This month, GonzoBanker salutes Andrew Young at Northwest Savings Bank for demonstrating that strong leadership, a carefully considered approach and a well mapped plan can turn technology early adopters into bona fide beneficiaries.
Name: Andrew (Drew) Young
Official Title: Chief Information Officer, Northwest Savings Bank ($6.9B), Warren, Pennsylvania
Gonzo Title: Thaumaturgist extraordinaire. Huh? Hint: it comes from the Greek thauma- (miracle) and –ourgus (working).
Alma Mater: Drew graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) in New Jersey with a BS and MBA in Finance.
Previous Banking Gigs: Prior to joining Northwest Savings Bank a year and a half ago, Drew spent 15 years as CIO at Firstrust Bank in Philadelphia.
Gonzo Claim to Fame: Staring down conventional wisdom to lead a highly successful, enterprise-wide implementation of the Vista operating system and a total technology refresh at Northwest Savings Bank
Why Vista? Why now?
Northwest’s journey toward deploying Vista began, tactically, with the planned implementation of a new .NET teller, sales and service platform (Harland Encore) for the community banking group. It ended as a strategic maneuver that addressed numerous enterprise-wide goals. Drew related that the new .NET platform implementation promised to touch every branch network and much of the back office—creating significant IT work across the enterprise. “Our thinking was, Encore has a lot of Microsoft components, the days for XP are numbered, and we don’t want to do another IT overhaul again in three years. This seemed like the right time to evaluate whether Vista was feasible.”
Given Northwest’s relatively large footprint—166 locations in five states—and aware of the potential complications that are part and parcel of being an early adopter, the decision was given plenty of due diligence. “The new platform, the XP factor, the desire to create a simplified environment with one networking platform, one operating system and one set of technologies, plus our ambitions for a redesigned network that was easier to manage and more secure, tipped the scales in Vista’s favor,” Drew said.
The Golden Build
We’re not talking about some sort of Olympic pent athlete here. Rather, the Golden Build is Northwest’s term for its custom, standardized Vista desktop, which has now been deployed organization-wide. With this project, Northwest had the opportunity to replace in excess of 1,900 desktops, which it took as a chance to create a desktop that exactly matched the bank’s needs. “It features the best of Vista and Microsoft Office Suite,” Drew said, “but it is simplified to get rid of extraneous elements.”
The Certification Bugaboo
With vendor certification top of mind, Northwest tested the Golden Build extensively in the dev lab, focusing on the core apps it had to deliver. “Testing helped us identify key vendor intersections where Vista was not yet certified,” Drew stated. “We then worked with those vendors, who in most cases were able to meet our timeline.” Early identification of compatibility issues like signature pads and device drivers was also critical, according to Drew. While not every product was able to achieve certification, so far there have been few problems.
As a side benefit of testing, Northwest had the opportunity to look at newer versions of existing software. “Our version of the Right Fax product was not Vista compatible, but research showed we could convert to their Web product,” Drew explained. “Faxes now appear as part of email in Outlook. So, it was win-win.”
Herculean Effort – Giant Payoff
Northwest’s Implementation Team (IT, Operations and Community Banking staff) did deployments three to four nights a week, three to six branches a night. The team developed a process, executed after the branch closed, that involved installing brand new PCs and signature pads and converting from Lotus to Outlook – all within one night, regardless of the number of work stations. The effort, which began in February, was completed last week. “Basically,” said Drew, “it was six separate sessions with one or two week breaks in between.”
According to Northwest, the project was worth the effort in so many ways. It was as much about the chance to do a holistic technology refresh on the software, the hardware and the support model as it was about Vista. On the business side, Northwest has seen a substantial productivity impact related to the rollout of the Encore platform supported by the refreshed Microsoft technology and supporting infrastructure. Accommodating Encore’s tight integration with Microsoft technologies such as Outlook and SQL database ended up having significant positive business implications. On the customer side, newly introduced process improvements accompanying the new technologies have improved the sales and service experience.
Mission Accomplished, and a Few Words of Advice
Facing a logistical hornet’s nest, a total technology refresh, the need to align numerous internal and external resources and a stiff knowledge curve, there were plenty of obstacles inherent in this project. “The nine-month deployment timeframe alone was a challenge; a lot can happen in that span of time,” observed Drew. Drew cited teamwork, strong project management, constant communication and an iterative approach as keys to the initiative’s success. “It’s a process of plan, test, learn, retest and so on.” Training was also critical. The business component, the desk top and the Vista technology were all new. The bank’s training group stepped up, developed curricula and scheduled in excess of 1,500 people for four to five day training sessions at 13 training labs across the region. “It was a huge challenge, but they got it done,” Drew said.
Northwest has a 40 member IT team, but IT alone can’t drive a project of this magnitude. “The effort was hugely cross functional. Employees across the bank understood the benefits of what we were doing and committed to doing the work needed to deliver within our timeline,” Drew recalled. “We had a lot of input from our employees, and communication went across the organization—it was constant, not just a burst at the beginning and the end.”
Drew feels the resources and dollars committed for the effort were appropriate. The lesson learned, he said, was that it was necessary to get many different people’s views embedded in the project to guarantee success. It was also important to wait until the time was right, versus putting things out before they’re ready and trying to resolve issues later. If he had to do it over again, Drew said he would pretty much repeat what he did and not roll back any of the time frames. “At first, I thought we were being overly cautious,” Drew said. “But we weren’t.”
Why Stop Now?
The Executive team is conjuring up a Northwest intranet that will use SharePoint, which Northwest feels is a transformational product that can represent real cultural change. “We’re in the envisioning phase where we want people to understand the possibilities for shaping communications, altering how business processes are supported, and strengthening collaboration.” Employee ideas are also being solicited. Ultimately, Drew said, the goal is for the technology to shrink the size of the organization so it can grow yet remain the people oriented organization that is the bank’s legacy.
Drew gave a shout out to the Northwest Executive team, who he said did a great job of creating the sales and service vision that led to the selection of Encore, a solid product that runs on Microsoft, prior to his arrival at Northwest. Drew also lauded the team members from Operations, Community Banking, IT and a variety of other contributors. “I can’t emphasize enough that this project involved the entire organization,” Drew affirmed. “A lot of people have a great deal of pride in what we did, and they should. Without the cross functional team concept, it wouldn’t have worked out as well as it did.”
Drew Outside the Office
Learning to golf is the avocation keeping Drew most busy when he’s out of the office. Drew’s favorite course is located at the Conewango Valley Country Club in Northwestern Pennsylvania.
Jaws is one of the few movies Drew can watch multiple times. He feels it has a great combination of story line and acting, and the interplay among the actors is excellent. Drew quipped that Sheriff Brody’s observation, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” has inspired related commentary many times over the course of his IT career.
Feeding the iPod
Drew has been listening to Hayes Carll and John Fogerty’s new CD Revival.
GonzoBanker finds Drew’s anti-Luddite tendencies admirable and is proud to donate $250 in his name to the Warren, Pennsylvania, chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.