WALNUT CREEK, Calif. - Data processing conversions are nevereasy, and they can be even more trying for a large credit union.The $1 billion Pacific Service Credit Union said it made it throughthe process relatively unscathed, however it took lots of planningand on-site visits with fellow credit unions to pull it off. The CUmoved from Summit to Symitar at the end of March. The decision toconvert was difficult, but made easier by the fact that even if itstayed on Summit it would have had to convert because of hardwarechanges. It was running Summit on an HP3000 box, which is beingphased out by Hewlett-Packard. To stay on Summit it was going tohave to move to a UNIX box. "Even staying with Summit it would havebeen a full-blown conversion," said Larry LaBonte, Pacific'sEVP/CFO. In 2003 it selected a group of processors to evaluate.They came on site for the typical sales demo and Pacific narrowedthe field down to XP Systems and Symitar. "Quite frankly XP was ourfirst choice, but XP was rewriting their entire software code. Wefelt with the timeline we wanted to convert, we weren't sure thatwould work," said LaBonte. Once the decision was made to go withSymitar the real work began. "We tried to front load as much aspossible. We went out and talked to various different client sitesthey had. Schools Credit Union in Sacramento converted a yearbefore. We talked with DM FCU in Tucson and Ent FCU in Colorado,"said LaBonte. These credit union contacts wound up being a key partof the process. Pacific Service actually made contract changes withSymitar after hearing about their experiences. "What we adjustedwere timelines for deliverables and having mock conversions aheadof time, and having our data base used in training," said LaBonte.Often processors will utilize generic data when testing systems,but Pacific insisted the mock conversions use its actual data. "Wewere adamant about that. That way as the employees were goingthrough training, they were seeing our data." Initial mockconversions were done during the week. As it got closer to the realthing, the employees came in on a Saturday and Sunday and startedexecuting transactions as if they were live on the system. Oneother key for the CU was hiring an outside consulting firm, namelyeCU Technologies the tech CUSO of Pennsylvania State Employees CUthat specializes in work on Symitar's system. "When we were doingdata mapping with Symitar we had them (eCU) sitting side by side.With their knowledge of Symitar, they expanded on things and becamean additional resource," said LaBonte. Pacific was impressed withthe willingness of other CUs to help in the conversion. Pacificemployees spent a day and a half on-site at Ent FCU working theirsystem and watching the system in action. Based on that experience,it went back and modified areas of its own system. The other sideof the system conversion was the employee participation. Pacifictried to make the process fun from day one. "We had newsletters,team shirts, lunches. Every two weeks we had some sort of teamevent where employees' wore their rugby shirts. We had daily prizedrawings based on the number of people in training sessions, "saidNoelle Fischer-Herbert, president of corporate development.Employees won gift certificates for stores such as Macy's, OutbackSteakhouse and Starbucks. While all employees were involved in someway, the CU formed a 19-person conversion team that representedevery department of the credit union. Again, on-site visits forthis team was key. The CU sent team members to CUs running theSymitar platform to see it in action in their specific discipline.One enterprise-wide change the CU is making in conjunction with thenew system is optical archiving, in an effort to eliminate paper.The CU actually went back and scanned and imaged signature cardsfrom as far back as 60 years ago. It also had its call centerpulling files and sending to branches for imaging. Now employeeswill be able to access a central system for imaged records. Themove to paper provided a good team opportunity, saidFischer-Herbert. The CU compiled thousands of staples pulled frompaper records that it moved to images and had employees guess theweight of the staples for a prize (see illustration). LaBonteestimates the conversion cost about $3 million. "Really it was thesprit of the employees that made it work. We involved them at anearly stage. We wanted them to get all the answers they neededthroughout the process," said LaBonte. [email protected]

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