The idea that change is a constant is a well-worn truism in business circles. But for Unity Bank, it’s a reality. After starting life as a credit union serving union members in the Waterside Workers Union, it has since welcomed nine credit unions into its fold over the past decade.
Today, after a decade of change, the bank has 38,000 customers nationwide – each of whom is a shareholder thanks to its mutual model – 23 sites and around $1.2 billion in assets. Anyone can take advantage of the bank’s services.
Unity Bank’s relationship with Harbour IT began ten years ago – around the same time as Unity Bank completed one of its biggest credit union mergers. Unity Bank only had three IT staff at the time, so the operational support was critical. Harbour IT helped the bank refresh its infrastructure, moving from ageing onsite hardware to virtual infrastructure in a data centre run by Harbour IT.
“That was a pretty big move by a financial institution back then. Not many organisations had done that at that point,” says David Willcox, Unity Bank’s Chief Information Officer.
Around a year ago, Unity Bank decided it was time for its next big transformation. Its current software and operating systems were reaching end of life. The bank was struggling to maintain a stable platform and productivity and IT resources were taking a hit.
Not only was Unity Bank keen to refresh its IT so it could take advantage of new cloud-based technologies and services, it also needed to keep up with the security and innovation expectations of regulators.
“The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) not only expect you will make sure you maintain software, they also expect you to be looking for continuous improvement and economies of scale using technology,” says Willcox.
Assessing the opportunities
Harbour IT worked with Unity Bank to review the business challenges, carry out an infrastructure review and come up with options that suited their needs and regulatory requirements. Unity Bank wanted to maintain control and security over certain aspects of its infrastructure. For other applications, like their email exchange, it was clear a more cost effective and flexible cloud-centric approach could work well.
“Our primary driver was around security. Even if regulator wasn’t there we can’t operate on end of life software because it’s no longer secure. But in terms of functionality we wanted to take advantage of a whole bunch of other things that we didn’t have,” says Willcox.
In particular, the team was keen to ensure Unity Bank could take advantage of Microsoft’s Office 365 and the new functionality available in the cloud, such as Teams, Streams and Sharepoint – a decision that proved particularly valuable when COVID-19 hit and staff were forced to work from home.
Willcox and his team were also looking to beef up their reporting capabilities with Microsoft’s Power BI. Up until then, Unity Bank had “very rudimentary reporting” options. The transformation saw the bank take advantage of Harbour IT’s infrastructure to build a data warehouse in conjunction with Power BI in order to expand reporting and better understand what’s happening in the business.
Finding a new balance
The decision was made to take a hybrid approach. This would allow Unity Bank to maintain some of its existing servers in Harbour IT’s data centre while moving from a private network and infrastructure housed within Harbour IT to public cloud applications and infrastructure. This worked best from both a cost and security perspective.
The shift would have the added benefit of not having to outlay large sums of money to upgrade the infrastructure every five years as well as freeing up internal IT from having to manage on premise equipment.
“With cloud, you can be sure you’re keeping up with the latest and greatest technology with far less work. They also patch and update regularly as required whereas for us internally that’s a big job,” says Willcox.
A timely transformation
Overall, the transformation has enabled Unity Bank to improve the availability of its core applications as well as widening the access that staff have to new functions, while working from anywhere. Productivity is up and staff are able to more efficiently serve their customers.
“The shift we’d already made to Teams made the switch to working from home a whole lot easier. Sometimes change can be a challenge but with Teams especially, they’ve taken to it really well. And moving from Skype for Business to Teams was as simple as turning one off on Friday and turning the other on Monday,” Willcox says.
Willcox is more confident that the organisation can easily stay in step with technological change moving forward and that his team now has the capacity to focus on higher value tasks. In addition, Unity Bank’s new reporting capabilities have been helpful both from a business agility and regulatory point of view.
“Our regulator is placing more requirements to report on data around the business, whether it’s loans in arrears, or exposures related to COVID-19. Driving Power BI from the cloud allows managers to create their own ad hoc reports, drilling down on things like membership details to understand customers better. It’s going to help us move faster and more accurately,” Willcox says.
A foundation of trust, looking towards the future
With Unity Bank now looking after $1.2 billion on behalf of its account holders, Willcox says being able to rely on Harbour IT’s IT management and operational maintenance support throughout this transformation, and over the last decade, has been critical.
“Even as recently as 4 – 5 years ago we only had three IT staff. After eight mergers in 10 years we had a lot of additional work. We’ve relied on Harbour IT throughout to help us maintain our operations. We can then focus on other things internally that can’t be outsourced, and look at how we can add more value,” Willcox says.
“When you’ve got a business that is so dependent on security and so heavily regulated, your outsourcing partners have to be 100 per cent trustworthy and reliable. I’ve been in IT for over 30 years never found an organisation like Harbour IT that we could trust not only to get stuff done but to do it right.”
Going forward, the business is looking at how it can take advantage of more of the services that sit inside Microsoft Azure cloud.
“It’s all about looking at how our business could benefit economically, cost wise and in terms of functionality from those new services,” Willcox says.DOWNLOAD CASE STUDY
To find out how you can optimise your business processes, allowing you to focus on profit-driving areas, book a consultation with one of our experts at Harbour IT.