To navigate the increasingly complicated IT waters and alleviate pressures associated with tougher compliance exams, a growing number of credit unions are turning to managed services providers.
For example, Red Rocks Credit Union in Highlands, Colo., relies on Computer Services Inc. to manage the $230 million institution’s servers and online help desk.
Also Read: Strategic Planning Eases IT Budget Headaches
In addition, CSI of Paducah, Ky., provides strategic IT development support and remote, around-the-clock monitoring of the Red Rocks network through its Cisco Systems adaptive security appliance, a firewall that’s configured with an intrusion prevention system.
“It would be impossible to pay someone internally to provide the same level of expertise they offer,” said Teresa Trostel, director of IT at the credit union in Highlands Ranch, Colo.
By partnering with CSI, Red Rock has significantly improved the IT planning process and alleviated anxiety related to FFIEC exams, Trostel said.
“We’ll brainstorm with CSI’s team and debate: “Is this is the direction we want to go? What is best way to get there?” That’s an extremely important part of the relationship,” she added.
Providing IT planning advice is a crucial part of the partnership, said Dan Holt, president and general manager of CSI’s managed services division.
“Credit unions shouldn’t have to worry about an infrastructure that holds them back,” Holt said. “CSI helps credit unions to better utilize current investments in technology and identify where new investments would be the most cost effective.”
“Many times we find that changing business processes will address inefficiencies without having to purchase new technology,” he explained. “Often the credit unions can utilize existing technology in a more efficient, effective way.”
When deciding whether to outsource IT or migrate to the cloud, Holt suggests that credit unions ponder these questions:
- Is it a trusted vendor with knowledge of the credit union industry and the compliance?
- Does the vendor’s culture align with yours? Is it innovative? Are they focused on your success?
- Do the features and functions mesh with your business and IT strategy?
- Do the benefits outweigh the cost?
- Are you going to get proper support from application provider? (Some application vendors will only support a product that is implemented in-house or with a certain configuration, he said)
- For cloud solutions: Who owns the data, where is it located, who can access it and what are your legal rights if there is a data breach? (Some data is stored outside the U.S. and might not be subject to the same security regulations and legal protection.)
By following CSI’s advice, Red Rock has resolved many IT headaches, Trostel said.
Next Page: Challenge Resolved
“One challenge we have resolved over the past few years is identifying what tech we absolutely not want to work with that does not fit our model,” she explained. “If you can’t virtualize it, we don’t want it.”
For credit unions suffering IT budget headaches, Trostel offers this advice: “If you don’t have internal expertise, seek it out. Credit unions can’t think of themselves as a lone wolf –seek out advice, whether that’s through a trusted vendor, CUSO or other CUs.”
South Western Federal Credit Union in La Habra, Calif., also realized it needed expert assistance to strengthen IT infrastructure and security.
“We wanted to make sure we were secure from the outside, and we didn’t—and still don’t—have the expertise to pull that off,” said Miriam Neal, vice president of information systems at the $138 million institution.
By partnering with CSI, the credit union has improved the IT planning process, stream-lined operations and alleviated regulatory pressures, Neal said.
Now, during IT budget planning and examination time, stress levels are much lower, Neal said.
“I just show examiners my report or get on the line with CSI if they have questions,” Neal said. “I love the monthly reports that I get from CSI, and I’ve been told by other financial institutions that they don’t get the same thing from their providers. And it’s done in a way that my board can read and easily understand.”
While performing the due diligence required to outsource IT services, credit unions often encounter unexpected challenges. For example, the Partnership Credit Union in Arlington, Va., found that many IT vendors were not willing to commit to strong Service Level Agreements (SLA’s), the credit union said in a recent case study by Horsetail Technologies, which recently became a silver benefactor of Filene Research Institute in Madison, Wis.
The Partnership FCU selected Baltimore-based Horsetail as their new IT partner based on their commitment to service, secure environment and strong SLAs, said Bonnie Ortiz, chief operating officer for the $137 million credit union.
Horsetail’s managed service program allows the 14,000-member credit union to easily adjust for their current and future IT needs without impacting in-house staff, Ortiz said.
“With Horsetail, we get the talent we need across the board – whether it is a communications expert to make sure bandwidth is correct one day or a firewall expert to strengthen our security posture the next – we always have the right mix of IT support,” she said. “If a credit union our size tried to hire all the talent they needed for all of those disciplines, they’d run themselves out of business and still might not get everything they need.”