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BATON ROUGE, La. – When John Milazzo arrived at Campus Federal Credit Union 16 years ago, there were three PCs in the whole operation, and they sat unused in a hallway. Now the Baton Rouge, La., credit union builds its own. That’s just one example of the expanding role of the technology departments of businesses of all kinds, including credit unions. Regardless of what the department is called (Information Technology, Management of Information Systems and Data Processing are just a few), its importance to today’s credit union has become increasingly important as high tech becomes ever more tightly integrated into everyday operations, including member services. Filling those crucial positions also has become important, and a challenge, whether it’s finding an entry-level tech to perform basic programming and maintain hardware or the executive-level CIO whose job it is to transform vision into reality. “Finding them is not difficult. Hiring them is another thing,” says Milazzo, whose 33,800-member, $198 million credit union (www.campusfederal.org) primarily serves the Louisiana State University system with eight branches and about 140 employees. “We’re a university-based credit union in a high-tech area, so there are lots of qualified people around,” Milazzo says. “But the competition makes it difficult.” Finding and keeping those people requires “some thinking out of the box in terms of pay and benefits,” as well as work culture, says Milazzo, a member of the NAFCU Board of Directors and the advisory board of XP Systems. Even items like dress code variations become part of the picture, he says, and conflicts with the coat-and-tie culture of traditional credit union employees are sometimes inevitable. “You just have to get beyond all that,” Milazzo says, who stresses the importance of having good tech people now that so much is dependent on data flow in and out and around the modern CU. “It’s mental capital that you’re buying. And the results are very transparent to members,” he says. While every credit union has its own particular needs, and has to staff to meet those needs, some trends can be discerned. Use of technology in expanding member services electronically, for instance, is a major driver. “Clearly, a credit union that has aggressively deployed lending, branch and electronic banking systems will need more staff than one that has not. The challenge, then, is not to keep staff lean, but instead to get the payoff from those investments that justify the extra staff,” says Terence Roche, managing director of systems and operations at M ONE Inc., the technology advisory service that has partnered with CUES to form CUES Tech Port (www.cuestechport.com). GROWING RESPONSIBILITY That integration of services, and the need to find people who can pull it off and maintain it, is something felt industry-wide, says Jim Hansen, chief operating officer for the HR Division of O’Rourke Consulting (www.creditunionjobs.com) in Brisbane, Calif. “Years ago, the technology person was just responsible for the share and loan system,” says Hansen, whose division specializes in executive-level information technology recruiting. “Now they’re responsible for a whole host of different systems, including third-party systems. And it’s not just from the internal aspect anymore. “Now that responsibility includes more interface with members, beginning with the audio-response system and now going out to home banking on the Internet and wireless capabilities. “All those different kinds of new services have their roots in IT.” Hansen says the difficulty in CIO-level recruiting is two-fold. It involves both finding someone who understands technology and its implementation and can combine that practical knowledge with management skills needed to integrate new technology across a sometimes-hidebound credit union culture. That’s the kind of person Milazzo may be looking for as Campus Federal moves on its plan to create a position for a technology vice president. “This person would report to Duz Hamilton, our executive vice president, and would be our visionary in the technology area,” says the Campus Federal CEO. “It would be that new position that would manage as well as bring to our executive management new ideas and concepts to help our credit union better serve our members’ needs while maintaining competitive and financial viability,” Milazzo says. “I see this position as one that would have multi-department disciplines, as close coordination with our strategic planning, marketing and delivery areas would be essential for success. “It would be a pretty heavy position within our organization.” HEAVY REALITIES Such a weighty job, while becoming increasingly important, also can be expected to carry a hefty price tag, says Hansen of the O’Rourke executive recruiters. “The demand is very high for these people. They demand high salaries, and not everyone is willing to bite the bullet to pay for that,” Hansen says. “If you really want them, you’re going to have to pay up. And that can create havoc. “A lot of the time, a top-level CIO can demand a salary equivalent to the CEO, and that’s tough for a lot of credit unions to swallow.” The dot-com shakeout of the past year has loosened up the market, and employee expectations, somewhat, but the competition remains tough for high-quality technicians and technology executives. Deciding how to deal with that market is a reality credit unions increasingly have to face as they decide how to implement technology. Hansen says results of that reality are beginning to show. “We’re now beginning to see a differentiation in credit unions from a technological standpoint. Some are falling a little behind,” he says. While every credit union is different, CUES Tech Port conducted a survey in February and used the 45 responding credit unions and its ongoing research to put together a profile of a typical IT staffing scenario, based on size. (See accompanying article.) And while no industry-wide figures on IT staffing were available, outsourcing also figures into the equation when it comes to meeting IT needs at today’s credit union. According to the CUES Tech Port survey: *23% of all survey respondents used a third party for part or all of their network design and support. In that group, the average amount spent annually for network services was $47,200. *54% of survey respondents used a third party for some or all technical training. The average amount spent annual was $16,500. *55% of respondents used a third party for Web page design/maintenance. The average amount spent annually was $12,100. Whether new technology is implemented and maintained by outside help or inside staff, wielding it successfully also calls for enabling non-technical staff to handle the high-tech tools of the trade. “Sometimes a dime’s worth of good training will save a dollar’s worth of future support costs,” says Roche of M ONE. “One challenge every credit union must make to itself is to have clear training goals and user skill expectations. “Nothing can make an MIS staff more efficient than users who don’t need to call.” [email protected]

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