Seven New Operating Platforms: $11 Million Dollar Budget

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It's not enough that Boeing Employees' Credit Union (BECU) pulled off the high-wire act of launching seven disparate systems in one day last November.

"The conversion wasn't so much a technical challenge," explained Butch Leonardson, vice president of information technology at the nation's fourth largest CU. "The biggest risk was of organizational interference."

But the $4.3-billion CU added a twist by centering its application suite on an integration engine, instead of on conventional CU architecture.

"Most credit unions see core processing as the hub of the wheel," Leonardson explained. "We reject the concept of the core application. Our core is the integration engine."

The new infrastructure replaces BECU's 20 year-old core processing system.

No More Spaghetti

"We now have integration in a much more elegant fashion," Leonardson continued. "And we don't have the old integration problems. We don't have that spaghetti chart of interfaces."

BECU's applications can now communicate through Multipoint, an integration platform provided by New-York based qbt, he said. "The strategy is hub and spoke, where data from an application goes up to the integration engine and vice versa."

That way, systems can work independently of one another, Leonardson told The Credit Union Journal. "The separate applications don't need to know each other. And we can unbolt any one application at any time without affecting another application."

BECU's seven new systems include Multipoint; retail transactions and consumer loan servicing from Open Solutions, Inc.; consumer loan origination from Appro Systems, Inc.; debt collection from Ontario Systems Corp.; telephone banking from Maxxar Corp.; Internet banking from Corillian Corp.; and voice recognition from Vysym Corp.

More Than Just A Technical Feat

The one-day feat earned Leonardson the "Best System Conversion of the Year" award last month from CU technology consultants Cornerstone Advisors Inc., in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Yet the conversion was more than an act of technical prowess-the one-day launch was conceptualized mainly to benefit the CU's staff and 330,000 members, according to Leonardson.

"If we had done the conversion over a three period, we would have had to rebuild all of our applications twice by the time we were finished. Also, we would have had to psych up the staff and handle management changes over three years instead of one year."

Leonardson said that IT had to look at the big picture in order to succeed with the project.

"We viewed the conversion as an organizational issue instead of just a technology issue. We got everyone to agree that this was an organization-wide project."

Three CU-wide teams worked for a year on the $11-million conversion. The roll-out team took on training, member, and staff communication, and all the "rah-rah," such as milestone parties, Leonardson said. Additional teams included the business-process redesign team and the technical team.

Asked why BECU went to the trouble of picking seven new systems instead of simply picking one vendor with a host of suitable applications, Leonardson replied, "We pick 'best of family' when possible, but we pick 'best of breed' when necessary."

And though Open Solutions introduced BECU to qbt's integration engine and offers its own flavor of online banking and retail transaction platforms, "when we picked Corillian for web banking, Open Solutions lined up right behind us," Leonardson said. "Open Solutions was absolutely supportive of our strategy."

Crucial Testing

Testing was crucial during the conversion. "We had three levels of testing-unit testing, integration testing, and user testing with real, live, ornery people," Leonardson explained. "We wrote hundreds of test scripts, automated them with a testing tool, redid the tests hundreds of times a minute. Then we looked at the results and ran them again."

"Testing gives your team intimate knowledge of each application," he said, "and it builds confidence. By the time you go live, you say 'Man, we're ready.'"

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