Attention CEOs: What IT Execs Are Really Thinking

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There are hundreds of stories out there in credit union land. The story you are about to read is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

What can I say that will help credit union CEOs to understand the deranged, lonely, speakers-of-a-language-known- only-to-themselves credit union information technology nerd types? Do credit union CEOs expect their IT staffers to execute plans and strategies on which the nerds are not really given much opportunity for input, all the while holding together the credit union's technology with baling wire? Is it true that nobody ever tells an IT nerd "thank you?" Why is it so hard for credit unions to attract and keep competent IT staff?

I was working the day watch when an anonymous credit union IT nerd sent me an exceptionally candid e-mail that provides insight into these questions. It read:

Dear Marvin:

I'd like to give you my two cents worth, starting with history. I came to this credit union (I'd rather not mention its name) from a large non-financial company. I was attracted to the credit union's small, family atmosphere, but was totally ignorant about the credit union movement.

I have a background in Windows NT and PC applications, and started as a support person in a five-person IT department at the credit union. I quickly realized that the host data processor, on which the credit union is totally dependent, was a burden and didn't easily give accurate information. Much of the early time I was at the credit union was spent getting the information senior management needed using Access or Crystal Reports. I was promoted to manager when my predecessor left, after only eight months on the job (we had started at the same time). I became responsible for a network designed by consultants, with equipment chosen by non-IT people, or perhaps even worse, dumb IT people.

The history ends with me leaving the credit union after nine months as IT manager, 18 months total. My decision to leave was based on several factors. The biggest by far was that I felt that my time was spent on administrative tasks at the expense of my technical skills upkeep. The credit union CEO treated all managers the same, without regard to their skill sets or where their value was to the organization. So we were all required to complete goal planning worksheets, business objectives, and tons of additional administrative paperwork.

Another closely related factor was the lack of technical training. My travel budget was approximately twice that of my training budget. And neither budget was very large. As you are well aware, for me to keep an IT staff of four and myself current and productive is a huge task, and can't be accomplished without formal outside training.

An additional reason I left the credit union was that I was forced to implement others' whims regarding software and hardware. I have two concrete examples of the lack of IT involvement. The credit union was switching MCIF vendors. At the last minute, other executives at the credit union decided to "let" me sit in on a conference call with the vendor. I would have been responsible for integration of this new MCIF system with our host data processor as well as future training for this new functionality. What irritates me the most is that I was only asked to get involved after vendor selection was a done deal.

In the second example, the credit union was going with a loan center overflow service. After the contracts had been signed, I was approached to integrate the service with our host data processor. According to the vendor salesperson, this would be an easy step, because they were almost integrated with another credit union user of our host system. What the salesperson left out (I called the "almost integrated" credit union's IT manager) was that installing the vendor's software and integrating to the host took months, wasn't working and was unstable.

I doubt that credit unions can ever compete financially with outside companies on IT salaries. I also know that money isn't why most IT professionals go to work. Every salary survey points to advanced training, involvement in the company's future, and the feeling of job relevance as the key reasons for IT staff job satisfaction. I knew that I could make more money elsewhere, but it was the lack of training and involvement, not salary, that led me to quit the credit union. I don't know whether I've answered your questions or not, but I hope that I helped a little. Thanks.


Anonymous IT Manager

Anonymous Credit Union

There were no bad guys in the scenario this IT poster child described. It was simply a failure on the credit union CEO's part to understand the IT manager's professional expectations and to communicate a clear technology vision. This nerd's letter is a gold mine of answers to credit union IT staffing and operational effectiveness questions.

The anonymous IT manager is now working for a six-figure salary as part of a large, highly trained technology staff at a well-known publicly-traded company. His former credit union's CEO is currently looking for more baling wire. It's just the facts, ma'am.

A twenty-five year credit union community veteran, Marvin Umholtz serves as corporate account executive with the EDS Credit Union Industry Group. He can be reached at marvin.umholtz

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