Education First director of information technology Chris Burd, left, and CEO Mike Wettrich chart the credit union’s infrastructure future.
A half-million dollars and one year later, Education First now has a scalable, compliant, adaptable network that meets disaster recovery standards and enables the credit union to offer modern products and services in a more secure environment, according to Wettrich.
And because no modern upgrade is complete without digital services, Education First now offers more of those, too.
“Loan applications will shortly be available for true online approval and funding,” Wettrich says. “No longer will making a trip to the credit union be necessary in most respects.”
IT infrastructure needs to be able to respond to changes and function properly no matter who’s in charge.
No Time. More Money.
When Burd arrived at Education First in August 2016, he found a disparate mish-mash of legacy systems that not only didn’t communicate with one another, but also had not been updated or even patched in some cases for up to a decade.
“It was a mystery to me how the credit union was actually functioning,” Burd says. “From a network security perspective, or applications, or just basic IT, this was bar none the worse I’d seen my 18-year career.”
Burd devised a plan — short on time and long on expenses — that he took to his boss, who then took it to the credit union’s board of directors.
“Usually you have six months or more, but we needed to get going,” Burd says. “And it was going to cost approximately $500,000 to do what needed to be done. Mike embraced it, which is not an easy thing to do, and so did the board.”
Click here to see Burd’s presentation to the Education First board or directors.
A half-million bucks is a lot to a credit union that brings in approximately $1.5 million in income a year, but Wettrich says he knew it had to be done, and it was worth doing right.
“We could have cut a lot of costs and been in decent shape,” the CEO says. “But to embrace technology the way we did, to move us to the front of the industry and create a fast, reliable, and secure infrastructure is an investment in the future. Our staff and members will see the benefit in the speed with which we process transactions and in our digital branch offerings.”
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A Forklift Upgrade
A huge chunk of Education First’s investment was in equipment, as the credit union undertook what Burd refers to as a “forklift upgrade,” where new hardware came in by the pallet load.
Then there was the software and connecting technologies. The gear went into existing operations and to a new co-location site that has greatly enhanced business continuity assurance.
The blend of Citrix Systems, Citrix, and Microsoft solutions is driving a cloud-based network that now updates and patches on its own as much as possible, keeping manual intervention to a minimum while adding new efficiencies, including saving some serious dough on vendor contracts.
It’s all up-to-date and designed to stay that way, with best practice management that keeps the system under control no matter who’s overseeing it.
“Any of us can be replaced,” Burd says. “IT infrastructure needs to be able to respond to changes and function properly no matter who’s in charge.”
I think the lesson here is to not fear the cost of technology. Kicking the can down the road and waiting until it’s too late could be a disaster.
Part of Burd’s goal of creating a microcosm of the big bank environment from whence he came included exacting that same kind of discipline on vendor relationships, including pricing. For example, the credit union’s negotiations reduced the price tag for new equipment from $780,000 to $370,000, and Education First is saving another $4,900 a month through new deals struck with existing vendors.
But there’s a double bottom line here.
Education First spent money to save money — increasing operational efficiencies and improving product lineup along the way. At the same time, it is now operating more safely than ever.
“I think the lesson here is to not fear the cost of technology,” Wettrich advises. “Embrace new technologies as a way to deliver efficiency to both staff and member. Kicking the can down the road and waiting until it’s too late could be a disaster. The price tag was hefty but cost should not prohibit credit unions from doing it right.”
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