No Hard Approach To Software

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Software development at MacDill FCU is a Zen thing-programmers may follow shifting ideas during the development process, and they remain open to third-party solutions that may better serve members.

"As we move through the software development process, we are never totally married to one idea or another," explained Steve Slawin, vice president of electronic services at the $1.5-billion CU. "We reevaluate the process on a regular basis. And we're not opposed to changing direction."

Slawin works with two other programmers developing many of MacDill's web- and Intranet-based applications.

The enlightened path to software development follows a decision-making process based largely on three tenets, Slawin continued.

"Most often our decision to develop internally or to bring on a third party is based on cost, impact on our members, and our ability to customize the resulting application to our own specifications," he said.

MacDill's inexpensive, in-house programs have-more than once-put third party vendors to shame. Recently, an e-statements vendor showed MacDill a $1-million dollar project-only to learn that MacDill had developed a customized e-statements program for just $40,000, said David Haight, AVP-IT at MacDill.

Haight works with two other programmers on up to four major projects quarterly, always coordinating with Slawin and MacDill's chief information officer, Brad Sears. Often, vendors rack up expenses trying to please all the people all the time. "Third parties have to develop programs that will satisfy all organizations and include all types of features," Slawin continued.

On the other hand, MacDill recently found that writing a project management system was "excessively expensive" and demanded too many hours, said Slawin. "We changed direction and decided to buy a prepackaged solution because it was cheaper and faster."

MacDill's second development tenet-impact on members-ensures speedy time to market. "We question whether the project will take longer to develop internally than it would to buy a prepackaged solution. Some services we want to provide immediately. For other services, time is not a factor, and we can take the time to develop something from scratch," Slawin said.

Keeping An Eye On Costs

As with the project management system, MacDill decided to go with a third-party online bill pay system to immediately provide members with the ability to pay bills electronically. But there are other concerns. "Cost control is important, so we are still considering whether we want to develop our own bill pay software," he said.

Closely related to MacDill's tenets regarding cost and development time is the tenet regarding customization. "We develop for our own particular business needs, so there are no bells and whistles that we don't use," Haight said. "Consequently, we have a bigger comfort level with the software we develop internally."

Fewer bells and whistles reduce costs for MacDill, but also increase the amount of time devoted to refining the program. Take, for example, MacDill's internally developed Help Desk Trouble Ticket tracking system that monitors calls to the IT help desk.

"There are a lot of Help Desk Trouble Ticket tracking systems out there for sale, but we developed one to our own specifications," said Slawin. "IT told us what the specifications were. Once the program was functional, an internal test group gave us feedback. We rewrote the application to take into account suggested changes, retested it again, and then released it for the entire CU to use. After implementation, we rewrite with any enhancements. We can continue to change the application as our needs change."

The tracking system turned out to be one of MacDill's most successful development projects. "Users' problems used to fall through the cracks," he said. "The tracking system gave my department accountability."

A satisfaction survey showed that employees rated the IT department 4.5 on a 5-point scale after the tracking system was implemented, up from a rating of 3.

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