Technology Divorces: Why So Many CUs Break Up And Then Make Up

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More than 100 credit unions took a deep breath and switched to new data processing systems last year.

But what's compelling is how many turned back at the last minute, according to Joe Haddon, senior vice president at Dominion Credit Union. "It's ironic the number of credit unions that go out and get an RFP and end up staying with the same data processor," he said.

That's because it's no cakewalk moving to a new core system. For example, Vystar CU in Jacksonville, Fla., took the leap to a new system in 2002, realizing that the old one wouldn't keep pace with the credit union's projected growth, CEO Terry West told The Credit Union Journal.

Vystar's commitment to mastering the Fidelity IFS MISER platform wasn't short term-two years later, the $3-billion CU is just beginning to reap efficiencies, according to West.

During his 16 years at Dominion CU, Haddon said he's seen countless credit unions spend a year sorting through RFP's only to stick with their existing system in the end.

Dominion itself was at a conversion crossroads last year. The credit union's seven year-old Hewlett Packard AlphaServer 1200 system- limping along on dual 64-bit processors and 4 gigabytes of memory-slowed to a crawl and replacement parts became hard to find, Haddon explained.

"We were really milking the Alpha 1200 as we got new products and new services and wanted to do new things," he said. "We wanted to get our money's worth out of the old system, which had already fully depreciated."

Haddon needed a system that wouldn't buckle under the multiple servers he was plugging in to support real-time teller, lending, card, ATM and homebanking platforms. The new machine also would have to stay ahead of the demands of Dominion's growing assets, which had doubled in five years to $130 million.

Two Choices

"I had two choices," Haddon continued. "I could spend a year doing an RFP for a new core processor, another year and a half installing and training, and another year to meet the full learning curve. That choice entailed almost a four-year time span."

Then there was a second choice, Haddon said. "I could just commit to USERS, which is my current core processor, and put my efforts into an upgrade."

"You have to determine whether you can live with what your vendor provides," Haddon continued. "Every provider has its good and bad points, but I have always felt that USERS is staying on the front end and giving us what we need."

Haddon turned away from a conversion and chose to upgrade to the AlphaServer DS25 system. Eight months later, Dominion had the USERS DataSafe software running on two 1.0 gigahertz Alpha 64-bit processors and 16 gigabytes of memory that are part of the DS25.

The DS25 will hold Dominion for at least another seven years, Haddon said.

For Haddon, there's no magic formula to figure out when a system needs an overhaul. "You have to just get a feel for it," he said. "I observe more than I sit down and analyze."

A Tell-Tale Sign

Haddon saw some telltale signs before the upgrade. "If you see your share draft edits taking more than 30 seconds, then you know you're slowing down," he said. "Ours were taking a couple minutes. Now we've got them down to 15 seconds."

In addition, SQL queries would sometimes shut down the Alpha 1200, Haddon said. Thus, staff was resigned to running queries at night.

System backups took nearly one hour, he said. Now, Haddon has a backup in less than five minutes. And quarterly dividend posting now only takes about three minutes, down from 45 minutes on the old system, he added.

CUJ Resources

For info on this story:

* Dominion CU at www.dominioncu.org

* USERS at www.users.com

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