Meridian builds foundation for third party, custom applications

Meridian Credit Union – the result of a merger between two Ontario credit unions – is rolling out a foundation for improved service delivery as part of its “neighbourhood banking” initiative.

All systems were scheduled for conversion onto a single platform this past weekend, and a number of new member services will be rolled out throughout the second half of this year.

The $3.5-billion merger between Niagara Credit Union and Hepcoe Credit Union has created the province’s largest credit union with 180,000 members – and also a large mix of aging technology, including proprietary Unix software. The credit union also had a number of paper-based processes in place and wanted to be able to serve customer requests through a single desktop view.

Meridian hired Systemgroup Inc., a Microsoft Gold Certified partner, to build a platform for new member services using Microsoft .Net Framework.

“We’re following a ‘Buy if we can, build if we must and integrate’ IT strategy,” said Steve Gesner, chief information officer of Meridian in St. Catharines, Ont. The credit union already runs a number of Microsoft-based applications, he said, including its banking system, contact management system and loans origination system. By bringing .Net into the mix, Meridian will be able to integrate both third-party packages and custom applications into one system.

“Our service differential in the market is going to be delivering through our people at the front counter,” he said. “So it is all about putting the best tools in their hands, not giving them something that looks like the cockpit of a space shuttle.” The tools are meant to save time at the front counter, so employees can spend more time providing advice to members.

“And if we execute it, which I’m confident we will, that will give us a point of differentiation in the market,” added Gesner.

Meridian is also wiring up its branches on a Telus MPLS IP network, which will allow it to take advantage of collaboration tools between 43 branches spread out across the province – each with a number of different skill sets. “We believe we can start to bring expertise to bear at the front counter that may not physically be there,” he said. “We’ll end up with a single reporting platform on a single set of metrics so that everyone in the field can see how they’re doing.”

Windows SharePoint Portal Server will serve as the platform for Meridian’s corporate intranet. BizTalk Server 2006 will be used as the primary message routing and business process execution platform, while the Visual Studio 2005 development system and .Net Framework 2.0 will be used to create line-of-business applications.

Organizations nowadays have to be more agile, since consolidation is a fact of life in every industry, said Jeff Zado, senior product manager of development tools with Microsoft Canada in Mississauga, Ont.

“A lot of organizations have a variety of customized and packaged applications,” he said. “If you go through a merger, you’re putting a multiplying effect on that.” Meridian has identified some of its core customer-facing applications, he added, and by developing a framework on top of .Net, they will be able to extend that as they identify new services.

There is no common packaged application that will address all people’s needs, he said, so the challenge is how to create custom applications to solve business problems more quickly.

“Financial organizations usually have a higher proportion of custom software than packaged applications, so it’s even more critical for them,” he said. “They have to look at all of this custom software running on myriad different systems along with packaged applications they want to purchase – these things have to work together.”

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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