CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa-It's easy to point to the multi-billion-dollar banks and conclude credit unions simply can't compete when it comes to technology offerings.
But one IT executive at a $300 million-asset CU disagrees, and even believes credit unions have at least one advantage.
"Credit unions have the benefit of being more nimble and can do some things more rapidly than big banks can and we should continue to try and capitalize on this strength," offered Rich Head, a 21-year technology veteran who has been the director of information technology at Linn Area CU for the past two years.
Linn Area CU has 24,000 members and five locations. Of its 93 employees, four, including Head, comprise the IT department. Head said there are no issues with pitching ideas and strategies to upper management, as he reports directly to LACU's EVP.
"We meet on a weekly basis to cover open projects, issues and discuss ideas. Usually I'll pitch needed services/upgrades to her first and if it needs to go any further than that, I'll meet with the management team," said Head.
These meetings are secondary to the yearly roadmap developed by senior executives.
"Every fall we have a planning session with the board of directors and during that I provide a brief summary of some of the things we have accomplished over the last year and some insight as to what's coming in the next year," said Head.
Answer This, And This, And This
Overseeing IT initiatives often presents challenges, which recently was the case for Linn Area CU. "Sometimes IT doesn't always work the way it's intended or how you think it ought to," he said.
Specifically, the credit union's core provider, which also provides its online banking solution, went through a security upgrade, which resulted in all members having to recreate three security questions.
"Long story short, it created a huge number of calls to our member service representatives and broke a few other things in the process," said Head. "So it's been a bit of a trying time for some of our online users."
To keep abreast of changes in the niche field of IT, Head regularly attends conferences and forums, including Citrix Synergy, Fiserv Fall Forum and the CUNA Tech Council's conference.
"We use some of the Citrix technologies to deploy virtual desktop integration (VDI), so attending the Citrix conference provided insight as to how other organizations are using the technology and what's on the roadmap from Citrix," said Head. "It also provides a good way to connect with some of the third-party vendors and their solutions around the technology."
For Head, the CUNA Tech Council conference stands out. "It's beneficial in that it's geared for the credit union industry and is not vendor specific. So it's a good way to get in touch with other credit unions and other vendors that might provide solutions we want."
Overcoming IT challenges and being vested in continuing education often results in success stories. For Linn Area CU, this came in the form of its virtualization initiative at the server and desktop level. Two years ago, the credit union migrated as many servers as possible from physical to virtual machines. Many of the servers, Head noted, were more than five years old.
"This has also provided a means of redundancy, as we can move virtual servers on the fly from one physical host to other as needed," said Head. "We can also deploy servers and applications much quicker now as we no longer have to order physical servers, deploy them and then deploy the applications."
When it came to desktop, over 70% of the PCs required replacement. There wasn't an existing standardized platform so Linn Area CU decided on a VDI platform, which created two base images: Office Workers and a Teller Desktop.
They next installed all the needed applications for both applications resulting in the deployment of a new "PC" in a matter of minutes.
"Each VDI instance is built off of the base image and then is destroyed when a user logs off. The VDI platform will provision a number of virtual machines that we specify, so when staff arrives in the morning they virtual desktops are ready to be logged into," said Head. "In essence, the users get a new workstation every time they login."
With the new platform, if a PC fails all an employee has to do is simply logoff and sign back in, which results in a "fresh" virtual machine.
A Consistent Environment
"This also provides a very consistent environment for the staff as well," said Head. "Since many of our front-line staff can move from station to station and even to other branches, the desktop experience they have is consistent everywhere they go."
When asked what he would change about his IT department if possible, Head responded: "I guess it would great to have more staff so that we could deploy more projects at once, but I'm not sure how much more quickly our end-users could adapt."