Maria Haight offers a simple analogy to describe today’s technology planning environment.
“It’s like picking up a rock because that’s one job that needs to be done,” says Haight, chief operations officer at $564 million asset Kellogg Community Credit Union in Battle Creek, Mich. “Under that rock you find four more projects.”
Two terms that come to mind in describing technology planning are “dynamic” and “exponential.” Market disruptions seem to be quarterly events, rendering formal plans all but out-of-date before they achieve their first milestones.
“Life cycles of solutions are shorter than ever,” says Haight. “I compare it to the car industry right now. People are buying cars more frequently, not because their cars are dying on them but because the technology in the cars is changing so drastically.
“People want that new technology,” she continues. “That’s what’s changing. The shelf life of technology is becoming shorter.”
Haight has been an information technology (IT) leader for more than 20 years, working in telecom, medical software, and consumer packaging in addition to financial services. She says what differentiates financial services most is working with the core processing system.
‘IT must become a part of the conversation much earlier in the process.’
“That’s the bread and butter of our daily life,” she says.
For that reason, it’s vital for IT to understand where each line of business at the credit union stands with its specific technology solution. That involves determining whether that solution needs to be updated, if problems exist with the solution, and whether it’s time to seek out a new vendor, says Brad Smith, managing director at Cornerstone Advisors, a technology consulting firm.
“Sometimes IT finds about issues late in the cycle when somebody from the line of business says, ‘We’re going to need to interface with the core,’” he says. “Sometimes IT is caught totally off guard. It happens at both big and small credit unions.”
Smith recommends that every credit union form an internal IT steering committee comprised of leaders from each business line.
Smith says IT has to be involved with each line of business at a level beyond “making sure the trains run on time.”
“IT needs to be thought of as a consultant and adviser,” he says. “They have to become a part of the conversation much earlier in the process. They can help the lines of business determine what solutions are out there and if they’ll work with the core system, or if you need to look for a new solution.”