KINGSTON, N.Y. – In the parlance of high-tech consulting, a project is often called an engagement. In the case of Mid-Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union and Benchmark Technology Group, it’s been a long engagement indeed. The relationship between the $470 million New York credit union and the Atlanta-based provider of project management and branch automation solutions goes back nearly 15 years, when the company began buying used modems and other equipment from the credit union, which in turn bought “white-box” PC clones and other gear from Benchmark. Right now, Benchmark’s networking experts are helping Mid-Hudson Valley upgrade the Windows software in about 160 workstations and supplying another 18 “white box” PC clones plus eight Compaq servers, says Jeff Franklin, manager of network engineering at Atlanta-based Benchmark. “That’s just on the hardware side,” Franklin says. “The biggest challenge for this project really was finding the best licensing scheme for them, the best bang for the buck in their investment. We helped them get an open-licensing agreement from Microsoft that will provide them the flexibility they may need later on as their requirements change.” On the other side of the table, while he has praise for Benchmark’s people, Mid-Hudson Valley’s senior technology manager says it’s business, not emotions, that have guided his decision to stick with Benchmark over the years. “We started out buying small modems, CPUs, printers, things like that from Benchmark. At the time there was an IBM plant here and we were an IBM credit union, so we got a 40% discount on most of our other equipment, which we bought from the company,” says Lawrence Wonderly, Mid-Hudson Valley FCU’s vice president/CIO. “Then we converted to multi-occupational in 1993 and took on a couple of credit unions downstate, and we began to have telecommunications issues with our ATMs and branches. Benchmark by that time had come up with a very reliable system that we are using pieces of to this day,” Wonderly says. Meanwhile, Benchmark credits Mid-Hudson Valley with helping Benchmark establish itself when it first began buying and selling computer and telecommunications hardware, and a senior executive there says the two have grown together. “We used to do more hands-on kind of work for them but over the years they’ve developed in-house expertise and groomed a very efficient IT organization, and they’re a pretty autonomous group,” Jack Malinowski, Benchmark’s CIO/COO says of his long-time client. “Now we find ourselves often helping them evaluate different alternatives for the technologies they want to adopt, as well as still supplying some hardware,” says Malinowski, whose firm includes about 75 credit unions among its current client list of about 350 financial institutions. “This is a credit union that’s always looking for ways to build a better mousetrap,” he adds. Together, the organizations have been on the leading edge in adopting new technologies. In addition to branch automation, they were doing voice-over IP telephony before there was even the IP part of it. “Actually, there wasn’t an Internet protocol to address then. What we were doing eight or nine years ago was putting voice over our network through a frame-relay connection. We used Hypercom equipment to do it then, some of which we’re still using in our standalone ATM networks today,” Wonderly says they use a 10-megabit fiber-optic backbone that circles Orange, Ulster and Duchess counties. Other equipment used for a long time, by technology standards, includes those white boxes. “Rather than buying brand-name PCs, we buy Benchmark’s white boxes, which can be sent through multiple lifecycles. We’ve been able to get at least two iterations through them as long as the footprint doesn’t change,” Wonderly says. He says Benchmark is one of three key relationships that help his credit union meet its technology needs. The other two are IntegraSys, the CU’s long-time core processor, and other CIOs. “I gather a lot of information interacting with peers,” Wonderly says. Other solutions deployed at Mid-Hudson Valley include Microdynamics’ e-statement product, IA Systems’ lending platform, a FICS mortgage system, an IPS Sendero general ledger package and CUNA Mutual for investment services. “We don’t do all our business with Benchmark. That would be foolish to do with one single company,” Wonderly says. “We spread the wealth around, but I know they’re there when I need them. They keep up with technology and over the years, I’ve never met a condescending individual there. “That makes them easy to work with. And it’s not hard to keep going back to someone who’s never done you wrong.” -

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