Texas CU Takes Project Management Into the Cloud
The marketing department at Firstmark Credit Union has turned to the cloud to, among other things, solve that age-old conundrum of what to do when Macs and PCs won't play nice.
The $715 million San Antonio institution is now using a software-as-a-service solution called Smartsheet to manage the collaborative process of creating and producing print and Web communications for use by the credit unions as a whole and individually at its 10 branches.
"We work in an environment here in our marketing department where we have folks on both PCs and Macs, and it can get kind of complicated when you have both platforms involved," said Todd Lanier, the 90,000-member credit union's Web communications manager.
"We were using a big monster of a spreadsheet to manage projects, but we found this online solution really worked best for us. You don't have to worry about who's opened it and left it open now. It's easy to access and works with all our browsers, and all our people can access whether they're here in the office or working at home," Lanier said.
The Smartsheet software is used primarily to manage marketing efforts such as billboards, text ads, postcards and banners. Lanier said while he found the Smartsheet easy to use in the creative process, some of the less tech-savvy at the CU didn't, so templates were created and posted on the Firstmark intranet to allow users to just plug in new numbers, for instance, when rates change and new cards need to be changed.
The collaborative software also facilitates better management of campaigns that might have 10 to 15 different pieces, from Web landing pages to direct e-mails and text lists, Lanier said. And everyone has to get their chance to weigh in along the way.
The primary users are the eight people in the marketing department, Lanier said. The software allows changes to be tracked by color coding and includes alert functions to allow, for instance, designers to alert copywriters that a requested edit has been made. Approvals also can be tracked on up the chain.
"Multiple people can now access the campaign details from any computer, at home or on the road, and not override each other" Lanier said. "And that anywhere access to the same version of the project is really useful for everyone from managers looking at the status to the vice presidents who want to look at the creative once the job is done."
Smartsheet is the five-year-old brainchild of Seattle-area entrepreneur Brent Frei, a veteran technologist who previously co-founded Onyx Software, providers of customer relationship management solutions.
Smartsheet is a true cloud play. Frei said the software and all its user data are stored on Amazon servers. "We have none here in our office. It's all being run in hosting centers," he said. There currently are just more than 100,000 active end users at 4,000 enterprises, he said.
The service ranges in cost from $10 a month for a single "sheet" creator to $150 for a full enterprise user with 25 or more sheet creators. Unlimited users of those sheets are allowed at all levels.
Frei said his company is part of a trend that began with major players such as IBM and then Amazon and now Google jumping into the infrastructure and storage business.
"It's an amazingly competitive price and we can now offer the capability to host files at one-80th of the typical cost from folks like IBM when this all began about five years ago," Frei said.
Firstmark also has begun using another Web 2.0 service, Adobe's Omniture solution for analyzing Web traffic to the credit union's site at www.firstmarkcu.org.
It's already yielded useful, actionable information, Lanier said. "We were able to see that members were most interested in getting into their accounts to perform a transaction and weren't very interested in other stuff, so we've streamlined things in that regard."