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COLUMBIA, S.C. – Budgets most likely won’t be any less tight in 2003, and credit union managers can expect to be looking for ways to make the most of the resources they have invested in everything – including technology. That area in particular is one where CU chiefs may find themselves frustrated and feeling as though they aren’t getting the most out of what they have or from the people who are giving it to them, whether it be inside staff or outside vendors. It doesn’t have to be that way, says an independent consultant who spends a lot of time helping credit unions decide with whom and how to do business. “I’ve attended a number of on-site demonstrations given to credit unions by their incumbent vendor,” says Suzanne Wright of The Wright Group consultants in The Woodlands, Texas. “In a number of those demonstrations, the business people in the credit union brought up a lack of functionality with their current vendor’s technology only to discover that the functionality is already there and available to them,” she says. “This illustrates the lack of communication between the technology vendor and the business areas that, in many cases, have caused the credit union to spend money on additional third-party software because of the perceived lack of functionality within the technology they already own,” Wright says. She says there are a lot of ways to clear up that problem. One would be for technology vendors to “be educators and not just order-takers and acute-problem solvers.” Communications problems also happen in-house, with IT managers often the point person between vendor and credit union but sometimes not carrying the message back home. The rest of the managers and vendors also need to meet regularly to discuss issues and ways the vendors can help the CU make the most of what they already have. “The business managers of the credit union should take responsibility for the technology that helps them accomplish their objectives,” Wright says. “They should ensure that their areas are fully trained and understand how to use the software effectively.” That’s true whether it’s the core data processing system or a single application in question. “I can tell you that the smartest credit unions are the ones that ensure they’re getting the most return on their existing technology investment,” says John San Filippo, marketing manager at Symitar Systems. “That’s easier said than done, though,” he says. “How many features are there in Microsoft Word that you’ve never seen looked at? . The same scenario is magnified exponentially when you factor in the complexity of a modern data processing system.” Symitar has a consulting group that specializes in both training employees and evaluating how their employers are doing in making the most of what they have. “Many clients are surprised to discover all the power they have at their fingertips,” San Filippo says. USERS Inc. also emphasizes training, and points to training sessions it regularly has for clients, and like Wright pointed out, also emphasizes that everyone needs to be involved. “It’s important to recognize that end users of a particular system aren’t the only people who need and can benefit from training,” says Terry Murphy, senior vice president at USERS. “It’s also very helpful to provide training for managers of the departments or functional areas that will use the system,” he says. “They don’t need to know how to use the software themselves, but they do need to know what it’s capable of. Armed with that knowledge, managers help to maximize the ROI on their technology, by directing the system’s use in a way that will improve the business,” Murphy says. Murphy recommends to USERS clients that they conduct a system review every two years, to help staffers keep up with new modules and enhancements “being added at a record pace” and because of staff turnover, “which cause the credit union to lose a good deal of its system knowledge and experience.” Dan Kinne can vouch for that. “Turnover sometimes seems like our worse enemy,” says the vice president of IT at Silver State Schools Credit Union in Las Vegas. “You might think you’re just going to go through training once and be done with it, but you’re kidding yourself.” Strategies the $485 million, 52,000-member CU has for dealing with that include “finding particularly strong support staff on the product side who have an aptitude and an interest in the products we have and really work with them, to get them trained and then have them prepare FAQ’s for our intranet and have them work internally with their own staff,” says Kinne, who’s also vice chair of the CUNA Technology Council executive committee. He adds: “And I can’t emphasize enough that any successful tech implementation is going to depend on training and retraining.” INDEPENDENT VIEWS In addition to vendor and in-house reviews of technology implementation, independent consultants can do them. “Technology audits are good for determining where the system is used effectively and where unnecessary workarounds have been created,” says Wright of The Wright Group. “However, these types of audits can focus too narrowly on technology when a more global look at the entire business workflow process and its interdependences can result in better technology utilization,” she says. “A bad business workflow process will always result in bad technology usage,” Wright says. One organization that used vendors and consultants is State Employees Federal Credit Union in New York. “We have used vendor-provided audits of our use of technology with very mixed results. Most have not lived up to our expectations,” says Michael Castellano, chief operating officer at the $960 million, 116,000-member CU based in Albany. But, in all fairness, he adds, “that may be due to the quality of our staff. We pride ourselves on their high level of expertise. By the time our staff completes their review, we have squeezed the most of the capacity from the purchase.” As for independent consultants, Castellano says, “While not specific to the use of a certain technology investment, we have extensively used outside examination of our technology processes with particular emphasis in the security area. “These reviews have been valuable in our effort to keep up with this ever-changing environment.” And as for training, Castellano says, “That question is primarily dependent upon the nature of the technology investment. “Some of the major projects may be totally transparent to the majority of our staff while other minor changes may require a significant training effort. “Either way, we try to follow our mission statement, which includes the following . `SEFCU will provide staff with superior and training technology to meet the needs of our members.’” -

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