Treat IT as capital

Treat IT as capital

Growth requires modernization, and modernization requires investments in IT resources.

September 1, 2023

While most business books are mere backdrops to your Zoom calls, there’s one I still fall back on: “The Goal,” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. This book, or rather “graphic business novel,” is short but oddly entertaining—the same way my prom date described me in high school.

The book illustrates several key points in manufacturing, chief among them the concept of a bottleneck. Goldratt describes the bottleneck as a process or function that almost every new idea needs to use. Because of limitations in speed or availability, that area becomes the “drumbeat” of the organization.

In other words, no matter how you change the rest of the business, you can go no faster than that process.

In credit union land, there’s one standout bottleneck: information technology (IT).

For most credit unions, IT is a bottleneck. Your management team may be able to brainstorm 10 or 20 great ideas, but almost all of them will use precious and limited IT resources.

How can we overcome the IT constraint?

  • Treat your IT capabilities like capital. The resource is finite, and you should never waste it. More important, you need to know how much you have and where you’re spending it.
  • Realize the more you build, the more it costs to maintain. Often, IT projects are described as having a beginning and an end. In reality, IT projects have a beginning, a couple premature heart attacks, two or three plateaus, a reality-really-sucks moment, and then a “thank God I never want to do that again” final stage. But rather than moving on, some resources will forever be needed just to keep it going.
  • Evaluate every project under the “should, could, would” system. If we do XYZ, is it strategic or a pet project? Can you do it without draining your available system? And finally, who would get it done? Who’s the owner?
  • Be aware that while third parties can increase resources, they come at a cost, particularly adequate supervision. Good third parties can add specific capabilities to your group, but take it from an old CEO who once told me, “There are no hands-off implementations.”
  • Know that sunk cost is, well, sunk. We’ve all been there. You’ve worked for hours, days, and weeks on a project, and you realize it’s declining faster than Britney Spears’ career. Who gives up on it now?
  • Communicate. Most nontechnical managers view the IT department as a mysterious mountainside cult of nomadic engineers who speak gibberish like, “The mask is wrong on the IPSPEC,” “that gigabit switch is having routing issues,” and “turn up that Spice Girls song.”
  • However, IT departments don’t reside on mountainsides. You just need to find unique people who can bridge the gap between IT and business units.

  • Know that if you can’t describe it, you can’t automate it. Some IT managers I know refer to their efforts as “magic.” But expectations sometimes go beyond the achievable: “We have a wire process we want to automate but we don’t have procedures, rules, practices, or even a concept of what we want.” That’s a recipe for disaster.
  • Growth requires modernization, and modernization requires investments in IT resources. But we should all remember these final rules: You don’t have enough IT resources, you’ll never have enough IT resources, and the IT gods will mock you if you try.

    Good luck.

    JAMES COLLINS is president/CEO at O Bee Credit Union. Contact him at