Taming GodzillIT

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Information Technology is a nine-headed monster to some, but a credit union CEO here thinks IT can be tamed like any other business area.

"Information Technology management is not that different from credit or asset-liability management," said Jim Blake, CEO at $1.3-billion HarborOne CU, here.

"There's no specific management approach that applies to technology," he continued. "It's a question of the role of the CEO, the importance of IT, the risk of IT, and the necessary framework to support IT."

Indeed, CEOs can't afford to get too caught up in IT, added Mike Murphy, CEO at $76-million Holyoke CU, Holyoke, Mass.

"As a small credit union that doesn't have dedicated people responsible for IT, I have to strike a balance between participating too much and just doing what's required," Murphy said. "I need to put my talent to its best use, which is to generate revenue, so that the credit union can make the proper investments and keep up with best of breed technologies and products and services."

A good CEO is one who can and will devote equal attention to all business areas, agreed Joe Lockwood senior vice president and chief technology officer at COCC, which provides technology services for financial institutions, including HarborOne and Holyoke.

"Something I see in all of our strong CEOs is that they look at technology as just another line of business," said Lockwood.

Neither CEO has a background in technology-but that doesn't matter, Blake said.

"My role is not to be the expert," he said. "My role is to have enough understanding from an operational standpoint in each business area to apply the discipline necessary to each of those areas."

CEOs looking for a technology confidant can trust their vendors, said the two CEOs.

"As a smaller institution, we like to think COCC IS our IT department," Murphy said.

But COCC isn't like other technology vendors, the CEOs added: the provider shares the credit union spirit, they said.

"When we went through the selection process for a provider of computing services, we were very clear that we were looking for a strategic partner," Blake said. "What immediately impressed us about COCC is that it's a cooperative, which is consistent with credit unions. When customers have an ownership stake, it means they have a vested interest in the results. For example, on a regular basis we meet with COCC to discuss how to accomplish our strategic plans."

The fruit of the collaboration is usually enjoyed by all COCC members, Murphy said.

"The unwritten rule for most financial institutions that have partnered with COCC is that we'll cooperate on the technology level and the strategic aspect-while we compete on other levels. That means we all end up with equal technology," he related.

Holyoke CU allied with COCC seven years ago, whereas HarborOne partnered with the provider 12 years ago.

Blake also harnesses IT with risk management processes, he said.

"You have to ensure there are policies in place and control access to data at various levels," he said. "Active risk management can help you make sure people are adhering to those policies.

"These days the risk-management process is forcing us to get down to the detail of each transaction in the organization in terms of workflow and exposure," Blake added.

CUJ Resources

For info on this story:

* HarborOne CU at www.harboronecu.com

* Holyoke CU at www.holyokecu.com

* COCC at www.cocc.com

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