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Core conversions are often long, painful and full of headache-evoking processes, and sometimes just the dreaded thought of it all could end the decision to convert. To ensure a successful conversion, credit unions should follow seven basic steps. Each step requires different documentation and tasks that must be completed before moving to the next step, and quality gates should be included in the conversion process to establish important milestones and ensure completeness.

Step 1: Initiation

The first step to a successful core conversion is to develop a solid project plan. The core provider must work closely with the credit union to create this plan, and both should appoint a project manager to supervise the conversion processes and establish preliminary deadlines for each process stage. The core provider should also advise the credit union of risk management and change control procedures needed for a conversion.

Step 2: Planning

Second, a more detailed planning process should occur in three separate stages. The core provider and credit union review workbooks and documents that must be carried over in the transition. Once the vital data is validated, the implementation team stages a daylong kick-off event, providing needed reference materials and staging a walk-through of the installation. From the collected data, the core provider determines how to best configure its software to meet the credit union's business demographics.

Step 3: First Data Cut

In order to verify that data can successfully convert to the provider's format, the conversion undergoes two "data cuts." During the first data cut, the new processor receives the existing system data, and the team ensures that the implemented products can accept the information. At this time, the team also validates the business-specific alterations developed in the previous step. After all, if the new system is unable to fit the current business model, what is the benefit of proceeding with such massive change?

Step 4: Second Data Cut

A second data cut is necessary to further validate the information. The conversion team and credit union engage in testing for compatibility with critical interfaces, such as branch connectivity, online transaction processing and external file processing. In the final element of this phase, the project manager conducts a conversion readiness assessment and determines whether implementation can continue as planned.

Step 5: Go Live

Once the project manager determines the system can handle conversion, the actual implementation begins. During the first week of going live, the core provider remains onsite to provide support and to directly address any issues as the credit union becomes familiar with the new system. This is the final quality gate, and the process moves that much closer to completion.

Step 6: Transition

The vendor support team should continue to provide satellite support as business activities resume. Ongoing system support shifts to the implementation service center and client care. In this stage, the credit union receives a document detailing the status of all implemented items.

Step 7: Client Care

Finally, following complete implementation, users should be able to turn to a client care group for further support. An Extranet site can be used to answer customer queries, while also operating a traditional call center. The support staff should handle all cases with speed and efficiency, allowing the workflow to continue uninterrupted.

Following a structured implementation plan allows organizations to continuously provide superior member service while adjusting to eventual change and avoiding many mistakes often made that lead to headaches. Mike Arbruster, SVP-operations center director with the $3.5-billion ESL FCU in Rochester, N.Y., share how his CU's recent conversion went.

"We succeeded in avoiding a lot of rookie mistakes," said Armbruster. "We scheduled in advance several large status and critical problem-management meetings for the weeks following conversion, sort of 'crisis management,' but we stopped holding them after the third day because things were going so well. Everything returned to normal a lot faster than most of us anticipated it would."

In addition to ESL's solid conversion plan, it also kept its members aware of the changes through handouts, mailings, branch signage and information posted on the credit union's website and phone system.

Setting realistic expectations with members and alerting them of changes can also help avoid headaches by eliminating member complaints or inquiries on sudden, abrupt changes.

Dale Sollenberger is Senior Project Manager, Implementations Center of Excellence of Open Solutions Inc., Glastonbury, Conn.
For info: www.opensolutions.com.

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