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Late in 2009, credit union and bank clients of Open Solutions Inc. launched what providers say may be the largest online users’ group of its kind in the financial services industry.The online community debuted in September and now has more than 320 of the company’s approximately 770 core processing clients participating, according to Open Solutions and Passageways LLC, the Indiana-based provider of portal solutions that supports the service.Daily page views now number several hundred and that’s expected to sharply grow as Open Solutions expands the offering to all 5,200 of its client organizations in 2010.The portal is owned and operated by the Open Solutions Client Association and is currently being administered by Kathy Houghtalen, project manager at $880 million Beacon CU in Wabash, Ind.Houghtalen said the site is split into interest groups, based on Open Solutions products used, and already has helped her own organization work out problems with such things as unapplied payments on loans and compliance issues encountered with the company’s DNA core processing systems for banks and credit unions.“We meet and network in various ways,” she said. “Some are conference calls, some groups meet monthly, some meet quarterly…we just had our IT focus group meeting yesterday. The meetings are kept on a single calendar, for instance for the DNA core focus group-and schedules can be downloaded to your Outlook calendar, along with information about who signed up and who attended.”Houghtalen said the most “valuable and used section so far has been what we call the projects folder. When something happens at an institution or with Open Solutions, like they’re going to sunset or update a core system, they can alert us there and we can discuss it there.“Since we’re all going through the same motions, it’s really a valuable resource for finding out what’s going on about things like who’s testing what and how it’s going. It really stays fresh and new.”She added, “This does not take the place of going directly to the company for issues. They’re still who we go to with problems.”Open Solutions’ Scott Starace agreed. “This is not taking the place of any function here for us,” said the Connecticut company’s senior director of organization readiness. “It’s much more a collaboration site to share best practices and experiences, rather than a support site for technical issues.”But support takes place nonetheless.“One of the really interesting things I’ve seen is when Kathy’s group walks new users through the process of using the portal itself, helping them get on the board and then sharing their best practices for working with us,” said Curt Fulk, an information design supervisor for Open Solutions.It’s also been a learning experience for Passageways, as the portal provider watches its customers and end users use Web 2.0 features such as Twitter-like status updates, blogs, a Facebook-like wall and search features to access the growing community and its content.“One of the best things to come out of this is leaving behind our old way of communicating. It was a real struggle to e-mail 50 people at a time and then be in the middle of a chain of e-mails going back and forth,” Fulk said.“And now, instead of waiting for our annual client conferences for face-to-face meetings, we have this new technology enabling collaboration and social networking on a minute-to-minute basis,” he said.“This really is a matter of recognizing the value that users bring to our platform, and to better enable the peer-to-peer group dynamic that provides the feedback for our product- and process-improvements endeavors, and to be a great delivery mechanism,” added Dennis Madson, vice president of client care at Open Solutions.“Case avoidance is one of our goals,” he said. “If we can better enable clients through a community knowledge base to be more self sufficient and utilize our systems to their greatest capacity, it will reduce our case inflow.“We also get a pulse on the client base at a very deep level as we hear from movers and shakers using our systems.”As for Passageways, the Open Solutions community represents a milestone in the evolution of a solution that began in 2003 as a way for credit unions to handle internal communications.“It’s really encouraging and exciting for us to see this kind of enterprise collaboration go beyond the enterprise, and to see a lot of concepts we found worked within our organization now helping people work together so far beyond our organization,” said Christopher Beltran, a co-founder of the West Lafayette, Ind., CUSO that said it has now supplied 180 employee portals and more than 50 board portals among its deployments.“We can’t wait to see what they come up with next,” Beltran said.–[email protected]

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