The Best Places to Work in IT Awards 2007 were celebrated at the London Marriott Hotel in Grosvenor Square on 2 March. Profiled here are the winners whose effective and innovative employment practices have put their IT departments at the top of the list
Winner: Best of the Best Award
Sponsored by Computer Weekly
Category winner: Construction, agriculture and mining
Sponsored by ReThink Recruitment
Engineering firm Atkins boasts a highly skilled in-house IS training team which designs and delivers courses for customers and staff. All the members of the IS team are qualified to at least foundation level in the IT Infrastructure Library project management framework. There is a strong emphasis on training and all IS staff are encouraged to gain membership of professional bodies.
A key push this year is towards unlocking performance. The aim is to get people involved in collaborative team working and coaching. This has involved one-to-one interviews with external staff development specialists to complement existing corporate training work.
The company has managed to break away from the traditional culture of IS with family friendly policies. For example, it is acceptable for fathers to take time off to look after children, or to start and finish early to allow them to collect children from school. The department is involved in forums within the business to extend this concept across the company.
Atkins has also been successful in attracting back to work IT staff who take time out to bring up children. Childcare e-vouchers enable staff to take advantage of tax savings on childcare costs.
In addition to established benefits available to IS staff, three more have been introduced this year: the Bike4work subsidised cycle scheme, discounted health club membership and cut-price Bupa health insurance.
An initiative called “Greener Futures” encourages recycling and the reduction of waste. Under the scheme, each member of the IS department has been given a water bottle to reduce the amount of plastic cups used, and duplex printing has been rolled out across the company.
IS hosts weekly Pilates sessions and there is a resident holistic therapist available to all IS staff.
The judges particularly liked Atkins’ Greener Futures initiative. The company’s positive attitude to family commitments and its “unlocking performance” initiatives also impressed.
The Employee Assistance Programme and the flexible policies that have attracted staff back into the company were cited as impressive. Atkins also scored points for its work with charities and local schools. The judges particularly liked the fact that it is culturally acceptable for fathers to take time off to look after children.
Category winner: Banking (retail, wholesale and commercial)
Sponsored by Rullion Computer Personnel
Birmingham Midshires prides itself on offering its staff a workplace that encourages openness and honesty, enjoyment of work, and pride in the company. The organisation impressed the judges with its commitment to continuing professional development for its IT staff.
The organisation decided to make 2006 a year of learning, in which it actively encouraged IT staff to develop their skills. The initiative included the appointment of a dedicated learning consultant to advise and guide people through their training needs.
The organisation ran “Learn-IT” days to encourage people to visit a learning resource centre to view training materials. People borrowing materials on the day were entered into a prize draw.
IT staff undertook more than 200 technical training days during the course of the year. Topics covered included IBM iSeries RPG programming, Microsoft .net, project management skills, and BCS Iseb software foundation testing. Two IT professionals acquired degrees during the course of the year, in IT and computing and computer science.
The 80-plus IT staff, a mixture of full-time and part-time workers, enjoy a variety of start and finish times, which have been agreed with team leaders to suit their own requirements.
On an individual level, the IT department has provided one of its managers with technology to work from home so that he can support his wife, who is undergoing a course of chemotherapy. Another long serving member of staff who retired to Cyprus has been provided with IT so that she can do contract work from her new home.
The judges liked Birmingham Midshires’ well structured and focused continuing professional development programme. They said the organisation was clear about what it was trying to do in all areas and was able to offer the judges concrete examples of good practice.
The judges were particularly impressed by the two powerful examples of work/life balance in action. Birmingham Midshires’ decision to make 2006 a year of training was one of the key strengths of this entry.
Category winner: Financial services
Sponsored by Rullion Computer Personnel
Friends Provident is one of the few organisations to have a mission statement aimed at creating a positive working environment in IT. Its key tenets are that everyone should enjoy their job and take responsibility for their personal development and career choices so that they feel challenged and motivated.
Senior management has hosted a workshop for all IT people to explore how to create a positive and effective working environment. Monthly workshops continue to add energy, enthusiasm and creativity to this initiative.
All sites have a learning library offering books, DVDs, and interactive CD Roms on a wide range of topics. Within Friends Provident’s IT department, support and training material is provided for all applications and tools being used in the company, and workshop training is available on more than 50 individual skill sets.
