CUSO Magazine: We are joined by Ken Vaughn, Vice President of Product Design and Business Development for the Mobile Technologies Group (MTG) at CU*Answers, to learn more about his and his team’s role. Ken, can you tell me about how you came to CU*Answers?
Ken: I was originally brought in as a contractor. The manager of the ASP team at the time (now the Online Banking Team), wanted a front-end developer and UI designer, and that was right up my alley. Over time, Randy Karnes, our CEO here at CU*Answers, noticed me – we are both very visual people – and decided I was going to manage the mobile app development team. The day he announced my promotion, I went to him and said I wasn’t qualified. I wanted to design the mobile app. I did not want to manage the team. But he knew something I didn’t–turns out I did have the ability to manage this kind of development.
Originally, I came into this company thinking it was a stepping stone. I didn’t see it as a permanent home, but once I got involved, I realized a huge opportunity was right in front of me. I saw a big need for improving the user experience of our member-facing applications, and that has since been my big life goal. Working here has been a great opportunity, and I never take for granted the responsibility that my team and I have to improve those user experiences for all the credit unions.
CUSO Magazine: Tell us what the Mobile Technologies Group is all about.
Ken: Mobile Technologies has had various forms, but this is the official mobile division of CU*Answers, as our products have definitely grown over time. When I started here, I was just a front-end developer and UI designer. At one point, Randy asked us to start a mobile app development program, something he knew I had been pushing for. It started out small, but has since grown into something much larger. Moving forward, Randy wants to continue expanding and growing the products we can offer our credit unions.
CUSO Magazine: What does MTG focus on as a business unit for CU*Answers?
Ken: I would say we focus on two things: the member facing application (the mobile app) and web forms such as membership opening. We’ve talked about doing loan applications at some point as well. Then, the other side of our team is a program called CU*Publisher. In order to manage all of our deployment processes and maintain developer licenses for every single credit union client, both on iOS and Android, we had to build a system that would help configure all these things and create automations that would make it possible. Unlike the web, where you deploy once and it goes to everyone, MTG has to deploy for every single credit union on both platforms with an approval process required for each. So, we created CU*Publisher.
CUSO Magazine: What about your team? What does that look like?
Ken: When we started out it was just two people: me and another developer. We were winging it, but once we got our first app out there, we realized we needed someone to lead the sales effort and deal with client communications. That’s when Kristian Daniel, our Vice President of Business Development and Service, came on board, and right away we had a person with expertise in CU*BASE, which definitely helped accelerate us to where we are today. Had I been forced to lead the sales initiatives and communication, it would have occupied too much of my time and we wouldn’t have been able to build the foundation we have now.
Along the way we’ve hired more great people. Vince Mysliwiec is one of the star performers on my team. He has just been a great co-architect in everything we have built here. I got pretty luck with the people we’ve hired and they make me look good every day. It’s been a very organic process with great mentors leading me here at CU*Answers.
CUSO Magazine: You mentioned your mentors here at CU*Answers, can you elaborate on that?
Ken: Career wise, I would say I have three mentors. One is Randy Karnes, of course. He has been a big driver of my career here; both my biggest advocate and toughest critic. Another is Dawn Moore, she is also a product designer, one with a wealth of experience in the credit union industry. When it comes to something in CU*BASE, our core software, I leave it to Dawn. The third is someone who works for me, Vince Mysliwiec, who I mentioned before. I was thrown into the deep end with this department, and there were a lot of things technology-wise that I was uncertain about, but Vince has been a great resource and a co-architect.
CUSO Magazine: Tell me about training. You talked about technical applications, but how do your team members continue learning and apply that to your programs and educating credit unions?
Ken: We stay current because we’re passionate about what we do. I love mobile technology, I love apps, and use the product myself. It is really hard in the mobile app space to not be current. If you aren’t, I think you would really fall behind on our team. One thing as a web developer in general, you cannot rely on the knowledge base you had one year ago, because it is constantly changing every year. iOS and Android force you to adapt with them, so we never expect that we are not going to have to change our app or develop an app that will sit on the shelf for several years. We know that every six months there will have to be a life cycle for continuing updates for our apps to stay current.
CUSO Magazine: Do you help your credit unions remain current? If you have an application that you helped develop, is that something that you also keep current for them?
Ken: When we talk about CU*Publisher, the configurations tool, we are not trying to make a one-size-fits-all solution. We are making something that is completely adaptable to the credit union – small or large. We ask ourselves all the time: “What product can we create that combines the features large credit unions want with the ones smaller credit unions want?” That’s achieved through continued improvements to the applications.
One thing we are doing with our mobile apps is an annual release each year. This doesn’t mean we aren’t going to add features in between all that, but if credit unions stay current with these releases, they will stay current with the marketplace.
We are also using prototypes, which allow credit unions to try the software before it’s ready to be released to members. That is also one of the great things about mobile apps in particular, when we roll out a new feature, we get to send it to the credit union staff before their members ever see it – something that’s hard to do via web.
CUSO Magazine: Let’s say I’m new at a credit union and looking at the CU*Answers website, but I don’t completely understand what’s being offered here. Maybe I don’t have a person to lean on to help me understand the technology and what is available to me. How would you suggest I get started?
Ken: I think the first step would be to reach out to Kristian. He does a lot of webinars and he’s very open to meeting with people one-on-one if they want to understand things more. If Kristian feels that I should get involved in that conversation, I will at any opportunity I can. Another great place to start is to get involved in our Leadership Conferences and collaborate with other credit unions who are using our product or thinking about using our product.
CUSO Magazine: Okay, so pick up the phone and call MTG! Do you have an online store we can visit? How can people reach you?
Ken: Yes, you can visit our store via the Internet Retailer Support Center website. We are always maintaining the store and looking for ways to create more offerings and link to informational materials. You can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are an open door here, so anyone can contact me anytime. Kristian is the king of web conferences, so watch for CU*Answers client news email messages that will inform you about all the great web conferences that Kristian offers for MTG.
CUSO Magazine: Alright, and we will end with a question I think we all know the answer to: what is your super power?
Ken: I would have to say creativity. People associate it with being artistic, but creativity is also problem solving. You can always find new ways to accomplish your goals in everything you do. You use it in sales, presentations, and in personal matters. I have always been a creative person. I not only use it at my job, but even as I renovate my home, I’m trying to create the best user experience in my house.