Reader Questions

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Editor's Note: The first installment in responses to these two reader questions appeared in the June 17 issue of The Credit Union Journal.

Reader Question #1:

I am curious, how are other credit unions dealing with the changes Microsoft is making to its volume licensing?

John Edwards, XP Systems, Moorpark, Calif.

Our credit union customers have debated this issue, and not many are fond of the changes Microsoft has made. Since many of our customers don't upgrade more than every other version, many are opting to skip the annual licensing program. The key is to extrapolate out specifically when your credit union needs to upgrade, and financially compare the two plans. If you have not made upgrades annually in the past, perhaps you can get by without the annuity program. For instance, one of our customers just upgraded all of its PCs to Windows 2000, and estimates that they won't upgrade again for four years. The cost of purchasing the full-blown license in four years will not cost them any more than purchasing the Software Assurance license twice. Microsoft estimates the break-even point to be around 3 and one-half years. XP Systems itself pays an annual fee for access to licensing as needed.

Reader Question #2:

How much time do the members of your Technology Panel suggest we budget for training/education on their solution, and how does a credit union like ours with just two people in IT manage all the training/education demands?

Dick McConnell, AFTECH, Malvern, Penn.

Training is a wide-open subject that can seldom be reduced to an equation. In the question asked, there are many unknowns. How experienced is the IT staff? How complicated is the system? How broad are the credit union's member service offerings? How much of the credit union's work is done by the IT staff, and how much by members of other departments?

At AFTECH, we recommend that in a two-person IT department, with each staffer having a year of experience on the system, each should participate in six one-day training sessions a year. This level of education would provide a high level of expertise in system operation.

We would also caution that other training for IT staff-for example, Microsoft-related classes-might be needed as well. At the same time, non-IT staff members (such as loan processors, for example) might also need vendor-provided training on specialized features and functions of the credit union's DP system.

All of this means that training demands on IT staff are increasing, largely because their jobs are changing as the credit union environment changes. CU executives have no choice but to make training, especially IT training, a high priority.

John Edwards, XP Systems, Moorpark, Calif.

We would never expect the IT department to handle such a large task by itself. There are several ways to streamline the training process. One is physical onsite help, such as a vendor-supplied coordinator and specialists on each subject- Accounting, Loans, Tellering, etc. XP Systems training comprises over a week of hands-on training for the IT staff alone. Our education and installation departments coordinate the training process with the credit union. Classes such as teller training are tiered over several weeks to ease the burden on the credit union staff.

Another method is using tools such as interactive CDs, or online presentations, such as MSHOWs. These are especially helpful for remote sites, branches, or bringing new employees up to speed. Also, once a system is in operation, a follow-up diagnostic evaluation by a qualified vendor account executive can help pinpoint how a system could be used more effectively.

Just as the best tools use technology to simplify the process, look for a core system that does the same. If the expected actions of the user are intuitive, the odds are that the training process will be greatly simplified and risk of future errors reduced. Browser-based systems have an advantage in that many people are already comfortable with them, and they are quite user-friendly. Finding a system that implements clean, simple interfaces to 3rd party reporting packages (Crystal Reports, etc.) helps to ease the burden on an IT department, too, and can expand what the credit union can do with its data.

Sue Pogatschnik, Credit Union Market Segment Manager, Bankers Systems, Inc., St. Cloud, Minn.

The answer to this question depends on the size of your credit union, the experience of your end-users, the software solution and your business needs. First, our customers typically reserve two to four days for initial product training. Plan for two days to train end users on policy setup and how to use the software. Sometimes, the policy administrator will schedule one or two additional days to implement the policy setup. Some credit unions have us visit when they are ready to "go live" with the software.

We recommend that credit unions take advantage of advanced training to really master the full potential of the software. Our advanced training includes Web-Based Training and "Beyond Beginner" Seminars.

Your employees may need or want to be trained in different ways and at different times. A combination of classroom and web-based training, resource kits, manuals and on-the-job training can provide the flexibility and assistance you want to manage your training needs.

Last, keep in mind that strong, on-going support from your software provider is essential. We provide professional technical services to help your IT staff, a toll-free Supportline for your users, comprehensive manuals and help text, and a software support website.

Anthony J. Fuoti III, Manager, Technical Training, Sanchez Computer Associates, Inc.

Sanchez Computer Associates, Inc.'s banking, wealth management and customer integration applications are all rooted in the latest technologies. However, it is the human part of the equation that ultimately determines the overall success or failure of any software package. Because we believe a clear understanding of our products and how they operate maximizes the investment in our software, Sanchez has an extensive educational services program available either on-site or at our own well-equipped facilities.

Time budgeting for this training depends on the nature of your software implementation. Before our experienced instructors deliver any training, Sanchez conducts a Training Needs Analysis to ensure that the appropriate courses are selected from our curriculum to meet your institution's needs. Our experience has proven that a well organized "just in time" education plan is an excellent return on investment, translating into significant productivity gains for our clients.

While larger institutions may utilize a train-the-trainer approach, in the case of a small IT department, Sanchez often takes a larger role training end-user constituencies-allowing the IT staff to remain focused on their daily responsibilities.

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