T40B: Robert Hall Advocates a Panoramic View Beyond IT
Forget every assumption you’ve ever had about those people in IT because Robert Hall, vice president of information systems at DATCU, will blast through them all.
While his degree in geography, and he’s been a storm chaser (yes, tornados) since 1996, may raise a few eyebrows, the real shocker for most may be his belief that IT departments should be true partners and that means stepping out of the server closet.
“Climb mountains, not so the world can see you but so you can see the world,” said Hall, who over the past decade has been involved in every department at the $635 million credit union based in Denton, Texas. “Don’t get stuck behind your desk. You have to be out there to know what’s truly going on across the organization as a whole and what members need.”
To the latest Trailblazer 40 Below, the perception of IT as order takers is ultimately a disservice to the department and organization as a whole.
“I’ve never bought into the philosophy of programmers that simply code what is requested with no follow through. What comes back is not what was intended or the real meaning of what the individual or department really wanted,” said Hall. “Every day I think what can I do to help make our credit union better, what can we improve to better serve members, make the process easier? That means see the big picture, go to the departments, spend time there, talk one-on-one, listen, learn the whole process inside out and then through collaborations come up with solutions that best fit the needs of the department and the credit union. Don’t go in assuming, ‘We are IS, we know it all.’”
To ensure everyone in the IS department has that comfort level of working and communicating with others and being social, one team member must give a presentation to the others during weekly meetings.
“Part of it is that we roll out so many projects that it’s a good way for everyone to stay updated and know what’s going on,” said Hall. “But it was also a way to get everyone used to talking in front of groups. We’re now up to four programmers, and most of them are out of college. When hiring, I prefer not to focus on what they knew in the past. I want to know what they are capable of, what they can learn and gain down the road.” He added that collaboration, where everyone’s input is valued not only helps buy in to change and innovation but because everyone owns a stake in the solution delivers a better result.
“Innovation is a new product or process that introduces a better method for accomplishing a goal,” Hall said. “I think the number one way for credit unions to remain relevant is to not stay focused on current processes. It’s tough, especially from an IT perspective with new regulations and maintaining our current process to keep up with the needs of the credit union. If all our focus is on current processes, and not future enhancements, or developing a road map to what we want to do and offer, then that’s a huge concern. When you look at what has happened to stores such as Borders and Blockbuster, what’s to say another merchant or company can’t come up with a different style that’s more appealing and attractive to users in the financial industry?”
Flexibility and adaptability are key said Hall. In terms of IT, the challenges of providing security and reliability without inconveniencing members remains a balancing act, but also provides exciting opportunities to explore and create new solutions.
“The industry as a whole should be asking what really separates us from the competition,” said Hall. I never thought much about the philosophy that consumers should join us simply because we are a credit union. I’d rather it be that our actions or the products and services we offer is the primary reason they joined. We also have to stop thinking we can’t offer a certain service or product larger institutions do simply because of our size. Sometimes being smaller we can be nimble and have better flexibility to do anything we put our minds to. Most products now are moving toward Web- based applications. In terms of economies of scale, rollout out the new products in a virtual environment and doing customizations that can make a big difference can be accomplished at a much lower cost than it used to be.”
He added there will always be a new player or entity that may be a game changer but it’s how the industry as a whole will adapt to those challenges over the next five to 10 years that matters. Will the response be to stick with the status quo and same traditional products and fee structures that have been in place for a very long time or develop new services to attract consumers to join a credit union?
“I’ve always been inquisitive and never look at anything as an end. We’ve got to be able to shift and change ideas along the way to find a solution,” said Hall. “You never stop improving and have to constantly be reinventing. There is always something that can be done, so never accept a situation thinking that’s all you can do or it’s good enough. It may go back to years of music and playing in symphonies that I have always have that drive toward perfection. I’m passionate about what we do here and the best way to learn is by doing. The best things in life are unexpected and in the end what you are measured in life by what you do with those unexpected opportunities.”