This is the first in a series of three articles sponsored by Ricoh looking at how companies facing transformation evaluate their MSP options. The variety of services MSPs offer can range from monitoring IT networks to being responsible for all repairs, updates, and patches, as well as providing new software, hardware, infrastructure, cloud services, and staff resources.
Westoba Credit Union (WCU) is an almost 60-year-old cooperative financial institution with approximately 200 employees, holding more than $1.3 billion in assets. From its head office in Brandon, Manitoba, it provides IT and network services to all of its 17 branches (including corporate office) across the province.
When Norman Neil, Senior Director, Information and Digital Technology, joined Westoba Credit Union two and a half years ago, he inherited significant IT infrastructure challenges. With the banking landscape changing to more digital options, the current framework would not support where Westoba was heading strategically.
Neil was brought in to transform and create a functional system that could meet the organization’s needs today and in the future.
“As a credit union, our utmost concern is the safety of member data,” said Neil. “This transformation journey has brought us to a place where we are confident our data security is in great shape.” Neil faced a challenging network infrastructure, an antiquated call centre, and an aging phone system. Outdated productivity software added to the challenge.
Wade Ball, Director of IT Services with Ricoh says understanding technology is key. “Technology must support the company’s goals, and it starts with a clear understanding of the short and longer-term plans of the company, an assessment of the current technology, and the knowledge of the existing risks that must be factored into the project.”
After a large network makeover that allows employees and customers province-wide access Westoba’s services reliably, Neil turned to other pressing needs. Whenever possible, his solutions revolve around the cloud and software as a service (SaaS).
“With an increased reliance on cloud solutions and services, the corporate network securing and connecting all locations and users is more vital than ever before,” says Ball. “Security and performance within the network infrastructure will allow the corporate data to be managed within the boundaries of the regulations, compliance, and governance expected.”
For the technology replacing the previous phone system, Neil and his team acquired a cloud-based voice over IP (VoIP) system with a call centre component. This proved invaluable when COVID-19 lockdowns began. As well as enjoying a 70 percent cost saving over the previous system, Neil said they were able to double the number of available agents within four days by training branch staff on the new system. The flexibility, analytics and simplicity the new phone system brings to the organization supports Westoba’s goals to be nimble.
For productivity, Neil chose to sign a Cloud Service Provider (CSP) Agreement, and the Teams implementation has been immensely valuable. Pre-pandemic allowed specialists who previously had to travel to distant branches for meetings to work with branch managers without leaving their desks, saving time and money. Once lockdowns began, it permitted staff to collaborate safely and continue to serve customers.
Westoba recognized where the most significant risks were to the business and began a systematic approach to improve the use and security of innovative technologies,” says Ball. “With a focus on cloud solutions, Westoba was able to implement solutions and services for its corporation that allowed for a technology environment that supported users and their customers anytime, anywhere, from any device. The ability to qualify for collaboration and communication when the COVID-19 lockdowns occurred empowered the business and its customers to continue providing services safely and securely, saving costs by implementing smart solutions to support the current and future business needs.
Advice from Westoba
Neil’s strategy for this transformation was straightforward: if there was a SaaS implementation of a product, that is the one option he explored. In selecting SaaS models, Neil said he has already cut his on-premise server load in half by doing so. But, he said, choosing the providers required some research and work to ensure the right fit.
A technology partner must educate and enable their customers to help them make smart business decisions,” says Ball. “Laying out the current state and future state goals, an IT Roadmap creates a prioritized list of initiatives for collaboration and action. Proper budgeting and planning can then be applied to ensure the business is investing in the right technology at the right time to support the needs and demands of their business.
“When talking to vendors, I’m looking for partners that are invested and share in our strategic plan and roadmap for the organization. I am looking for companies who want to be a part of the organization’s IT successes and not ones that are just trying to sell something to make a sale, but something that brings us real value,” said Neil.
His advice is to ask questions. Especially around security, and if answers are not forthcoming, walk away.
Many customers are leading with two main priorities when building out their technology plan, says Ball. Security is at the forefront for all solutions to ensure the customer’s technology, assets, data, and users are educated and protected to the level of investment and risk profile defined. Ball says most companies are moving towards cloud solutions to maintain the agility and scalability needed to better manage their investment into systems and applications, allowing for lower operating expenses than more massive capital investments.
“It is a red flag if a provider says that answers to security and accessibility questions are proprietary information,” said Neil. “Even moving to the cloud, you can’t transfer responsibility for security.”
Neil is surprised at how much pushback he still gets. He advises asking how often and how security testing occurs, whether it is documented, and how frequently they audit. “Never be afraid to ask for proof of the claims vendors are making. These are large scale investments that have to provide value and become an integral part of your business.”