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November 13, 2018

The Power of Alignment: Achieving Cross-Functional Transformation.

The Power of Alignment: Achieving Cross-Functional Transformation.

How ACU, the Best Credit Union in America, turned listening into procurement process efficiency.

Two invaluable Determine customers from completely different industries – Alliant Credit Union and Watermark Retirement Communities – recently achieved award recognition for achieving transformational excellence through cross-functional alignment. In light of that, we thought it would be useful to look into the factors that help define transition success, starting with Alliant Credit Union in part one of this two-part series.

The State of Procurement in Retail

It is no secret that working together leads to better results. Individual departments and functions will always have specific mandates, but when those are aligned with each other and the larger organization’s objectives, the overall impact – whether savings, risk mitigation, faster sales cycles – is multiplied. Getting to that stage requires a solid plan up front.

In 2017, Alliant Credit Union (ACU), one of the 10 largest credit unions in the U.S., was about to eclipse $10 billion in assets, an event that brings with it significant regulatory and business aftershocks. This made it crucial for Alliant Credit Union to mature its procurement and third-party risk management practices, and that started with recognizing the importance of having an enterprise-wide strategy. “Transformation” is often seen as an ideal, not really as a viable achievement. But it can be done incrementally, a step at a time.

Step 1: Listen to the business lines.

ACU, which was named the Best Credit Union in America by MONEY, took a from-the-ground-up approach to building a procurement organization that could centralize procurement and third-party risk management. According to Dave Quillin, Manager, Procurement and Vendor Management at Alliant Credit Union, this started with large-scale listening exercises. As research has shown, communications is one of the key attributes in transformational success.

Like a lot of companies, procurement at Alliant had been handled by each individual business unit. That unsustainable siloed approach was replaced with a responsive central function that provides one procurement strategy and one third-party risk strategy. This entailed getting 20 stakeholders from every part of the business involved to find the right solution and put process in place that aligns people and goals, and builds-in transparency.

Step 2: Commitment starts at the top.

Having executive leadership advocacy and buy-in is also a critical step for transformational success. Ideally, senior management is more than on board, but actively helping drive strategy, change and focus. Depending on the source of the transformational initiative, this generally means showing the value up front; in other words, make it clear what this change is going to bring, and when.

In ACU’s case, the $10B regulatory clock was counting down and dictating the need for a new process. That likely made executive participation a simpler prospect from the beginning. But as mentioned above, the task of how to manage the transformation and choose a technology solution still required significant input from across the organization. This helped to illustrate the value that would be achieved, from helping simplify Alliant’s financial reporting, to improving accuracy, gaining efficiency and insight on contracts, better managing spend enhancing third-party onboarding and management across the entire organization.

Step 3: Empower people with new capabilities.

The whole point of transformation is to end up doing things better than were done previously. Achieving efficiency and effectiveness through new capabilities, quite often technology tools, enables people at every level to contribute more to the end results. The two steps above are requisite to this; trying to implement a technology solution as a “magic bullet” approach to achieving transformation on its own is a roadmap to nowhere. The failure rate of attempted transformations – over 60%, according to research – bears out this fact.

As Dave Quillin at ACU states, you can’t pick up a tool until you know what the process is, what you’re trying to build. Only then can you shop around for the digital enablement that precisely gives people the means to do what they do better, and do it in the context of meeting the larger organization’s goals. Ideally, you want to find technology that allows you to do this quickly and simply, and works with the systems you already have in place. That’s why an incremental, modular approach can be so critical.


Having worked closely with Alliant Credit Union over the past several years, we’ve learned a lot from their approach to business success. We congratulate them on being named Best Credit Union in America by MONEY – they truly deserve it.

If you’d like to learn how to take a step-by-step approach to process transformation from an experienced and trusted advisor like Determine, contact us.

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