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ELITE 8 2012: Charlie Lai Overachieves in the Name of the Customer

Charlie Lai, CIO and EVP of Fairwinds Credit Union, is always prepared to go the extra mile in the name of customer convenience, whether he is converting core systems or thinking about the institution's next mobile app.

Technology Trailblazers

Now, thanks to the launch earlier this year of Open Solutions' DNAappstore (an app store where Open Solutions customers can buy and sell banking applications), Lai notes, Fairwinds has the opportunity to sell its account origination platform to other institutions. "It's kind of a rarity that we can turn a product of this IT talent into something that's profitable for Fairwinds and then we can do even more good with that," he says, adding that he has a backlog of customers waiting to buy the app after demonstrating it for other Open Solutions clients over the past year.

Always looking for new frontiers to conquer, Lai and his organization also successfully became the first Open Solutions client to completely virtualize its Oracle database. Fairwinds achieved complete virtualization on the server level about a year ago. In 2009, the only platform left to virtualize was the credit union's production database, and although Lai had seen other industries pursuing a similar model, no other Open Solutions clients were doing it, he says. "Our peers were very interested in the concept -- it was a great watercooler discussion," Lai remembers. "But no one was doing it. People said, 'Great, let me know when you're doing it -- we'll talk.'"


According to Lai, Fairwinds selected a Linux variant to handle back-end tasks and ran the virtualized database, which is powered by VMware, in test mode for a full year, trying out every scenario the team could think of to see how the system reacted. "It screamed in terms of performance," Lai recalls, adding that Fairwinds went live with the virtualized Oracle database in April 2011. "It's been everything that we anticipated -- the performance, the ability to scale easily," Lai says. "It's enabled us from an Oracle level to perform at a much higher capacity."

But even overachievers can't always get everything done. Lai says he and his team still have work to do -- especially on the credit union's mobile banking offerings. He adds that he wants to get mobile check deposit out to Fairwinds' members as soon as possible, and he also wants to start exploring a tablet banking application.

Asked what he thinks the next big thing in banking technology will be, Lai replies: "I expect it to be something with mobile. I don't know exactly what it will be, but it will be driven by consumer convenience -- whatever makes consumers' lives easier." And whatever that next big convenience happens to be, Lai and his team will be working hard to offer it to Fairwinds' members.

Jonathan Camhi has been an associate editor with Bank Systems & Technology since 2012. He previously worked as a freelance journalist in New York City covering politics, health and immigration, and has a master's degree from the City University of New York's Graduate School ... View Full Bio

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