Motion Federal Credit Union (MFCU) is a well-established name in the New Jersey area. As the 18th-oldest credit union in the country, MFCU has a solid reputation as a respected financial institution. While some of our larger members include ExxonMobil, Philips 66, and Infineum, we have not lost sight of our traditional credit union feel or personal touch.

Dedicated to "moving dreams forward," we offer a wide range of products, services, and community involvement that traditionally differentiates most credit unions from larger banking institutions.

One of the challenges we face as a regional credit union is providing the look and feel of a larger financial institution. While members generally like working with a smaller, local credit union, they also want the services that a large financial institution would offer. So we are challenged on a daily basis with providing the "neighbor next door" personality with the heavy lifting power of a large institution. One of the ways we do that is to make sure that our employees have the latest technologies available to help them work more efficiently and more collaboratively. In addition, since we are a small company, we need cost-effective solutions that address our specific issues.

A reality in our work environment is that we tend to work in our own silos and not share information. That's partly a result of using traditional project management applications, and partly due to our corporate culture that is evolving over time. Working in silos makes it difficult for team members to understand what other employees are working on, what the status of those projects is, and how the pieces all fit together.

In short, our company lacked a collaborative culture that hindered our productivity. From my desk, I could see that we needed to find a way to improve employee productivity, make us operate more efficiently, and instill a sense of community and teamwork in order to keep our customers happy.


Down with Silos, Up With Collaboration

In the spring of 2011, it became clear that we had so many separate projects going on that it felt as though we were bursting at the seams. At that point, we decided to explore options for our project management needs that were:

* Easy to use. We needed an application that was easy to use; otherwise our employees wouldn't use it and the value would be lost immediately.

* Collaboration hub. This application had to help us centralize information so we could work more cohesively as a team instead of as individual employees.

* Easy to manage. The solution needed to not impact our IT team-for deployment, support or training.

Low-cost. While we have the same regulations as the big banks, we certainly don't have the same resources. The right price, and the return on that investment, is critical.

Like many companies, we had used Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Project for our project management needs. However, these programs didn't prove to be successful for increasing collaboration between employees. Not everyone had access to Project (it's expensive and too difficult for many to use), and there's nothing collaborative about multiple versions of Excel being passed around via e-mail.

* With that in mind, we set out to find cloud-based applications that were democratic-meaning everyone in the company could use them, not just a select few. They had to support a wide variety of project and workflows, be easy to use and manage, and help improve accountability and collaboration amongst employees. It didn't take us long to discover Smartsheet and Google Apps. When we realized how well they fit together, we knew they would be our framework for getting things done.


Working In The Cloud

Since both technologies are cloud-based we were able to get the entire company up and running quite quickly. What was pleasantly surprising was that we could see the immediate impact the technologies had on our employees. Silos were broken, employees quickly began working together, and projects were completed on time.

For example with Smartsheet: It started out as a tool for our project team to manage a new branch opening, but quickly spread throughout the company to manage all sorts of work, from strategic planning down to the tactical outcomes:

Facility construction: From the initial contract to the grand opening, every step of the planning, design, and construction of each new branch is tracked and monitored in the interactive Gantt charts.

Due-diligence & contract negotiations: Contract documents, vendor order invoices, and other files-including those in Google Drive-are attached to specific rows in Smartsheet so relevant information is in one convenient, easy-to-access location. We don't have to search through inboxes or file-share apps to find our documents anymore.

HR processes: We use the application for a variety of functions including resume tracking, interview processes and managing new employee forms and policies.

New product development/launches: Every step of our new product development and launches are carefully tracked and easily accessible in Smartsheet. Employees are assigned tasks and can see how their piece fits into the overall plan.

Executive dashboard: Our executive team uses the spreadsheet-like tool for strategic planning as well as a corporate dashboard for tracking a wide range of projects.

IT rollouts: When our IT group rolls out new programs or policies, like a new telephone system, all steps and responsibilities are tracked in Smartsheet so nothing gets overlooked.


Collaboration + Transparency = Increased Productivity

One of the more interesting results of using Google and Smartsheet is the increased levels of transparency and accountability that it brings to the table. When we're in meetings now, project status is updated in real-time and everyone in a meeting can see if we're on time or in danger of missing key milestones. If one employee or team is lagging behind, it's visible to everyone. This type of transparency, and healthy pressure, has been very motivating for our staff.

So while it is true that we work in a highly commoditized and conservative industry, we don't have to use technology from the Dark Ages. Using these new, cloud-based technologies has increased accountability and collaboration, raised our productivity and allowed us to communicate more clearly to produce positive results for our members.

Arp Trivedi is manager of administration with Motion Federal Credit Union, Linden, N.J.