The IT department works with all of its employees to find a balance between enjoyment at work and development of the individual outside working hours.
The Personal Development Scheme gives all staff a financial allowance to undertake training in areas outside work, such as golf lessons, for example.
Time off is given to members of staff who want to take part in charitable or volunteer work, and several of Friends Provident’s IT people take part in a volunteer reading scheme in local schools. There is a generous allocation of parental leave and time off for life events and to care for dependants and loved ones.
The judges were impressed by Friends Provident’s proactive approach to the working environment, which they saw as a reflection of the IT director’s strong leadership skills.
The company offers a lot of staff benefits, and it places importance on communication with management. Particularly noteworthy were the company’s use of European secondments, paternal adoption leave, and six-month sabbaticals, as well as more unusual activities, such as funding golf lessons.
Berwin Leighton Paisner
Category winner: Business and professional services
Sponsored by Rullion Computer Personnel
London law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner encourages cross-disciplinary involvement throughout the business. This is demonstrated by the twinning programme which matches professional departments together. Every event starts with a games session such as “speed dating” to get to know each other quickly.
The IT department runs an open day programme, created to encourage everyone to understand what technology is available and how best to use it. Individual stands have been set up in a meeting room showing remote working, client extranets, litigation support and other technically specific offerings. More than 80% of the company’s employees attended the most recent event, and the model has been copied by other parts of the organisation.
The IT training team belong to the Institute of IT Training. In addition to technical training, the firm sponsors and supports individuals in their tertiary education needs, ranging from an MSc in information management, through a BSc in business studies to an MBA. The IT team holds monthly meetings when either technical initiatives or the working of other sections of the firm are explored in depth.
Berwin Leighton Paisner has a highly developed maternity and paternity leave and support programme. The firm also provides personal support through an outsourced counselling group called Lifeworks. This provides individuals with the opportunity to discuss in private issues ranging from debt management, through bereavement counselling, to support for different styles of working to accommodate lifestyle changes.
The company also provides a concierge-style support service, which will do everything from locating baby-sitters to getting the dry cleaning done.
The judges were impressed by Berwin Leighton Paisner’s rounded approach to professional development, including the development of soft skills, such as communication and people management. Particularly noteworthy was the open day, designed to bring IT into the heart of the organisation. The concierge service is an added boon for busy IT professionals.
Category winner: IT software and hardware suppliers
Sponsored by Spring Technology
IT staff benefit from being an integral part of communications provider Data Connection, which is wholly owned by an employee benefit trust. There are no external shareholders and each IT staff member has a stake in the future wealth that the business creates. The fact that everyone has a direct stake in the company’s success provides the basis for a highly positive working environment.
Data Connection believes in an open working environment in which team members are involved in the organisation’s future direction and strategy. It encourages people to raise any issues and concerns so that they can be discussed and addressed.
The company encourages staff to obtain technical qualifications by paying their costs and allowing study time within working hours.
Working hours are flexible and part-time working is accommodated. It also supports home working where possible. Social activities organised for lunchtimes and evenings include a squash league, theatre trips, a dining club, football/softball in the park, prayer meetings and subsidised membership of local gyms.
The company also recognises the importance of employees’ families, providing “meals for two” for staff who work exceptional hours. It holds an annual children’s Christmas party, and other events to which partners are invited, including the recent all--expenses-paid 25th anniversary celebrations in Rome for three days in a five-star hotel.
The company has had only two staff leave its IT team during the past year, and both of these left due to personal reasons, rather than moving to a similar role with another employer.
Data Connection scored highly for its continuing professional development of staff. The company is well organised and does a lot for its staff, including offering secondments to provide better career development paths. It also has a high training budget. Many organisations focus only on technical training, but Data Connection’s approach is far wider.
The Coal Authority
Category winner: Public Services and Non-Profit Sector
Sponsored by Capita Resourcing
Communication plays an important role in creating a positive atmosphere at the Coal Authority. The executive team has an open door policy for all staff and discussion and feedback is encouraged. There is a monthly debrief on important issues and staff can give feedback directly to the chief executive through a web forum.
Each new staff member undergoes a two-week customised induction programme. This includes visits to each department to understand the diverse range of activities that the Coal Authority performs. The induction features one-to-one sessions with the executive team, including the chief executive, and offsite visits to mine water treatment schemes, for example.
