'New System Under Construction'

Core conversions require top-notch communication and planning.

January 21, 2011

It takes more than a tornado to keep these core conversion cowboys down.

But a twister that arrived at a crucial time during a core conversion in Illinois did make Maura McKay realize that even during such a highly scheduled event, “some things aren’t in your control.”

That’s why McKay, vice president, core system implementations at Harland Financial Solutions, and her colleagues—Harland Financial Solutions’ Sharon Alexander, senior manager, implementation services, and Tom Berdan, vice president, product management—work hard to control what they can during the nearly year-long process.

Information Systems Guide
Credit Union Magazine's 2011 Information Systems Guide highlights the credit union movement's top core processors and their systems' features and functions.

They share their core conversion expertise with Credit Union Magazine.

CU Mag: What are some keys to core conversion success?

Alexander: Success depends on the combined efforts of both the credit union and the conversion team.

Effective communication and planning are crucial. We assign a project manager who works closely with the credit union staff to tailor a conversion plan.

Some things we recommend:

  • Set clear expectations with staff at the very beginning;
  • Ensure buy-in to the project schedule and assigned roles and responsibilities;
  • Be upfront with staff about the investment of time and effort that will be required, along with the payoff once the conversion is complete. This will prepare staff for the work that’s coming up.
  • Maintain your commitment to the project schedule once it has been agreed upon, understanding there will be some changes.

Having too many last-minute changes to scheduled events or not meeting key milestone dates has a negative impact on the vendor’s and the credit union’s conversion team.

  • Establish a team of credit union staff from each functional area. We look for staff who are capable and authorized to make decisions for their departments.
  • Plan some internal and external marketing plans so everyone understands the goals and benefits of the conversion. Talk to staff about how the conversion will help them serve members better.
  • Train, and then train some more. Our mantra is, “after training, practice, practice, practice.”

To maximize the training’s effectiveness, the credit union should schedule role play or practice time for staff upon completion of training classes. This reinforces understanding gained during the class by providing opportunities to use their new knowledge.

Next: What shouldn’t CUs do?

CU Mag: What shouldn’t CUs do?

Alexander: Don’t assign just one person to be responsible for all decisions or tasks. This person can quickly become overwhelmed, given their day-to-day responsibilities, and become a bottleneck.

Don’t under communicate or assume everyone knows what’s going on. It’s a big event, and credit unions must be upfront with their staff and members.

CU Mag: How should CUs prepare members?

Alexander: Typically, credit unions use marketing materials and in-branch items so when members come to the credit union, they see there’s something going on.

Credit unions often put together a conversion slogan and use it on their marketing materials and website. They try to communicate the new functionality members will receive as part of the conversion.

McKay: During a recent implementation, the credit union had a whole methodology to let members know the credit union was preparing for a full system implementation. The credit union put some plastic hard hats in its branches, put up “caution” ropes, and posted signs that said, “new system under construction.”

If a member asked about the conversion, staff could respond, “We’ll have a new website, Internet banking, and statements in place to better serve you.” The physical reminders encouraged members to ask questions.

Berdan: Marketing campaigns can be used internally, too. Because this is a challenging and difficult process that takes many months, credit unions should build enthusiasm among staff.

We’ve seen successful conversions become fun because staff can rally around the campaign. Credit unions can have weekly meetings around the “construction” process and keep the staff engaged and enthused.

That’s important because they’re doing their regular jobs in addition to training and their additional conversion duties.

CU Mag: What are some typical stumbling blocks during the process?

Alexander: Failing to understand the significant amount of time and effort the conversion requires. Credit unions must plan for that extra time.

We recommend limiting vacations during the conversion process so all hands are on deck and ready to help.

Data validation also can be a stumbling block. The credit union needs to help us ensure the data is being mapped over correctly. Once we’ve done that we need credit union staff to do some data validation in advance of go-live date.

McKay: We spend a fair amount of time doing test conversions in advance of the go-live date. We go through a full-blown test rehearsal four to six weeks before this date.

We’ve developed a checklist to ensure there’s minimum fallout when we go live. We have people on site to address things that come up during the dress rehearsal.

Next: Unique conversion experiences

CU Mag: What are some unique conversion experiences you’ve had?

McKay: One of our scarier moments was during an implementation in Illinois several years ago. We were just getting ready to go live, the brand new computer had just been brought up, and everything was in place—when we had a tornado.

A tornado had touched down within a 10-mile radius and the sirens went off. It makes you realize some things aren’t in your control in terms of timing one of those very scheduled events.

The tornado jumped over us and we got back to work after a long hour and 15 minutes.

Berdan: One credit union applied a new software patch to its network that shut down part of the conversion process. You’re going through enough that weekend—you don’t need to apply a new network operating system patch as part of that process.

We didn’t know whether the glitch was on our side or the network operating system. It took several hours to determine it was the latter.

McKay: The project manager of both organizations should review what other strategic projects the credit union might have that could impact the conversion. These can take up to nine months depending on the project scope.

You can’t expect everything to wait during this time, but it’s good to know how other projects might affect the conversion schedule.

• Credit Union Magazine's 2011 Information Systems Guide highlights the credit union movement's top core processors and their systems' features and functions. Check it out now.