Spotlight on Information Technology

Passion for technology and a problem-solving team spirit drives Cloverland’s Information Technology (IT) department to increase efficiency and implement new services at the cooperative.

At any organization, the IT department is known for having all the answers. Computer won’t start? Call IT. Forgot your password? Send IT an email.

While most roles at the cooperative are member-facing, the primary role of the IT department is internal – customers served are fellow employees of the cooperative. Cloverland’s IT Department is the glue that holds the cooperative together – ensuring all 118 cooperative employees have functioning tools needed to accomplish their job roles.

Cloverland’s IT department (left to right): Jim Bennin, Chuck Zane and Steve Markstrom have served the cooperative 69 years collectively.

Cloverland’s Director of Information Technology, Chuck Zane manages the department, develops internal technology policy, coordinates the department’s budget and communicates with other departments. Information technology analyst, Jim Bennin, is the department guru - managing internal network communications. Integrated data systems specialist, Steve Markstrom, is the first line of support for power outages and member supporting operations and manages data and reports.

All three members of the team share responsibilities of responding to help desk inquiries from cooperative employees. About 60 percent of the day is spent helping employees with technology fixes!

Managing the influx of help requests led the IT team to adopt a new system for inquires. Employees can now submit a detailed request through a web portal, which allows the request to be tracked from the moment submitted until the request is closed. Increasing efficiency of the help desk process helps employees track the process of their request, while allowing IT to manage many requests simultaneously.

An average day starts with a team meeting where priorities are delegated in a triage style depending on the goals for the day. As an internal department, many alerts come from member services and the co-op's system control center that must be responded to by an IT team member.

“We never know who is going to need us when we come to work in the morning,” Zane states. “We walk into a small issue like someone can’t log in to their computer, or a much larger issue such as a power outage where the meters won’t respond. We are always in a triage mode.”

Long-term projects the department is focusing on include life-cycle replacement of daily use technology and upgrades to critical technological infrastructure. A current project the department is ready to implement is a new cooperative phone system. The phone system will provide much needed flexibility for field employees who will now have the option to answer office-based calls on their cell phones while in the field.

“Many of our core projects are long-term and behind-the-scenes,” states Bennin. “Many employees may not even hear about them until they are fully implemented.”

Successful long-term planning by the IT department was evident in March 2020 when the department quickly transitioned more than 46 cooperative employees to working remotely in just 10 days! Preparing for future technology trends more than two years in advance was a key factor in the successful transition to working safely from home.

Creativity is key for Cloverland’s information technology department. Technical problems often require critical thinking skills and out of the box ideas. Every day is different, with new opportunities and challenges for the team to face.

Markstrom describes his favorite part of the role as helping other employees each day. Bennin enjoys the diversity of challenges. Zane states his favorite part of the job is technology. Collectively, they have served the cooperative 69 years (30 for Zane, 13 for Bennin and 24 for Markstrom).

“Look how far we’ve come,” Zane states. “The technology field is constantly changing, and we are at the forefront of that in the cooperative world.”

While technology will continue to change, one thing remains the same – the determination of Cloverland’s IT Department to conquer any new challenge that comes their way.

By Abby Bell