The IT department of 12 staff has a generous annual training budget and encourages both technical and personal development. It has three qualified Prince 2 practitioners, with further team members awaiting exam results.
It has supported staff in obtaining ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) and MSP (Managing Successful Programmes) qualifications, and has also supported a member of the IT team through an MSc in geographic information science.
The organisation has well established policies on family friendly working, parental leave, equal opportunities and home working. These include a flexi-working scheme where staff can leave at 4pm or arrive at 10am. Staff who work more than their allotted hours can accumulate extra holiday time.
A child care voucher scheme is available to staff which can save parents up to £1,196 a year. The Coal Authority is active in monitoring staff stress levels and provides a third-party helpline to offer staff personal guidance.
The emphasis on high staff morale and training has led to an extremely low staff turnover rate of 5%. Very few leave the organisation for similar roles with alternative local employers.
The judges were impressed by the Coal Authority’s emphasis on cross transfer of knowledge. The two-week staff induction and excellent induction process scored highly. Particularly notable was that staff were offered one-on-one sessions with the executive team, including the chief executive. The company actively supports social and charitable events, including fielding a team for the local marathon. The child care voucher scheme was also impressive.
Category winner: Utilities and telecommunications
Sponsored by Capita Resourcing
Kingston Communications continuously strives to be among the best places to work by regularly introducing new initiatives.
All staff are involved in setting the company’s vision and strategic objectives. Staff have their own work improvement teams. There are bi-annual staff and manager conferences, monthly team briefings, an intranet site, and quarterly two-way feedback forums.
Kingston Communications recognises and rewards staff who go beyond the call of duty. There is an extensive induction programme and processes to ensure new starters are welcomed into the team. The company holds regular social events within IT and across the business to develop working relationships and raise money for charities.
Benchmarking shows that staff receive above industry average remuneration. Benefits include a subsidised restaurant and discounts for local shops and services.
Kingston’s Graduate Programme develops graduates through the first two years of their career, moving them through departments to develop a broad understanding of IT. Salary increases are linked to quarterly objectives. The company puts significant effort into building relationships with local universities through careers fairs and visits.
Kingston Communications supports staff in gaining ITIL, Prince and Microsoft accreditations. All line managers undertake an in-house management development programme which teaches key skills. Technical career paths are available as an alternative to management roles.
Where practical, the company supports employee requests to change their working patterns to suit home needs. Staff can also take extended unpaid leave to suit career breaks or personal needs.
Staff are offered flexible benefits, allowing them to select the elements of their package most suitable to them at different stages of their life, including buying/selling holiday, life insurance, dental and medical cover. Medical counselling and support services are available to all staff when needed.
The judges were impressed by the involvement of Kingston Communications’ staff in its corporate vision. They also liked the fact that the company ran many social events to raise money for charities.
The organisation won recognition for supporting accreditation of its IT staff, running twice-yearly appraisals and empowering its staff to meet their objectives.
Procter & Gamble
Category winner: Manufacturing and engineering
Sponsored by Best
Procter & Gamble’s IT department has a strong focus on flexible working and homeworking. IT staff have access to a suite of flexible work arrangements, including sabbaticals, reduced work schedules and family leave. Regular community events ensure that home and office workers reconnect to strengthen friendships and working relationships.
Working within business teams has improved relationships with colleagues from other functions and helped IT professionals build business knowledge and skills. Work is far more satisfying as friction is reduced and results improved. This was evidenced in a company survey where 89% of people agreed they were “proud to work” in the department.
Each IT professional spends about 15 company days a year on IT and corporate training, with typical annual training budgets of £6,000 per person. Training programmes include an executive development scheme, intensive training and a senior mentoring bootcamp for developing tomorrow’s IT leaders.
The company’s Gable UK network champions equal opportunities among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. It has ensured equal benefits for couples regardless of sexual orientation.
Staff can take advantage of emergency nanny cover, company funded au pair and nanny-finding services, life stage financial planning workshops, and a 24-hour employee assistance hotline which offers free legal advice, financial advice and stress counselling.
Social events include a monthly “cake club”, where people take time out to relax and joke about the merits of people’s baking talents, as they eat cakes baked by their peers.
The judges particularly liked Procter & Gamble’s initiatives to link IT staff into the business. The company is one of the industry’s biggest investors in training and offers staff benefits to help them balance the demands of work and home.
The company offers strong development pathways, and it is particularly strong on senior management development.
