VALLEY FORGE, Pa. — Improving member service by helping disparate software make beautiful music together is the idea behind the Maestro Projects Group, the integration division at USERS Inc.

Business processes that span systems–from all the checks needed to open an account to simply ordering checks and ATM cards and then cross-selling and automating loans–have become increasingly complicated and potentially costly, especially in today’s climate of increasing expectations from consumers and regulators alike.

But synchronizing systems is something Anne Ballard, general manager of the Maestro group, has seen as a need for a long time.

“I started my career in the back room and was always surprised at how it seems like every credit union had different processes for the same operation,” says Ballard, a USERS staffer since 1987.

“And when I began visiting credit unions, I would go desk to desk and came to realize that not only that, each person was often doing it differently from the next. That was really striking to me,” Ballard says.

She now has the opportunity to work with credit union managers to help streamline and connect systems so “the staff has the rules in their software, not in their heads.” A key technology partner in this project is InterSystems Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., whose Ensemble integration platform is geared to a project-by-project approach, rather than necessarily enterprise or corporate wide, Ballard says. That particularly fit the credit union model, she says, adding that the Fiserv unit and InterSystems already had a long relationship.

“We were one of their first clients and then the first VAR (valued-added re-seller) they agreed to support, and when we later launched the Maestro group, we looked at other players in the space and realized their approach was still the best for us and our credit unions,” Ballard says.

“We also have a revenue-sharing model with them, which allows them to come into the credit union space affordably, and the entire emphasis is on low-risk, high-interest projects that a credit union can simply bite off and chew one at a time,” she says.

The Maestro Projects Group now has 18 signed clients with nine live, more in the pipeline and a heavy emphasis initially on account enrollment as an area of strong credit union interest for integration.

“That’s because it hits on so many other applications,” Ballard says. Credit unions where projects have been completed or are well under way include: o Campus USA Credit Union. An open enrollment project that streamlined accounting and ensured following compliance regulations at this $804 million CU in Gainesville, Fla., included integrating third parties such as ChoicePoint and Bridger for online identity and postal address verification, an optical system for license scanning and a third-party lending system for pre-approvals and cross-selling at the time of account opening.

o First Commonwealth FCU. Integration projects at this $363 million CU in Lehigh Valley, Pa., have included enrollment and account-opening workflow, with an eye toward ensuring staff adhered to CU business rules. Penley eFunds was used for OFAC and FinCEN identity checking while Penley ChexSystems was used to check new member retail checking history. Also involved were postal verification, an optical system for document storage and an automated loan system for pre-approvals and cross-selling. o CFE FCU. Maestro-assisted projects at this $1.1 billion institution in Orlando, Fla., have included linking member relationship software with the call center, enrollment workflow/account opening involving the Equifax Decision Power solution, Bridger identity checks, Telecheck to screen for past problems, and postal verification. “We wanted a 24-hour call center without expanding our own staff, so we reached out to PSCU to use its services, which actually uses another Fiserv product from GalaxyPlus for its front end, and it all integrates into our USERS database,” says Kevin Dougherty, senior vice president of IS at CFE FCU.

“So, really, what happened here is that through the Maestro team, we got USERS, PSCU and GalaxyPlus products working together seamlessly,” Dougherty says. “Our members can call anytime to transfer funds, check account balances, get help with home banking and setting up multi-factor authentication…and the Maestro team designed the interface, tested it and finished up in about three months from start to finish.”

The account opening project came next and is currently being rolled out, Dougherty says. He says the ability to quickly use a wide variety of decisioning and past-history scanning software not only helps to cross-sell, but also “helps our member-service reps avoid offering products to members whose credit history wouldn’t allow approval in the first place. So now we can cross-sell without souring our relationships with new members like that from the beginning.”

In addition to helping with workflow, member relations and cross-selling, “the greatest thing about all this,” Dougherty says, “is that we can do anything we need to with third parties by using the Maestro team and I don’t need to have programmers.”

“I’m a billion-dollar CU with no programmers. I have 15 people divided into datatape, mainframe operations and projects, a network department that handles PCs and servers, a telecom section and a help desk.

“I need to run my IT shop, not manage programmers or manage product development by physically developing projects, and with Maestro, I can do that.”

At CFE, the Maestro group relies primarily on Web conferences and calls to talk about development, then performs its analysis, comes back with a plan, develops the software and sends it to the credit union for testing.

“Once we’re happy with it, we install it and move it into production,” Dougherty says.

“This process gives us the ability to serve our members better,” he says. “It streamlines processes so our employees are better able to serve our members. That makes a big difference even with inside things, like not having to re-key information three or four times, which knocks down the amount of errors.”

While middleware integration is hardly a new concept, Ballard, the Maestro group manager, says she still sees the opportunity and need for such automation at credit unions, including one at which she recently opened a new account.

“They called Visa on the phone!” she says. –mrapport@sc.rr.com