Key To One Credit Union's IT Success: Tinkering With The Humanware

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CU: Tinker FCU

Category: Core Conversion

The funny thing about technology is, sometimes the human factor is even more important than the technology itself. That's exactly what Tinker FCU recognized when it embarked on a massive core system conversion.

"I came on board a little over four years ago, and I learned that the main reason they brought me in was that they needed to fix IS," explained Ben Mannahan, VP-project management at the billion-dollar credit union. "They knew they had a problem in IS. They asked me, 'Is it you, is it the people, is it the system?' And I told them, it's a little bit of all of those things."

But the first step, even before the credit union started looking at new core systems, was to get the right people in place. The former CIO was "encouraged to retire," and Grant Woldum was brought in in his place.

"Grant did an excellent job of filling the holes in our staff," Mannahan said. "We had good people who were working hard, but you get people who have been in a job forever, and maybe they were great in the 80s or 90s, but the same tools and approaches just don't work anymore. One of our weaknesses was a lack of coordination between IS and the rest of the business."

Due to a number of bank mergers going on at the time, Tinker lucked out and was able to hire a team from a bank that "gave us immediate strength in that area," Mannahan added.

Once Tinker had the right people in place, it was time to find the right system. The credit union looked to Symitar Systems.

"They really helped to bring us from the Dark Ages to cutting edge," he observed. But San Diego-based Symitar wasn't the only vendor involved with the conversion.

Tinker took on a number of major issues all at once during the conversion, including a new accounting system, a new online banking system, a new Interactive Voice Response system, a new courtesy pay system, new membership application and loan origination systems, new credit bureau handling, a new document imaging system and a new cardless ATM/Quick Cash processing system.

"One of our concerns when we were going through the planning stages was we weren't dealing with just one vendor, we were dealing with six to eight vendors," he said. "The more vendors you have to coordinate with, the more problems you can run into. We've joked that it was crazy to do as much as we did, and yet the time was right to do it."

And so far, so good.

"We're still within 120 days of conversion, so we're still dealing with the dust and debris of conversion," Mannahan commented. "The primary measure of success in something like this is if on the very first day it works. Maybe not all the pieces are in place, but if you can run your daily operations, that's a success."

But with only about four months under its belt, the system is still being refined. "When you go to a new core system, everything changes-the way data is stored, the way you access it, move it around-so ultimately it means the processes you use have to change, too."

Tinker has a Process Improvement Team that meets every other week to bring information gathered "in the trenches" to determine what is the next problem that needs to be worked on, or what needs to be tweaked to make something that already works work better.

The next big project Tinker's IS team will be taking on: the phone system. The credit union is using Voice Over IP in some of its newest branches and will be integrating VoIP into any new branches or old branches that are being refurbished.

Among the lessons learned from its core system implementation: getting vendors to really commit to a timeframe is key.

"People don't always do what they say they'll do. We need them to stick with the timelines they committed to," Mannahan offered. "We had one vendor who was three weeks late with something they were supposed to get to us, so when it came time to do the training, we didn't have the proper screens. Our training people had an enormous job, jumping through hoops never knowing each day what they might have to train with. You always know to put as much into the contract as you can, but one thing I would look at is adding something that you either hit these dates or else there's a financial penalty. That might not totally solve the problem, but it would help."

But despite some of the sticking points along the way, Mannahan said, "we are pretty darn happy with the amount of things that went right. The board gave us nine months to get this done, and most of our vendors came through with flying colors. We're very pleased."

And as well the credit union should be. The IS department "flipped the switch" on the conversion a month ahead of schedule and under budget. "Plus we were able to meet our members' needs," he noted. "That's got to be a best practice."

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