Web Exploitation Division of Army Information Services
Category winner: Central government
Sponsored by Capita Resourcing
The Web Exploitation Division of Army Information Services provides as its primary product ArmyNet, the British Army’s official internet portal.
It comprises a small, tight-knit group that works together to make things happen. Everyone contributes, from the bottom to the top, and knowing that everyone is in it together makes for an energetic group that rewards and recognises excellence.
The division works in a dynamic, fast-moving environment, and it strives to offer the best, most up-to-date web services possible for soldiers. The division is run on a very tight budget, so it cannot rely on outside expertise when it needs to solve a problem or explore an alternative.
The Web Exploitation Division believes that training and continued development make better employees, and that if the division is committed to its staff, they will be committed in turn to the division.
It runs a robust assessment and evaluation programme that includes formal semi-annual reviews with detailed guidance on self-improvement and the next professional step.
It budgets for at least four one-week training courses a year for each employee to ensure their skills stay up to date, and it individually manages each person’s career progression to ensure they are on the right track for success.
All employees have a generous leave and compensation plan that includes health care and retirement benefits. It offers flexible working hours and the ability to work from home where appropriate.
The group manager and director have open-door policies so that any employee can approach management with any concerns and feel confident that they will be acted upon.
The judges were impressed with the high standard of IT training support at the Web Exploitation Division, which includes extensive days for training. The organisation clearly values individuals and continuity among its IT workforce.
Category winner: IT services suppliers (including outsource providers)
Sponsored by Accenture
IT services company ITRM is a firm believer in teamwork. The directors are very much part of the team and every member of staff is willing to help one another, whatever their department.
Management at ITRM ensures that employees are well looked after, with complimentary breakfasts, team training and working lunches, daily papers and magazines, relaxation zones in all offices, break areas for discussion, and refreshments.
In addition, the company provides spacious, “energy generating” offices for staff to work in.
Social events where staff from different departments meet and mingle are very important to the company. ITRM has a social evening at least once a month and the IT department has its own football and go-karting teams. Employees attend team-building lunches to motivate and mix with technical, back-office and management staff.
Motivating and retaining staff is seen as fundamental to success. The company presents an award once a month to the member of staff who has shown the “most exceptional customer service”. Other awards reward good performance and hard work and there are pay bonuses and regular salary reviews.
ITRM believes that highly trained and dedicated personnel will achieve high standards of service and support. It invests heavily in training. A designated training area is in constant use. Mentors are assigned to each IT department employee to support and encourage staff.
ITRM encourages employees to have a healthy balance between home and work life. All staff have the option of working from home. The Employees Assistance programme is designed for employees who need advice on a variety of issues, or who may have personal problems and require time off.
ITRM impressed the judges with its exceptional range of benefits, its Employees Assistance programme, and its strong emphasis on training, not only in technical skills, but in soft skills. The judges also liked the individual mentoring for staff and encouragement of creative thinking.
Category winner: Retail, wholesale and distribution
Sponsored by ReThink Recruitment
Each morning the ASDA IS department starts the day with a huddle, discussing any issues that have occurred the previous day, the impact and resolution of those issues, and celebrating any success.
One wall in the department is dedicated to photographs of major events, showing how the company lives its values of “respect for the individual”, “customer service” and “strive for excellence”.
During last summer’s World Cup the department turned one corner of the office into a football stadium, with huge TV screen, terraces, seats and a pitch. It organises community projects where the entire department works on improving the environments at local schools and charities.
The daily “ISD TV” channel displays on several plasma TV screens around the office, giving information on company sales, local news and upcoming social events.
Training and development is very much part of the culture within ASDA and the IS department is recognised as one of the best departments at implementing the various schemes.
Almost a quarter of the company’s IS staff have taken the Project Management Institute’s PMP (project management professional) qualification. Each year 12 employees are given the opportunity to take the additional training and exams to gain a certificate.
Further in-house project management, business analysis and behavioural training are also part of the development programme. An example of this is the Late Lunch ‘n’ Learn programme, where staff from the IS department and the wider business deliver training courses aimed at improving business and technical skills. All employees’ professional fees are funded by ASDA.
The company also operates a three-year graduate scheme offering a structured development programme, which leads to a project management role. Graduates are moved around each team within the department, as well as working in store.
