Building a Better Core

Employee involvement is an essential part of a successful core conversion.

December 01, 2010
KEYWORDS conversion , core
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Don’t Trip over These Stumbling Blocks

Time is the natural enemy of a core processing conversion.

That’s because missing key milestones during the nine-month process can wreak havoc on the effort, says Charlotte Casagrand, Symitar’s director of implementations. “It’s a domino effect: If you miss one or two key events, you have a heck of a time catching up.”

That can lead to the core processing equivalent of a “Hail Mary” pass shortly before the go-live date, adds Symitar President Ted Bilke. “Resist the temptation to delay or defer activities or decisions because what typically doesn’t move is that conversion date. If you let things slide to the back, you risk having a wave come over your head.”

In addition to time constraints, other common conversion stumbling blocks include:
•  Undergoing simultaneous major projects. Don’t, for example, renovate your main office during the conversion, advises Daryl Tanner, CEO of Share One. He recalls an installation during which the credit union’s training room wasn’t accessible due to an extensive remodeling.

“When they finally put the stairs back in, we installed the computer equipment,” Tanner says. “They had to do some more drywall work—and enough drywall powder got into the computer room that it destroyed a server. You have to coordinate major credit union projects. At the very least, such projects are a distraction during a conversion. At worst, you can lose some equipment.”

Both parties should convene to review credit union projects that might affect the conversion, says Maura McKay, Harland Financial Solutions’ vice president, core system implementations. “You can’t expect everything else to sit and wait, but it’s good to know how some projects might affect the conversion schedule.”

• Lack of top-down communication. The CEO must strongly and visibly communicate the conversion’s importance to staff. “The worst thing is to have someone in the back of the room whining about having to change and dragging others down,” Tanner says. “Staff must understand that once the decision has been made, everyone must pull together.”

• Lack of understanding. Explain to staff the new system’s features and how they’ll benefit the credit union and members, says Patricia Valentino, senior vice president, real time solutions, for FIS. “What often happens after the sales process is that the conversion team is not up to speed on the new product features. So you end up converting existing issues, such as bad product definitions, into the new application.

“You’re just taking your old problems and putting them in new drawers, so to speak,” she adds. “Knowledge transfer between the sales and conversion teams is key.”

Other advice:
• Limit vacations during the conversion “so all hands are on deck and ready to help,” says Sharon Alexander, Harland Financial Solutions’ senior manager, implementation services.

• Keep staff focused on the end goal. “Our mantra is, after training, ‘practice, practice, practice,’ ” Alexander adds.

• Don’t assign one person to be responsible for all decisions or tasks. Doing so will overwhelm this person and create a bottleneck.

• Prepare members for the conversion with marketing campaigns, branch displays, and online notices.

• Build enthusiasm among staff with conversion slogans and themes. “The most common theme, which matches up with the conversion timeline at nine months,” Bilke notes, “is having a baby."

Next: Seven tips for a smooth core conversion

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