What's Your Plan?

A good IT plan not only supports your strategic goals, but is part of them.

October 25, 2010

Technology plans are like politicians: short on substance, long on prose, and unlikely to do what they’re supposed to do.

As I cover chief information officer duties here in addition to my daily game of “What’s the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund charging us this time?” I watch what others do on the systems front.

James Collins
James Collins is Credit Union Magazine's humor columnist.

Are they doing things that support a grand, overall plan? Or is it as chaotic and random as a teenager shopping in the junk food aisle?

One problem with many information technology (IT) plans is that they aren’t based on the organ­ization’s needs, but rather are continuations of old practices. Many plans fall into one of these categories (any of these sound familiar?):

  • The IT-centric plan. You’ve segmented your membership into two distinct groups: those who understand computers and those too stupid to understand. Frankly, the term “bleeding edge” makes you scoff. You’re in a new realm—bloodier than “Friday the 13th, Part 17: Jason’s Retirement Party.”
  • The IT-what plan. While your strategic plan prominently mentions information technology in a short, five-word sentence last updated in 1985, you basically take things as they come. You’re flexible, adaptive and, on a day-to-day basis, relatively invisible.
  • The IT-never-ever plan. Your motto: “If they won’t quit unless you do it, then don’t do it.” For you, every technological advancement after the rotary phone was a waste. After all, people are comfortable with what they know, right? This is why you still own your 1973 AMC Gremlin.
  • The IT-copycat. Your plan for next year is to emulate whatever the heck USAA/ING developed this year. Vendors treat your office as a vacation destination, and you’ve started ordering business cards by the gross. Ideas for next year? Wait…let’s see what everyone else is doing.
  • The IT-never-finished plan. Your implementation methodology mimics a squirrel on crack. With the debris from unfinished projects littering the landscape like an abandoned housing development, groups are reluctant to add any more to your overloaded plate.

A good IT plan not only supports your strategic goals, but is part of them. Take, for instance, USAA.

Subscribe to Credit Union MagazinePersonally, I’m a member of USAA, thanks to my father and his 20 years in the Air Force—dragging us from Iceland to Boston in an apparently successful attempt to drive my mother mad. Indeed, USAA’s online systems are well done. But remember one thing—they must be.

USAA is a wonderfully convenient bank, as long as you live within 10 miles of Fort Worth, Texas. But with its membership (active and retired military) spread to all corners of the earth, USAA made a strategic decision to use technology to overcome its obvious geographical handicap.

Indeed, USAA’s strategic plan is uniquely its own. Given its chosen market, USAA has implemented a wide range of technology and business practices—from remote deposit services to ATM fee reimbursements—meant to make the bank “less” inconvenient. In short, its technology plan was adapted to achieve its overall business plan.

A technology plan should focus on overcoming obstacles and achieving strategic goals. For example:

  • Does your credit union’s lack of branches make it inconvenient? Consider shared branching and remote deposit products.
  • Is the credit union too slow for members? Core system enhancements and automated loan systems can speed things up.
  • Does the regulatory burden consume too much staff time? Automated systems can lessen the load.

With the industry evolving through an unprecedented era of change, your credit union must examine every function to see if its direction is critical to meeting strategic goals.

JAMES COLLINS is chief financial officer at O Bee CU, Tum­water, Wash. Contact him at 360-943-0740.