ASDA encourages flexible working hours. Laptops are offered to staff wanting to work from home. Career breaks are also an option within the company, ranging from a week’s unpaid leave to watch the World Cup, through to one-year sabbaticals.
Job sharing is also encouraged as a viable alternative for staff who need more time at home but want to stay with the company.
One innovation is the use of the “joker card”, which staff place on their desk to indicate they have left the -office early.
The judges were impressed with ASDA’s three-year graduate development programme and central training schemes.
The climate of acceptability for staff who wanted to leave early, by playing a “joker card” is a refreshing change. The judges liked ASDA’s annual “We’re Listening” survey, which has produced a measurable impact on working life.
The dedicated parking spaces for staff that car share with colleagues, the ability for staff to move around the organisation and the daily “huddle” also won praise.
Kent County Council
Category winner: Local government
Sponsored by Hy-phen
Creating and maintaining a positive working environment is one of five key objectives for the IT department at Kent County Council. It has an elected group, which meets every two weeks and aims to promote positivity within the working environment.
Charity work is important to the department, which runs an annual fund-raising event. This year it is supporting BBC Children In Need. Supporting the community is also a priority, and some team-building events are combined with voluntary work.
Training plans take a holistic view of the individual’s need for professional development. There are opportunities for coaching, secondments and informal learning. A typical training plan will include one or more of the following:
- Technical training, such as accredited Microsoft and Oracle courses
- Process training, such as ITIL or Prince2
- Training for interpersonal skills, such as management development.
This year several members of staff have been seconded to other teams. In many cases these secondments resulted in opportunities to move on a permanent basis.
The department and suppliers run internal workshops; the latest was on security software Mail Sweeper and was provided for all service desk and area support staff.
Shadowing and exchange visits with the business helps employees understand business pressures and how the IT systems they support are used to underpin front line services.
The council makes sure that staff are equipped with the right technology so that they are able to plan their work in conjunction with personal commitments. It also provided flexible working and parking for a member of staff following her partner’s serious accident. This enabled her to visit him in a London hospital every day, which had restricted visiting hours, and made her journey home late at night safer than it would otherwise have been.
Kent County Council won over the judges with its strong community spirit, its focus on interpersonal skills and management development, and its objective to “create and maintain a positive working environment”.
Category winner: Hospitality, entertainment and leisure
Sponsored by ReThink Recruitment
Members of the IT team at online gambling company Betfair work at the cutting edge of technology. Betfair’s employees, many of them sports enthusiasts, are passionate about the business. With this in mind, the company promotes events by setting up TV screens around the office and holding post-event celebrations.
The chief technical officer runs a regular forum for engineers to ask questions, discuss ideas and raise concerns.
Betfair’s Innovate and Win programme gives staff an opportunity to win £10,000 by putting forward the best innovative product or prototype. Anyone in the business can come up with an idea, develop it, and quickly validate customer interest.
Betfair offers staff discounts on various goods such as music vouchers, travel and electronic items.
To ensure IT staff keep abreast of new developments, Betfair provides bite-sized training sessions through internally run masterclasses. These cover topics such as communication styles, marketing and web design.
For relaxation, there is a games room where employees can watch TV, play on the Playstation or read. There are also yoga sessions for staff who spend long hours working on pieces of code and new programmes.
There is an 18-month graduate recruitment scheme across critical business areas. Ten graduates are expected to join the programme this year. There are also regular coaching and mentoring sessions and secondments to develop staff.
The judges were impressed with Betfair’s graduate recruitment programme; strong cultural passions and its team of dedicated learning and development specialists.
There is a strong encouragement for new ideas at Betfair. The company demonstrated a strong cultural passion. It has a work hard, play hard culture, and staff were prepared to really go the extra mile, when offered the chance to win £10,000 for an idea. The judges also liked Betfair’s programme of peer mentoring.
- David Clayden, chairman, Charities Consortium IT Directors Group
- Roger Ellis, chairman, IT Directors Network
- Robin Laidlaw, president, Computer Weekly 500 Club
- Roger Marshall, IT director, City of London Corporation
- Denise Plumpton, IT director, Highways Authority
- Simon Rogerson, director, Centre of Computing and Social Responsibility, De Montfort University
- David Tidey, chairman, BCS Elite IT directors group
- Ray Titcombe, chairman, IBM Computer Users Association
- Chris Webb, British Computer Society.
More about the awards
This was first published in March 2007