OAK RIDGE, Tenn.-ORNL FCU here is unleashing the power of its core processing system by inviting the credit union's business experts into the backroom with IT.

"Often the perception is that IT does magic behind closed doors," explained Michael McKnight, VP and CTO at the $1.3-billion CU. "Other staff members may not always want to know what's going on back here, but that's got to change if we want to make the most of our core system."

ORNL runs the Episys core system, provided by San Diego-based Symitar, a division of Jack Henry & Associates, Inc.

When Symitar updates software, usually twice annually, ORNL's subject-matter experts (SME) get together with IT to experiment with the update on test machines, McKnight continued. The 17 SMEs represent lending, branch administration, the contact center, e-services, training, operations and human resources and also meet monthly.

Currently, the group is gathering two hours daily at ORNL's training facility for a project McKnight said he is "not at liberty to discuss." The facility offers 16 PC workstations and four mocked-up teller stations, he said.

"The SMEs understand the business side but don't necessarily have a thorough understanding of the Episys tools," he said. "IT shows them how the new features work, and how they benefit the department. The SME becomes actively involved in evaluating the features and incorporating them into the enterprise."

In fact, all ORNL employees are held responsible for knowing how to make the most out of Episys. We built the expectation into job descriptions and performance evaluations that staff should be more engaged in understanding and using Episys. We're incenting people to stop what they're doing and learn how to use the system."

ORNL scrutinized core business processes in October, 2010 during a weeklong, on-site review by Symitar Professional Services, he said. "We selected several areas of operations for them to examine, and they produced a report that has become our bible as to where we need to improve our processes."

Symitar conducts about a dozen Professional Services engagements annually, said John San Filippo, marketing manager, Symitar. Professional Services has been offered since 2001. More than 600 CUs run Episys.

An ORNL business process analyst is also exposing which business processes are statistically least efficient, McKnight said. "We'll work on those processes first. Often, once a process is established, it tends not to change because of the 'we've always just done it that way' attitude. But there could be a better way."

ORNL's account opening process is more accurate after related business processes were analyzed and reorganized, he said.

Symitar led two classes in March to teach ORNL about the online user portal and online documentation, said McKnight. And last year, six ORNL executives from different business departments attended the Symitar Educational Conference so that "they could get more actively involved in using Episys."

The first step in maximizing the core system is to "recognize operational problems, and be ready to admit that maybe things haven't been done as well as they could have," suggested San Filippo.

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