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It had its roots in the manufacturing sector and the “process improvement” craze. Now it’s spawned an entire industry offering research, consulting, seminars, and other materials. It’s the concept of “best practices,” and it’s clearly gotten the attention of credit unions, especially when it comes to technology. Several factors make it critical for credit unions to incorporate best practices into their technology decisions and operations. One is the combination of technology’s complexity and its importance to the organization. Gone are the days of a single system from a single vendor providing for all of your technology needs. Today, you’re likely to be introducing new technology into a heterogeneous systems environment that involves multiple solutions from multiple suppliers. And your technology is likely to play a more central role in your organization than it did in the past. Increasing competition is also driving the trend. Competition naturally places greater pressure on your time to market. But as important as it is to be fast, it’s equally important to be right. A good idea executed poorly only opens the door further for competitors, eager to capitalize on members’ somewhat waning loyalty. Yes, loyalty still exists, but it’s nowhere near the level it once was. Credit the shift to community charters (which has eroded some of the affinity to the sponsor group) and general changes in employee attitudes about their employers (which means members may not view the relationship to a sponsor company as strongly as they did before). As a result, in today’s market you’d better be fast with new technology, but you’d better be right, too. And while it’s harder to get it right, it’s more important than ever. That’s where best practices can help. By drawing on successful models – learning from the experiences of others who’ve gone down this path before – you can minimize your risk and maximize your odds of success. Learning and applying best practices will require the credit union to do some homework. First, immerse yourself not only in the credit union industry, but in the broader financial services industry – especially vital for early adopters who are breaking new ground. Next, look to your local community – the chamber of commerce, business associations, your league chapter – for best practices they can offer, both formally and informally. Perhaps most importantly, expect your technology partners to provide access to and facilitate the sharing of best practices among their clients. A supplier with a vested interest in the success of its credit union clients will view this role as a natural part of the business relationship. You should expect your technology partner to offer: Forums that bring credit unions together to share ideas. These can include user group conferences, small roundtable meetings, regional seminars, focus groups, WebEx demonstrations, informal networking sessions, and other vehicles. Besides gatherings that draw a mix of attendees, look for opportunities for specific functional groups to discuss their unique issues, such as CEO roundtables or technology forums for IT staff. Independent user groups. Most suppliers have a national user group as well as regional groups that meet regularly and share experiences. Some may also have online discussion groups that make it easy to keep in touch with other system users, post questions, and exchange ideas. Account Managers that serve as consultants. Your supplier’s account managers should focus on more than sales; they should demonstrate a commitment to helping you succeed, in part by facilitating best practices. The account manager should participate in your exploration of new ideas, draw on his/her experience with other credit unions, and help put you in touch with credit unions that have already traveled the path you’re about to take. Knowledgeable project managers. The supplier’s staff responsible for managing your technology implementations also should have a depth of experience that allows them to employ best practices on your behalf. The more veteran they are, the more experiences they can draw on. System review services. It’s not just new implementations that can gain from best practices. Look to your supplier for help in maximizing the use of the system you already have, by using best practices related to system setup and processes. A review conducted by an objective third party allows you to step back from “business as usual” and discover ways to better use existing technology. A best practices approach isn’t the only ingredient in a successful technology initiative. But it’s increasingly becoming an essential component. So before you reinvent the wheel on your next project, look for ways to build on the successes of those who’ve already paved the way.

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