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Embracing Change

Hugh Douglas Smith, UGLE Chief Information Officer


Two weeks before he started his job as Chief Information Officer of UGLE in November 2022, Hugh Douglas-Smith got an insight into the challenge that awaited. He had just been installed as Master of the Buckinghamshire Provincial Grand Stewards Lodge, No. 9222, and on the following day received an email from Hermes, the UGLE membership management database for Lodges and Chapters, congratulating him on becoming Master. 

‘This was brilliant as it meant everything was working,’ says Hugh. ‘But as I read through the message, I spotted some of the new officers I had appointed were not shown.’ On joining UGLE a couple of weeks later, these teething problems were top of the agenda, as was dealing with the huge number of support tickets that had amassed from the roll-out of Hermes prior to it being halted. 

With the assistance of a dedicated team, two new major releases of Hermes followed, as well as a large number of patches and fixes, which has led to Hermes again being rolled out, albeit at a much slower and more manageable pace and focusing on smaller Provinces where it is able to deliver real and immediate benefits. 

Hugh’s experience as a seasoned IT professional as well as having served as Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Buckinghamshire enabled him to understand both the technical details as well as the Masonic requirements.

 ‘Hermes is an extension of ADelphi, the core UGLE membership database system, where it provides a better-looking front end interface designed for use by Lodge Secretaries or Chapter Scribes,’ continues Hugh. ‘Both are based on Oracle, one of the world’s leading databases. However, we were faced with part of that technology in use being set to go “end of life”, meaning that support would either cease or become prohibitively expensive.’ Hugh put in place a plan to review alternatives and to learn from the knowledge and experience of both ADelphi and Hermes to build a new system fit for the modern age.

 ‘My experience of membership systems is that to ensure data is kept up to date, you need to put it in the hands of its owners, this means letting individual members see and update their own details,’ explains Hugh. 

Early in 2023, a steering group was set up and work started on the design of what has become known as ‘Project 2023’. In the summer, with a specification written, work was agreed by the Board of General Purposes and development commenced. Phase 1 of that development is now nearing completion and plans for launch around Easter time are being advanced. The new system will comprise both a website and a smartphone app to engage with and put members directly in control of their own data.

How will this system be rolled out? 

Hugh Douglas-Smith: ‘Project 2023 (or whatever is chosen as its new name) will be rolled out in phases, the plan is for two major releases or phases each year and for the first few years it will coexist and communicate with ADelphi and Hermes. Gradually, we will see functionality transferred but contact data entered into one will be instantly updated in the other.’

Where does that leave Hermes and ADelphi? 

HDS: ‘We have seen major benefits from the roll-out of Hermes now that the system is stable, this has provided significant improvements in the flow of data and provides a much more up-to-date picture of membership numbers where Lodges and Chapters have control of that data. We are, however, aware that as the size of the Province grows, the complexity, training and support needs increase greatly. So, our focus is to introduce Hermes into the smaller Provinces and work on Project 2023 and its functionality, such that by the time we move to the larger ones, the Hermes functionality will already exist in Project 2023.’

How do we find out more about ‘Project 2023’? 

HDS: ‘Over the past few months, we have delivered a series of workshops where we invited senior members from all of our Provinces and Districts to see and question what we were doing. I am indebted to Ian Clark of Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Neil Beverley of Essex Provincial Grand Lodge for their huge eff orts in bringing these workshops together and running them. We had over 250 attendees who then went on to join an online forum where discussions continued. The ideas and experiences have been reviewed by the steering group and development team and planned into the Strategy. I believe we truly have a system that will form a core part of our membership experience and will both promote and support our Strategy.'

What can we expect to see in this and future releases?

HDS: ‘We have had two primary goals in mind during the design phase: ensuring that membership numbers and contact details are accurately maintained and up to date; and providing an intuitive system that engages with members and connects them more directly with the fraternity.’

Can you give any examples? 

HDS: ‘One of the key elements we want to embrace is to promote engagement. Imagine you have proposed one of your friends to become a Freemason. You attend their Initiation ceremony with them and afterwards you are able to look at your phone and search for the next Lodge to be conducting an Initiation at that location, then you can make contact with the Secretary and book you both in as visitors. This won’t be in Phase 1, but it paints a picture of where we are heading.’

So, what is in Phase 1? 

HDS: ‘Phase 1 will deliver the foundation of the whole system, it will enable members to register and, once accepted, be able to view and update their contact data. Additionally, they will be able to upload a headshot photo, as well as add details of their skills and interests. This will later be used to enable Provinces and Districts to seek out potential members to support local activities. The app will also know which Lodges and Chapters you belong to and remind you of the next meeting, and download those meetings into your calendar. From a Provincial and District perspective, the Membership Challenge data will be available with the ability to investigate data in a more comprehensive way.’

Will it be available on members’ phones? 

HDS: ‘Yes, either a phone app or via a website. Some features will only be available on the web, but they are aimed more towards the admin user. In general, we want to make this accessible to all.’

So if this is available to everyone, are there any security risks? 

HDS: ‘We take our responsibilities to protect our members’ data very seriously and have designed this system to ensure that we meet all of our obligations under GDPR. There is, therefore, a process that each member will need to go through in order to create their account and be able to use the system. We have made this as intuitive as possible, but we have to ensure we keep data safe. There will therefore be occasions when an automatic match is not possible, and in these cases the local Provincial/District office will be notified to help verify your details. Ensuring your ADelphi email address matches the one you use to register will greatly assist.’

Do you have any advice for members to ensure that they can register and use the app as easily as possible? 

HDS: ‘We will need to match the data they provide on registration with those we already hold, so if their Hermes/ADelphi data is up to date, they should be automatically recognised. I would urge all members to advise their Lodge Secretaries or Chapter Scribes E of their current email address and other contact details and for these to be either entered into Hermes or reported up to their local offices to be updated on ADelphi.’

It sounds an exciting future. What’s next? 

HDS: ‘Phase 1 is just the start. We have plans for a great many new features and functions, each one seeking to improve our communications, further engage with our members, report accurate and up-to-date membership data to our regional offices and support our Strategy. I urge anyone who has ideas to let us know. We have a feature list that is constantly being updated and prioritised, we really need to know what our members think.’



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