demo we can try?
There is currently no demo for this HUD HMIS only version of EmpowerDB. But it's totally free to sign up so you can just head on over to the setup link
and make your own version and try that out.
You can also watch our Administrative Training Video
and General Use Training Video
to get a sense of how the system works.
There is a demo of EmpowerDB here
that is set up to show how the system COULD be set up for a general victim service provider who is funded by many funding sources. This demo does allow the HUD report to be run. But this demo version of EmpowerDB contains lots of other fields that your free version would not. And in that demo, not all of HUD's HMIS rules have been followed in the same way as the free version you'd get.
Can we schedule a time with you to do a demo for us?
Sorry, because this is a free product we are not able to spend time providing direct demos of this product. If you're interested in being a paid member of EmpowerDB you could get in touch with us and we could set up a time to do a demo for you. Please don't lie and say you're interested in being a paid member just so you could get us to do a demo, and then go and use the free version. That would make us sad.
Can we, or our CoC administrator, ask you more questions?
You can get in touch with us at email@example.com to ask more questions. Before you reach out to us, please do us a favor make sure you've thoroughly looked through this FAQ section to see if your question has already been answered.
Also, be prepared to receive back an email that starts with a pre-written message explaining that we try and answer questions as efficiently as possible for this free version of the system, so we ask that you excuse the brevity in our responses.
Technical / Security
What will our IT team need to do to get EmpowerDB working for us?
There is really no technical setup needed. EmpowerDB is entirely web based so all you need is a computer and an internet connection. There are no special plug-ins required. Nothing to install on your own servers. We typically need no interaction with IT staff at an organization to get them using EmpowerDB.
Where is EmpowerDB hosted?
EmpowerDB's production server is hosted on a Google Compute Engine Instance in Google's Council Bluffs, Iowa data center.
Sometimes we get further question about the data center like: "What's the physical security there?" , "What's their redundancy?" , "Does the data center back up its data?"
Google does not typically make the exact answers to these questions public. We have no concerns, however, about the physical security or operational effectiveness of Google's data centers. Trillions of dollars of commerce depend on these data centers being physically secure and 100% operational.
You can read more about Google's Data Centers (337) 453-6757
What is your backup policy?
Full backups are run nightly. Copies of the daily backups are stored on the production server and are retained for seven days.
Weekly backups are copied to an Amazon S3 account on Sunday mornings. This server is located in Ashburn, Virginia. On January 1st of each year, we delete the backups from two years prior. For example, on January 1st, 2018 we'll delete all the backups from 2016. The backups from 2017 will then be kept until 1/1/2019. Thus, weekly backup data can exist anywhere from one to two years.
When data is deleted from the production server, its corresponding information cannot be deleted from the backups. If this is a concern to you, we suggest regularly changing your encryption key. With a new key, whatever data exists in backups becomes unreadable.
Your backed-up data is encrypted with the encryption key that only you control.
What programming languages are used?
Server side scripting is done using PHP.
Data is stored on the server in a mySQL database.
What kind of computer do we need?
Literally any computer. PCs, Macs, and Chromebooks all work fine. If the computer has an internet connection and a web browser, EmpowerDB will work on it just the same as any other.
The one exception is that EmpowerDB won't work on the Windows XP version of Internet Explorer. But surely you're not using Windows XP anymore, that would be fur lining
What are the requirements of the internet connection?
There are no requirements for the internet connection. If you have connection to the internet, EmpowerDB will work. EmpowerDB uses a very small amount of internet bandwidth, so even slower connections should do fine.
Why would a device need to have an Access Point approved again?
You should only ever have to go through the Access Point approval process once per computer. If you are being asked to create an Access Point again, there are two main reasons why this could be:
1) You're Using a Different Browser
An Access Point is actually approved for one specific browser on your computer. That means if you get approval for one browser, you won't be approved on any other browser that might be on your computer.
It's very common that people will get approval to use EmpowerDB on a browser like Chrome or Firefox, then click on a link they received in an email, and the link will open up in Internet Explorer. Since you weren't approved on Internet Explorer, the system is asking you to create a new Access Point.
To fix this problem, try changing your computer's default browser to be the browser you normally use for EmpowerDB. If you are unable to make those changes to your computer, you'll just have to remember to copy the links you're emailed and paste them directly into Chrome.
2) Your Cookies Were Deleted
Access Points are saved onto your computer in the form of a Cookie. If you manually chose to delete all cookies in your browser (perhaps you were taught to do this for privacy reasons) then your Access Point will be gone too and you will need to repeat the Access Point approval process.
Another very common situation is that your browser could be set to automatically delete all Cookies once you have closed all windows.
