Banking conversion: Focused, flexible, fun

August 18, 2015
in Achievements

Following the recent conversion from the Acumen to the Wealthview Banking system across its Valley First branches, First West takes a look at what’s required to make a technology project of this magnitude and complexity successful. In the second of this four part series we spoke with IT Business Partner Susan Archambault.

You’ve been through more than 25 banking system conversions, what do you need to keep a close eye on?
Blown budgets, missed deadlines and ill-prepared employees are common problems with all projects, however, serious technical issues post-conversion, such as unexpected service outages or missing personal information, are what keeps a project team up at night.

Those are the things that are going to significantly impact your members and also what those members are going to remember. It’s hard to recover if things go seriously wrong, so anything that has potential for member impact must be managed very carefully.

How do you manage the more intense and in-depth parts of a conversion project?
You’ve got to be focused but flexible. Data conversion testing (DCT) is a critical but tremendously involved step that ensures data tracks correctly from the old system over to the new; it’s like trying to focus intently on a very boring tennis match.

Our initial approach proved to be woefully slow and by the end of day one we had only managed to validate 0.02 per cent of our data. Given the flexibility of our team, we were able to tighten our scope, rapidly re-work our plan and move from independent validation to working in pairs in a dedicated testing lab. This sped things up greatly, but we still faced a very intense and trying few rounds of testing.

Any lengthy project can be mentally fatiguing, how do you keep a team engaged?
Burnout is a serious problem in conversion projects and some of the testing tasks are highly repetitive so keeping your team motivated and mentally sharp are major challenges. First West has an awesome culture that pervades all levels of the organization and, along with a serious get-it-done attitude, there is a strong element of fun.

It sounds rather artificial, but we added Fun Fridays to our schedule. This included things like Halloween spam carving, golf tournaments and spontaneous rounds of Don McLean’s “American Pie.” Intangibles like the fun factor should be part of your project plan, we definitely wouldn’t have made it through some of the darker days without it and it really cemented our shared commitment to the project.

What was the highlight or biggest relief-filled moment of the project?
Conversion weekend is always a pressure cooker. Although we had three mock conversions in the bag and were confident of all our procedures, you are solely in the hands of your vendors for third-party systems that can’t be replicated during mock testing. Online banking, ATMs and point of sales are three major pieces that can only be changed over during the actual conversion. Every project team member breathes a huge sigh of relief when these systems come back online and immediately function exactly as they did before conversion began.

With another successful conversion under your belt, what advice can you share?
Pre-conversion data clean-up is a must. There is no point to cluttering your new system with a bunch of old records. We had multiple ongoing rounds of data clean up and were able to consolidate or close multiple portfolios. This has the added benefit if improving your business intelligence and reporting, too.

Any final thoughts?
Those who know conversions would say a flawless conversion is a lot like glimpsing a unicorn; I would have to say our switch was about as close as I’ve ever been to seeing one. Unicorns aside, I saw some astounding growth in our employees. They’re now taking that confidence and skill back out to branches and offices across First West and sharing it with their colleagues. Not only did we get a new banking system to help propel our growth, we also created some amazing new leaders to drive that growth into the future.

Susan Archambault has worked for financial institutions or related information systems providers for more than 30 years.

Read the first story in the series on our successful banking conversion, Ensuring All Systems Go.

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