Moving Toward Conversion Kickoff
The $1.09 billion, Rapid City, S.D.-based Black Hills Federal Credit Union prepares for the kickoff of its new core implementation process in the third in a series documenting its system overhaul.
This inside look previously followed BHFCU's pre-conversion choices, from developing a strategic initiative through completing RFPs, vendor interviews, scorecards, gap analysis and negotiation, to making a core selection.
“We’ve started a little pre-work, just to get a jump-start,” BHFCU SVP of IT John Buxton said. The credit union expects to launch the actual conversion process in the August to September timeframe this year and actually flip the switch on the new core system Labor Day weekend 2018.
The core project originally kicked off in January 2016 with the credit union's selection of the Chino Hills, Calif.-based Samaha & Associates to help with analysis, planning, selection, documentation, negotiation and implementation.
The negotiation was the last step prior to the official selection of the core. “I think it is important to say there were intense negotiations with the finalist and the runner-up,” Samaha & Associates President/CEO Sabeh Samaha explained. Samaha added it is not just price, it's legal, implementations and service level agreement. “We are trained negotiators; we are firm in getting what we want for the entire relationship. The negotiation is us, not the client.”
In February, BHFCU signed with the Monett, Mo.-based Jack Henry & Associates’ Symitar division to install the Symitar Episys core system.
“We are very excited for the selection,” Ted Bilke, president of Symitar, said. “The transition point or pivotal decision point, and what the team really communicated in doing their research they saw a very clear pattern that Episys customers clearly had a significantly better return on assets. That was a significant factor in turning the decision our way.”
Bilke pointed to the assessment led by Samaha & Associates. “These days any evaluation over $100 million in assets is going to have a professional consultant running the evaluation. Sabeh Samaha led the deal from the consulting side for the credit union.”
Once there is a core decision it takes several months to work through all the contracts, Bilke explained. “We’re very happy to have a signature on paper and get these guys moving toward conversion.”
BHFCU also purchased an array of JHA products, including:
Synapsys, a member relationship management tool;
Synergy, a document management suite of products;
jhaEnterprise Workflow, which automates multi-step business processes; and
ImageCenter, a comprehensive image capture solution.
In addition to its upcoming core conversion, BHFCU launched a new home-banking platform for online and mobile with Digital Insight in March this year. “We are currently live. We’re extremely happy with it so far,” Buxton noted.
Samaha & Associates managing consultant Adam Denbo explained that sandwiched between the core selection and the anticipated conversion start, the credit union and Samaha plans to continue their focus on reviewing letters, notices, reports, forms and statements – a Samaha process referred to as LNRFS – and preparing for data cleanup.
The credit union worked on identifying all gaps and presented them to Symitar for responses and resolution before any contract signing. “The team works together to mitigate all related gaps by adopting to the new system as much as possible but also identifying and mitigating via customization where the new system falls short,” Samaha explained.
Samaha added, “If they are not inventoried appropriately they will lead to an inevitable scope-related controversy between client and supplier. That is a huge amount of work done before contract signing and then mitigated smoothly during implementation.”
Denbo explained Samaha & Associates currently leads weekly meetings and ensures the conversion process proceeds on schedule including the documentation, survey completion, LNRFS, data cleanup and establishment of best practices.
The term survey is what Symitar calls pre-implementation questionnaires aimed at flushing out what the credit union utilizes today in terms of products and services and what they want to offer going forward, Denbo explained.
The credit union also contracted with Symitar to perform workflow analysis. “Symitar is going to come in over the summer and observe how we currently operate and interact with members and then they’ll use that information to suggest best practices and things we’ll be able to do with the Symitar solution that could be more efficient,” Buxton said. “We’re going to use those meetings to build a roadmap to implement Symitar.”
Samaha is also doing gap analysis on a Symitar's Synergy document management system, which integrates into the Episys core.
BHFCU and Samaha are also following up on some of the interoperability needs with various third parties as part of the core conversion process. “We have a pretty robust process in our third-party vendor management. So, we’re assisting in coordinating vendor notifications. The credit union needs to notify all of its third parties that it is going to go through this core data processing conversion. We’ve already started that process,” Denbo said.
Samaha & Associates also assisted with some ancillary contracts as part of the core conversion, and is setting up training classes, complete with a syllabus, with Symitar. “So, when the kickoff occurs in August we’re ahead of the game,” Denbo noted.
Because a number of people at BHFCU participated throughout the pre-conversion process, Buxton noted the credit union's staff is now anxious and excited to get started. “When you involve staff and they think it's really their decision, they take ownership of it.”
There will be a cross-section of people from different departments working on the credit union conversion team. “We will have one lead project manager from the credit union,” Buxton said.
In the meantime, BHFCU will work on data cleanup and getting ready. Symitar, a primary technology partner for more than 800 credit unions of all sizes, has a very specific conversion process of task and milestones, Bilke explained. “We tailor it specific to the credit union where it includes identifying and documenting all the third parties and all the various points of integration.”
Charlotte Casagrand, Symitar's director of core implementations, said a dedicated Symitar conversion team will work in tandem with the BHFCU team beginning 12 months in advance of the conversion date to complete the necessary pre-conversion tasks.
“Symitar's project manager will lead a team of approximately 20 JHA employees, and serve as the primary point of contact between Symitar and BHFCU to ensure communication is effective and streamlined, and that both parties are on the same page,” Casagrand explained.
She added both teams will follow a detailed project schedule created and vetted by the Symitar project manager. That timetable serves as the roadmap for all of the necessary tasks leading up to the conversion. Weekly calls between project managers ensure that Symitar remains updated on the credit union's feedback and can make any necessary adjustments immediately.”
The conversion timeline includes five major phases: Initiation, Requirements Gathering, Development, Testing/Training and Go Live. Casagrand added major events conducted onsite by each group with the appropriate team members and credit union employees serve as checkpoints. The first major event is an onsite kickoff conducted by the project manager to present and discuss the entire conversion plan.
“Post-conversion, we still stay very close to our credit union relationships, and Black Hills will be no different,” Casagrand said. “Even when a conversion is complete, we’re still always there to help with whatever the credit union may need. We view our credit union relationships as true, long-term partnerships, not just single projects.”