Council Corner

Head in the Clouds

We’re in the midst of a technology shift, and the cloud is playing a key role.

April 26, 2013

Baxter Credit Union has made a strategic bet about moving much of our technology infrastructure and home banking platform to Microsoft ’s Cloud. We’re betting that this move will allow us to better serve members, improve speed-to-market, and refocus information technology (IT) staff on improving products and services, and aid in growth opportunities.

Like most credit unions we outsource relationships, such as mortgage origination, card and ATM processing, and human resource systems. So, third parties hosting portions of our business isn’t new.
But the cloud is different. From a 50,000-foot perspective, the difference between outsourcing and the cloud is the degree of flexibility, customization, and creativity each provides.
In general, outsourcing is a little like Henry Ford’s famous quote, “You can have any color car as long as it’s black.” In other words, outsourcing offers you a standard, targeted solution that oft en has limited flexibility.
With the cloud, you can develop, deliver, deploy, and consume as fits your business.
We plan to use multiple flavors of cloud. These include Platform as a Service (PaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and Soft ware as a Service (SaaS).
Now, let’s drop down to 10,000 feet. With our current Internet banking system, all of the hardware and soft ware is run out of our data center. This means we need to upgrade the hardware, the soft ware, the operating systems, and the environment in regular cycles. These upgrades are time consuming, distracting, expensive, and provide no real member value.
Further, we need to purchase for “peaks”—those Fridays and Mondays when members hit our site the heaviest. Purchasing for peaks can be very inefficient because the majority of time we are off -peak.
Our Internet banking will be a mix of PaaS and IaaS, and in both cases the cloud provider manages all the time-consuming and distracting upgrades, and we pay for only what we use. So we can burst through the peaks and come back down for off - peak. This will allow us to focus on improving the member experience while providing consistent performance for member access.
For the IaaS, we’ll be moving much of our disaster recovery and data storage to the cloud. For disaster recovery, we’re currently paying a heft y amount for an event that might never occur. By moving much of this infrastructure to the cloud, we can “burst” to full capacity if we need to. Moving data storage to the cloud will further our “bring your own device” initiative and allow broader access with tighter controls for remote and traveling employees.
With SaaS, we plan to move to Office365, which includes Exchange. What I’m most excited about here is that our employees will have access to the latest Office productivity and collaboration tools. Further, it will free up the IT staff from managing and upgrading one of the more complex and burdensome applications— Exchange.
From an IT employee perspective, much of the cloud began as a scary journey with an uncertain outcome. Many asked themselves, “What happens to my job?” What we’re finding is that our techs no longer have to spend time keeping things running, doing the upgrades, and performing similar repetitive and time-consuming tasks. Now staff can focus on higher-level activities and optimizing for more exciting future projects.
Finally, I believe we’re in the midst of a technology shift even more significant than the introduction of PCs in the 1980s and the World Wide Web in the 1990s. The cloud is just one component of that shift . It’s a very exciting time to be in the technology field and credit unions are in a prime position to leverage these new technologies.
JEFF JOHNSON is senior vice president of information technology for $1.7 billion asset Baxter Credit Union, Vernon Hills, Ill., and is vice chair of the CUNA Technology Council. Contact him at 847-522-8635. For more information about CUNA Councils, visit