Sometimes some of the most challenging tasks for any IT professional don’t deal with technology, but with how that technology is selected, paid for, and implemented. Many IT pros can relate tales of being at odds with management or other parts of their organization over IT issues, a challenging situation that makes their jobs more difficult.

Purchasing new IT products and services for any organization can sometimes be a long and arduous process, involving many stakeholders and requiring buy-in and approval from many different people. In some shops, the IT staff owns the process, with little input from management. In others, non-IT staff may have more influence. Undoubtedly the best approach is one where IT and all the relevant stakeholders work together to meet the needs of all parties, while delivering solutions that are cost-effective and advance the needs of the organization.

One company that seems to be taking that approach to IT is Value Plastics, a Fort Collins, Colorado-based manufacturer of medical supplies. I had the opportunity to speak with Value Plastics CFO Terry Gibbons and IT Manager Nels Dachel to get their perspective on how IT can work best with business decision makers. My colleague Michele Crocket spoke with IT Manager Jeff Sears, and you can read his story in Michele’s IT Pro Perspectives column in this issue.

Nels Dachel is the IT Manager for Value Plastics and is Jeff Sears’ supervisor.  When asked about pitfalls IT professionals can avoid when dealing with business stakeholders, Dachel stressed that the IT department needs to always have the business interest of the larger organization in mind.

“It’s important to realize that IT is there to serve the larger needs of the business,” Dachel says. “I’ve been an IT Manager for a long time, and I’ve always tried to make sure that the culture in our IT department was all about service to the rest of the organization. If there rest of the company isn’t happy with the IT department, you’re not doing your job.”

Dachel also suggests that IT professionals sometimes need to put their own personal preferences about technology solutions on the shelf and try to see what truly is the best solution for the business as a whole. “You really need to look at using the best technology solution for the problem at hand, and not try to evangelize your own preferences,” says Dachel. “I’m a developer with a .NET background. My knee-jerk preference in some situations is that we can write the solution ourselves. But that’s not always the right choice and sometimes is the wrong solution for the business. I really don’t like \\[popularity\\] contests about Mac vs. PC, .NET vs. Java, etc. You really need to focus on what technology solution is best for the need at hand.”

I also spoke with Nel’s boss, Value Plastics CFO Terry Gibbons, to get his perspective on how business owners should make IT an integral part of the strategic direction of the company.

“Our IT department is really involved in the business. Our entire organization leans on them, and they really help us optimize our business processes,” Gibbons says. “I’ve worked as a CFO in several large companies, and I’ve encountered IT departments that were literally treated as those ‘back room people’ who didn’t have a good understanding of what the needs of the business were, or the IT leader wouldn’t let them.  They could write code and generate reports, but they didn’t have the same level of visibility, exposure, and integration that our IT department has at Value Plastics.”

Gibbons also takes an enlightened approach with IT costs and spending and is reluctant to focus too heavily on ROI and other financial metrics to measure IT success. “I’m really more concerned about giving our employees the best tools we can. I’m not overly concerned about an immediate ROI as long as we can get that return down the road and that we’re putting our investments where we need to now.”

One final bit of advice from Gibbons and Dachel about building bridges between IT and business stakeholders involves simply being open to learning about what your colleagues have to offer. “Nels and the IT department started reporting to me about a year ago, and when that happened we made each other a deal,” explains Gibbons. “We meet every week to review things and go through our current to-do list. And I promised to spend some of that time teaching Nels about finance, and Nels promised to teach me a bit about IT. That arrangement is working out pretty well so far.”  

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 jeff.james@penton.com, or follow me on Twitter @jeffjames3. You can also check out my Business Technology Perspectives blog online at WindowsITPro.com.