CCMA09: The Role of IT in Co-ops

— Tak Tang, IT Manager, Wedge Community Co-op & John Eicholtz, IT/Management Team, Greenfields Co-op

“What we do is never understood but always praised or blamed” — Friedrich Nietzsche

OK, i confess.  I spent the afternoon geeking out in the only two tech workshops of the conference.  I was asked to sit in on the discussion of the role of IT in co-ops and offer any input that i may have on the topic (which turns out to be quite a lot).  The workshop consisted of “lssons-learned” from Tak’s experiences managing IT at the Wedge.  His IT department consists of 9 staff currently (!!!) and has grown steadily during his time in the position.  There were definitely some valuable insights to be gained in listening to how the Wedge has grown their IT dept. and how they remain relevant, and beneficial to the co-ops bottom-line.  Administrative departments like IT can be a huge drain on co-op resources because they are not directly interfacing with the shoppers and they are certainly using plenty of labor and expenses.

How they’ve mangaed to grow such a large and effective department is interesting.  IT has grown by recruiting staff from other departments that have a heavy reliance on technology.  It started with accounting/bookkeeping.  Tak recruited the bookkeeper, who already was very integrated with the Wedge financial systems and deeply familiar with the needs of the department.  Integrating this skillset into IT allowed them to streamline systems and boost productivity, automating data translation and freeing up time to develop newer systems, and better practices.  Then they incorporated scanning.  Then HR.  Always drawing in talent that was already steeped in the systems of the other departments.

IT as internal customer service.  The IT role is to support the other administrative and operational departments in the store.  Period.  Hiring IT staff that is familiar with these departments and the inner-workings of the co-op is crucial to the success (or failure) of IT to satisfy this end.  Cube-dwelling anti-social hermits will not serve the co-op staff well.  They need to be plugged in, anticipate needs, and be available and approachable for support.  If not, they become a block, a hinderance to internal development.

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