Everyone needs a good mechanic. You know, the guy who emerges from the underbelly of car covered in grease wearing a t-shirt that’s seen better days. The interesting thing with a good mechanic—physical features aside—is that he’s able to boil down the essence of what a car needs to keep running at its best and explain it to the customer in simple laymen’s terms. No more, no less.
In the banking world, a good system administrator is the mechanic. A great SA knows the systems, speaks the language, solves the problems, and can expertly explain—so that everyone understands—the best way to address any issues and keep the “engine” running at top performance.
A question lenders ask me all the time is, “Should we hire a designated system administrator to support our loan origination system, and, if so, what does a typical job description look like?” Below are four key attributes all great system administrators have.
- They’re the resident system experts. Strong SAs know their LO systems better than their vendors and are therefore the main point of contact to troubleshoot vendor issues. Great SAs attend all training sessions related to the system offered by the vendor and are certified wherever possible. They apply system knowledge and expertise when diving into release notes and ensure the bank’s deployment of the product is optimized with each release.
- They’re analytical problem-solvers. Most systems naturally require logical and analytical thought to configure and maintain, therefore it makes sense that a strong SA possesses these skills. It is also helpful for SAs to have an aptitude and/or experience with project management so that as the system and/or business requirements evolve they have the tools to figure out how to best manage and implement these changes.
- They’re excellent team members and above-average communicators. Top SAs proactively work with staff and management in the line of business to tweak business processes in search of continuous improvement. Ideally, they have implemented a methodology for employees to submit system improvement requests and/or a feedback loop to ensure things are working optimally.
- They’re skilled gatekeepers. Whenever a change is instigated by the vendor, the SA vets this technology with IT and the line of business. Likewise, system enhancement or configuration requests from the LOB must be vetted with IT, the vendor and the system. A top-notch SA serves as a liaison among the LOB, IT, the system and the vendor.
One of the most controversial and emotionally charged issues relative to the system administrator is whether he/she should report to IT or the line of business. It’s simple, really. If the SA meets all the criteria above, he/she should be supporting the line of business.
That said, readers may be wondering why I haven’t said anything about SAs needing to be specifically experienced in mortgage lending, commercial lending, consumer lending, etc. I’ve had this debate with clients countless times. Here is the key question: Do you hire an SA with deep experience in the lending industry they need to support and then teach them all of the fundamentals above, or vice versa?
While I’ve seen both models work well for clients, hiring for SA attributes and teaching them the process tends to be more successful. A person with lending expertise can’t always be taught SA skills. Not all clients have the same processes, vendors and integrations, so industry expertise has proven to be less relevant—prior experience on the current platform notwithstanding.
If you’re in a position where you don’t have a “mechanic” for your shop, or you don’t believe the one you have holds the necessary skills, hopefully this post provides some guidance and context. Having a strong SA supporting both your system and team is one of the biggest success factors in some lenders’ shops.