After 15 years in the conversion business, I still get asked the same question. “What can we do to ensure a successful and accurate data conversion?” It can be challenging because most banks and credit unions will never go through an acquisition of another site or a change of their vendor. And those who do may only do it a few times, with a different contact handling the effort each time. So where do you go to find advice on the impact to your institution and tips on how to properly plan?
The simple answer is to look around you at your peers, especially at larger institutions who have done multiple and frequent acquisitions. They can be a good source of insight about what you need to do to plan and prepare effectively.
Your Conversion is Only as Good as Your Project Plan
One of the most critical items to have in any deconversion is a project plan that covers the entire conversion process from start to finish. This will hold all participants accountable, will keep urgency on milestone items, and allow for proper planning from a resource and customer expectation level. It should include milestones, not just start and end dates, and owners of tasks should be very clear on the due dates. The plan needs to be a living plan, as dates can move up and down in the cycle as milestones are completed.
“Every conversion is unique,” says Mark Murphy, Director of Digital Banking and Conversion Support for North Carolina-based Select Bank & Trust. “Some of them go more smoothly than others. You always have issues along the way, and some are certainly more challenging….The biggest thing is to have a project plan and to go by it religiously. Make sure everybody is aware of the tasks on that project plan, and that there’s communication between all the different stages. You certainly don’t want to come down to a conversion weekend – or afterward with the archives – and have been working with incorrect assumptions. It’s not safe to just assume somebody is working on something, then all of the sudden that deadline’s not met – a deadline that has many other tasks dependent upon it.”
How to Make Your Data the Most Accessible
When planning a conversion, now is the time to think about how and where you are going to make your data available to staff and to consumers online, both retail and commercial. In an acquisition, you already have your own Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems, but going forward you’ll also have a newly acquired institution’s old ECM data. What are you going to do with it? Are you going to keep it on the same hardware system it was on before – with the risk of hardware failure or increased maintenance contracts? Or will you have it ingested into your own ECM system, so that your staff, the customers or members you serve, and online vendors will only have to look in one place for the data?
“When you don’t have to go to two or three different places to get the information you need for research purposes, there is a definite value,” explains Jeff Mead, Senior Vice President of Information Technology at Arkansas-based Citizens Bank. “And there are two areas that you can measure. One is in real dollars because you’re more efficient in getting (the requested information) back to the customer. Then you’ve also got the customer satisfaction factor because you’re able to provide the information that much quicker.”
It is always advantageous to move the data into your current ECM or into another similar system that has integration that is seamless. Sometimes the acquired data can be in poor shape from inherited bad practices, and you may want to keep it separate from your live system. In those cases, you can put it in another repository with a similar backbone and then allow a connector in your ECM to pull from the repository as well – giving you one search option that will be looking in both locations. By putting all the data into a single ECM or establishing a single search option through your ECM, you can keep your ECM clean, improve staff effectiveness, and increase accountholder satisfaction.
Your Data Can Provide a Competitive Advantage in the Future, So Don’t Limit It Now
When converting your data, now is the time to make sure your data can be used to the best of its ability. Today, data is an asset and its importance will also be heightened in the future. You don’t want to limit the future usability of your data during the conversion process by rushing through steps or cutting corners to save time. You need to take the extra time to think through your data, and the future of that data, so it remains fluid as technology advances and integration grows.
“When you’re converting, you’re really opening up risk where the data can become muddled or compromised,” notes Murphy. “It’s certainly a challenge and can affect the customer. I think we always need to protect all of the data as an asset. And that means taking a little bit of extra caution when doing a conversion.”
You’ll have the opportunity to retain all indexes, clean up the data structure, or even enhance the data during a conversion. Think about your legacy data in terms of how you are using your go-forward data and try to mirror it. This can give you a competitive advantage as digital avenues open to use the data in different ways than it can be utilized today. The more meta data you keep, the more strategically positioned you can be to leverage future innovations.
Examine Conversion Vendors Closely: They Hold the Keys to Your Past and Your Future
With data exposures and external audits increasing and with the results of these having such a large impact, you really need to make sure you thoroughly vet your vendor for your data conversion. That single decision may determine if you pass a future audit or potentially cause an inadvertent data exposure of your customer or member data. Check the vendor for their security measures they have in place, not just for the data but also for the integrity of the contents of the data. Is there an item-for-item, index-for-index audit? Is there a secured location where the data lives, with multiple checkpoints? Is the vendor backed by a large corporation with a proven track record? These are questions that need to be asked before you decide on a vendor. Remember to view your data as an asset that needs to be protected.
Conversions are inevitable as technology advances and future mergers and acquisitions continue in the industry. Lean on the knowledge of those who have done them and done them successfully. Using their experience, and partnering with a trusted vendor with years of experience to help you plan, can help you have a painless conversion experience.
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