Support the Business: Secure Your Job

How one IT specialist ensures that technology serves business goals

You’ve probably heard that one surefire way to succeed in your IT career is making your company’s business your business. This month, we’re launching a multi-part investigation of the way IT organizations work with the business leaders in their companies to ensure that the products and services they recommend, implement, and support are ultimately helping drive the company’s business success.

This month, I talked about how to foster IT-and-business synergy with Jeff Sears, the senior IT systems administrator at Value Plastics, an 80-employee Colorado-based manufacturing company that makes plastic parts for medical devices. On page XX, in our new Business Technology Perspectives column, you’ll find the results of a conversation our industry news analyst, Jeff James, had with Jeff Sears’ boss, IT Manager Nels Dachel and Value Plastics CFO Terry Gibbons. Going forward, each month Jeff James and I will explore various aspects of the IT-and-business relationship by profiling the IT pros and business leaders at specific companies and shedding light on the dynamics between these positions and the lessons learned.

As the lead architect of Value Plastics’ IT solutions, Jeff Sears appreciates his close ties with the business leaders of the company. Two factors that aren’t easy to control contribute to this synergy: the company is small and one of the vice presidents was “the IT guy” when he started 10 years ago. At that time, the company had a single server and Windows 95.

“He’s a really smart operator, really understands the business,” said Sears. “Somewhere along the line the decision was made to purchase the ERP solution that our business is built around. It’s a really complicated solution and so integrated into the business. It just made sense that the IT department was driving a lot of that.”

Another factor Sears cites for the tight bond between IT and business is that the company strives to be an industry leader in manufacturing parts for medical devices. “We’ve found that leveraging IT, automating processes, and keeping our costs down is a way to keep our competitive advantage—and keep jobs in the U.S. rather than off-shoring them,” Sears said.

Sears said that the IT team’s relatively long history with the company also helps them work effectively with the business leaders. “I’ve been here six years; the IT manager has been here seven years,” Sears said. “So we just understand all the pieces of the whole company and how everything fits together. It’s not a case where the networking and phone teams are in separate silos and good luck bridging all those.”

The fact that the company is small and at least one of the executives has an IT background undoubtedly paves the way for the IT team to have good rapport with the business leaders. But Sears advises IT pros to follow oft-repeated industry advice for ensuring that your work is supporting the business—and solidifying your career:

  1. Do your homework. “When you’re researching solutions, look at the current industry trends, look at how things fit with your organization, and determine whether the latest trend is good or bad for your company,” Sears said.
  2. Understand the business. “Make sure you can talk to your business leaders in his or her own language—in business terms.”
  3. Remember that everyone will judge a solution based on “what’s in it for me.” Sears said that if he’s presenting a solution to the CFO, for example, he will focus on financial benefits.

Sears said that keeping a solid business understanding front and center when making purchasing decisions helps the company prepare for expansion in the future. “A lot of things I work on are related to infrastructure, so those solutions typically have to prove ROI now and have flexibility for the future,” Sears said. “For example, I needed to upgrade our switches about three years ago, and I went with HP ProCurve, which was a bit more expensive but had a lot of capabilities. Now, as we want to virtualize and implement VLANs, we’re really tapping into those capabilities that we saw had potential if we had a business need.”

Being able to point out the foresight involved in past purchasing decisions paves the way for other purchases that might be more expensive in the short term but can lead to future business innovation.

Do you have insights to share about how your IT organization works with business leaders in your company? Send your thoughts to me via email at [email protected]. And follow me on Twitter @michelecrockett.

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