To stop this from happening, follow these steps:
If Using Mozilla Firefox
• Click the Firefox settings on the top right (three horizontal lines)
• Select "Options"
• In the new window that comes up, select the "Privacy" tab
• In the "History" section, make sure "Firefox will" is set to "Remember history".
• Click "OK" to save changes.
If Using Internet Explorer
• Click the settings icon on the top right (looks like a gear)
• Select "Internet Options"
• In the new window that comes up, make sure you're in the "General" tab
• In the "Browsing history" section, make sure "Delete browsing history on exit" is NOT CHECKED
• While still in this window, go to the "Privacy" tab.
• Make sure your privacy settings are NOT set to "Block All Cookies" or "High". It should be set to "Medium High" or lower.
• Click "OK" on the bottom right to save changes.
• Click the Chrome settings on the top right (three horizontal lines)
• Select "Settings"
• Scroll down to the very bottom and click the link for "Show advanced settings..."
• Immediately after where you clicked should be the "Privacy" section. Click the "Content settings..." button in the Privacy section
• In the window that pops up, make sure "Allow local data to be set" is checked
• Click the "Manage Exceptions" button.
• If you see an entry for empowerdb.com listed, mouse over it and click the "X" that appears to delete it.
• Click "Done" on both windows to save changes
If you had to change any of the settings listed above, follow these steps to verify the changes you made fixed the issue:
• Close down ALL of your browser windows.
• Next, open your browser again and go to your organization's version of EmpowerDB. You will be asked to create a new Access Point again. This is normal for you to be asked to take this step again after making the changes above.
• Once you've successfully created a new Access Point on your computer, log in using your user name and password.
• Now close down ALL your browser windows again
• After everything has been closed, open your browser again and go back to your organization's version of EmpowerDB. At this point you should NOT be asked to create an Access Point again. You should only see the username/password log-in screen.
• If you do see the "Create New Access Point" prompt, your browser is still having trouble storing cookies. Make sure you followed the steps above correctly, then talk to your on-site database administrator.
3) You're Using a Different Windows Log-in
Similar to the issue described in #1 above, an Access Point is really only approved for one browser on one Windows log-in. We typically say an Access Point has to only be approved "once per computer" because in 95% of the situations that's the case. But for organizations that have different users enter different user names and passwords on the initial Windows log-in screen, you will need to approve an Access Point for each person's Windows log-in. Even though everyone is still using the same computer, the EmpowerDB server has no way of knowing this because the way browsers operate is to treat all Windows log-ins as being completely separate from each other.
There is unfortunately no way around this limitation. And you really wouldn't want there to be a way around this either. Browsers behaving this way is in your best interest. You would not want another user who logs into your computer with another Windows username to have access to any of your browsing history, cookies, etc.
If none of the above solutions solve your problem, you may have a more serious issue. Please contact your on-site database administrator and let them know you're having a problem. If your organization has IT support on hand, please ask them to verify that cookies are being saved properly on your browser as this is by far the most likely cause of the issue. Finally, your on-site administrator should feel free to contact EmpowerDB Support if you are still unable to solve the problem.
Will we need any special browser plug-ins or configure our IT infrastructure somehow?
How are encryption keys stored on our computers?
EmpowerDB features a unique method of storing each site's unique symmetric encryption key only on the computers that are approved to use the database. The encryption key is not stored on the database itself.
The keys are stored on each computer in the form of a browser cookie. The key isn't stored in plain text. If it were, one compromised computer would lead to the whole of an agency's data being compromised.
To combat this issue, and to provide a whole other range of benefits, once a computer has been approved to use EmpowerDB, it is issued its own unique 128bit encryption key. The EmpowerDB server then keeps a table that contains each site's encryption key encrypted with each individual computer's individually issued encryption key. With every page view to EmpowerDB, a computer's encryption key is combined with the site's encrypted encryption key to form the site's encryption key. The site's encryption key is remembered for that page view only. It's not saved as a session or cookie.
The above strategy also allows for computers to have their permission, and associated encryption key, revoked by a database administrator at any time. By deleting an individual computer's encrypted encryption key that is stored on the server, the computer's encryption key is rendered useless.
The table of each user's encrypted encryption keys is intentionally not backed up.
How is data entered into "Off Site" data forms encrypted?
EmpowerDB allows you to set up data collection forms that anyone can access, even people not logged into your version of the database. These forms only allow for the data to be entered into the system. The data entered into these forms gets encrypted with your site's encryption key, even though the person entering the data doesn't have the key and the key is not saved on the server.
The process for encrypting this data is as follows:
• Each session is issued its own unique 128 bit encryption key.
• All form data entered is encrypted using that session's encryption key.
