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GURNEE, Ill. – The technology gods weren’t smiling on Community Trust CU this past Veteran’s Day weekend. What happened is something IT hardware professionals everywhere will say is extremely rare. The CU’s server, which runs its in-house core processing solution, simply wouldn’t start up. “We were rebooting our server on a Saturday evening, and it just wouldn’t reboot,” said John Bratsakis, CEO of the $132 million CU. It was an IBM F40 server that IBM stopped manufacturing in early 2000. The CU’s first call was to IBM. “We had some confusion regarding whether or not our service contract had run out. IBM has a policy that if you don’t have a service contract, they won’t do after-hour service for you, which was very disappointing.” Bratsakis said he was dumbfounded by the company’s unwillingness to go above and beyond for its customer and send someone to work on the server. He was willing to pay for the after-hour service call, but IBM stuck to its policy, saying the quickest it could get someone to the CU was Monday, Veteran’s Day – a day the CU happened to be open for business. The credit union now had a very interesting choice to make. It could enact its disaster recovery plan which entails sending back-up tapes to its core processor, XP Systems, in Moorpark, Calif., or wait on the IBM technician and hope he or she could fix the server problem on Monday. Bratsakis and his team decided to give IBM a chance to get the server running. According to John Fout, manager of technical services at XP Systems, that decision was reasonable given the nature of the problem. Fout said most server problems can be fixed in four hours or less. “It’s a very, very rare occurrence that you would ever have a server you would give up on. You always have to make a determination based on the best information at the moment,” said Fout. If the CU would have elected to send the tapes it would have lost a day in travel time. With hindsight being 20/20 that decision may have provided a faster remedy, said Bratsakis. “Monday morning they (IBM) came out and replaced CPU cards multiple times, two or three system boards. They spent a very long day going through every part of the machine,” said Fout. After a day of tinkering and replacing just about every component, it still wouldn’t crank up. Now the CU found itself living through the rarity of having a completely defunct server. The challenge being that it couldn’t run its core processing solution, and thus post member transactions. On Veteran’s Day it found itself doing things the old-fashioned way – manually posting transactions with pencil and paper. Fortunately branch traffic was light. Knowing that their server was a goner the CU went searching for a loaner server. It found a local firm with an available IBM F40 server, but Murphy’s Law was still in effect. The loaner machine was not a production product, but made-up of refurbished parts and it too turned out to be unreliable. With this a hint of panic set in, and the CU turned to XP for help. “I got on the phone with John (Fout) and the XP people and said, `I really need you guys to give us a hand. I need a server,’ ” said Bratsakis. XP had a spare server, but it was in Moorpark. XP wasted no time and had the server shipped out to the CU’s Gurnee, Illinois headquarters that evening for Wednesday arrival. Community Trust needed to make another executive decision very quickly. It had budgeted for a new server sometime in 2002, roughly six months from now, but decided to fast-track those plans because of the down server. “ XP is coming out with a new platform next year. We already made the decision that we were going to go to it, which entailed getting a new server. So we were asking XP for a temporary server immediately and a new server by the weekend,” said Bratsakis. The CU also faced a PR problem. Members could get ATM access and use their debit cards, but the audio response and Net banking channels were down. “We told them (members) we had a hardware failure and we were waiting on parts to fix it. Most initial concern was about data integrity. They wanted to know it was safe,” said Bratsakis. He noted that Y2K preparations really helped CU staffers deal with members concerned about their accounts. The ultimate goal was keeping confidence high, so members didn’t panic. Bratsakis said staff did not hide the fact that it was posting transactions manually. That Wednesday morning the CU was able to get the XP loaner server up and running in just three hours. A stack of manual transactions piling up from the downtime on Monday, Tuesday and part of Wednesday had to be keyed in. Credit union staff worked through the night – literally – to catch up with the backlog of manual transactions. The staff worked in shifts so no employees would be running on fumes the next day, said Bratsakis. Now the CU started planning on implementing the brand new IBM server Getting a new server delivered and up and running can be a four-to-six week process, said Fout, but XP worked with IBM to get it shipped out in just a few days and XP was on-site at the CU to help get it online by that Saturday. For Bratsakis the experience showed the two different corporate philosophies of IBM and XP. “I’m definitely disappointed in IBM. XP went above and beyond. From where I sit that’s what really does make an organization.” He said he was particularly disappointed in the confusion over the CU’s service contract, and that IBM didn’t look past the contract issue. Fout said IBM shouldn’t be painted as the bad guy. “IBM is a reputable service organization and did provide exemplary service that Monday. You have to beware of the details of your contract ahead of time,” said Fout. Fout said credit unions should check their service contracts and make sure they understand the service commitment the IT company has made to them. For Community Trust CU, it lived through a week that saw three different servers pass through its doors. “We learned a lot about our staff. They are very capable of handling adversity. The situation was as tough as you could get. They did outstanding,” said Bratsakis. [email protected]

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