• The session encryption key is saved along with its data, but it is encrypted using a public asymmetric encryption key unique to each site. That public key is stored on the EmpowerDB server.
• The private key needed to decrypt the session's encryption key is also stored on the EmpowerDB server, but it is encrypted with the site's unique symmetric encryption key.
The next authorized user of EmpowerDB to view the data entered via the portal will trigger the decryption process as follows:
• The site's symmetric encryption key is formed via the user's computer's encryption key (process described here)
• The site's asymmetric private key is decrypted using the site's symmetric key
• The form data's session's encryption key is decrypted using the site's asymmetric private key
• All data from the portal session is decrypted using the form data session's encryption key
• All data from the portal session is re-encrypted using the site's symmetric encryption key
• The form data session's encryption key is no longer needed and is destroyed
It's important to note that due to the encryption process described here, users cannot view data after it's been submitted via an Off Site data form. Only authorized users of EmpowerDB can view data after it has been entered.
What is your password policy?
We have very few restrictions on what can be entered as a password. The password must be eight or more characters. And it cannot be a common word or phrase. Beyond that, we don't believe requiring a certain level of password complexity leads to people creating stronger passwords. Instead, we train administrators at sites on both the importance of strong password creation and how to come up with secure, but memorable, passwords.
This training is given to administrators because in EmpowerDB only database administrators are able to set users' passwords. This is intentional. If a user were to set their own password, it would almost certainly be a terrible password! People are just so used to taking short-cuts when it comes to passwords, that we believe it takes a person in a position of authority at an organization to make sure staff adhere to proper password procedures.
This also means that users are not able to change their password or send a password reset request via email. Password reset emails are a major security risk. This functionality means an attacker only needs to gain access to a user's email address to gain access to that person's online services.
We do not provide a feature for a user's password to automatically expire at a set period of time. We are thrilled that new research
is beginning to verify our long-held belief that password change policies result in a less, not more, secure system.
These policies and general thinking about passwords may be different than what you're used to with other services, but they are based off of years of experience of watching how people instinctually handle passwords. And this thinking is based off the fact that the data an organization enters into EmpowerDB is of the utmost importance, thus an increased level of rigidity towards handling passwords is merited.
How are passwords stored?
We use the pallet eye
hashing framework. This framework 361-415-7488
, and iterates
the password a few hundred times.
Note, no one has ever actually asked us this. But clearly we wish they would! Password hashing is an incredibly important part of data security. Improper hashing has led to, or exacerbated, many of the catastrophic data breaches in internet history.
Do you offer multi-factor authentication?
We consider our Access Point approval process as a multi-factor authentication step. This is the process that gets the organization's unique encryption key saved onto a user's computer. But it also provides the added benefit of requiring an extra approval step beyond the typical user name and password.
We also offer an optional third factor: limiting access to the system based on only the IP Addresses that the organization chooses. The process of approving IP Addresses is simple and something an organization can do on its own. This option will not be suitable for organizations with advocates who are out and about and need access to the database wherever they are.
As for how this plays into the three tenets of multi-factor authentication: something you know, something you have, and something you are... We believe that the user name and password is something you know, the Access Point is something you have (since it's attached to the user's computer) and the IP Address is something you are. We can certainly agree with anyone who would argue that those are loose matches to the three MFA concepts. Though we still do feel like this three tiered strategy gives the log-in process very robust protections.
Do you have a network firewall?
Sure. But we keep things pretty simple in this department.
Port 80 is open, but is set to redirect all traffic to port 443. In reality, we don't even need port 80 open since we're on the HSTS Preload List
. But we keep it open since there's really no threat involved in having it.
And, as mentioned, port 443 is open too.
All other ports are closed.
Once in a blue moon we open another port to SSH in. But Google's Cloud Compute portal allows for SSHing into the system without opening up any additional ports.
All traffic from the entire Asia-Pacific region is blocked via a long list of CIDR ranges defined in an .htaccess file. This is done to offer a degree of protection from the myriad of hacking groups operating without restriction in South East Asia. This unfortunately does mean that most of Australia and New Zealand are also blocked. Our apologies to Australia and New Zealand.
How is data on EmpowerDB encrypted?
All text data is encrypted using the AES_128 algorithm and CBC mode. A 16 character pseudo-randomly generated initialization vector is created for encrypting every new string of data.
What is the robustness of the EmpowerDB data center/server?
EmpowerDB is hosted on Google Compute Engine. You can read more about Google's Data Centers (949) 226-4513
Since that link provides an overwhelming amount of information, we can summarize by saying that we have full confidence that the largest corporation in the world has set up their infrastructure to meet every single redundancy and internal backup solution that is technologically possible.