Design and build a stronger IT workforce by encouraging and supporting staff

It is a pleasure here at Computer Weekly to profile the IT departments that have made it on to our shortlist of the Best Places...

It is a pleasure here at Computer Weekly to profile the IT departments that have made it on to our shortlist of the Best Places to Work in IT 2003. Through feedback from IT managers and their staff, our aim is to celebrate the best employers of IT professionals and highlight best practice for other IT departments to follow. This week we profile the high achievers in engineering and construction.

Arup IT Services

Number of IT staff: 55

Annual staff turnover: 8%

IT training budget per head: £1,500

Amount of new development work: 25%

Annual holiday: 25 days

From its roots in engineering consultancy, Arup has become a firm of designers in the broadest sense, involved in everything from automobiles to infrastructure, structural engineering to communications consultancy, financial and socially-led engineering. The company has offices around the globe and its work has taken its employees to more than 160 countries.

Arup's IT services group has deployed leading-edge technologies to enable its geographically dispersed users to collaborate. For example, its office in Gabarone, France has a 64k VSat link to deliver voice and data, and the savings in telephone call charges alone have justified the initiative.  

Arup has also pioneered engineering analysis software through its Oasys Software arm. "This software has modelled some of the most innovative architectural projects throughout the world, and a low-cost scheme for students has allowed quality design using IT to be the academic norm," said one IT employee. Another member of the team said, "The Arup ethos - that we shape a new world - definitely filters through our core business of engineering consultancy to the IT services group. We are all mandated to have an opinion and to voice it wherever possible. This sometimes makes for robust debate, but in general, the company and the staff get the best out the IT infrastructure this way." The department prides itself on keeping budgets to a minimum, and strives to re-use kit when possible and make the most out of its resources. "So the geeks are happy, as well as the bean-counters," he said.

"When high-tech R&D is required, Arup finds the resources and trusts the staff to know their industry. With the economic slowdown we have had to lower our costs considerably. This has been handled sensitively and with common sense, providing staff with the tools to make changes in profitability ourselves, which is an empowering thing," he said.

BAA Terminal 5 project

Number of IT staff: 48

Annual staff turnover: 8%

IT training budget per head: £1,750

Amount of new development work: 45%

Annual holiday: 30 days

The statistics about Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5 project are immense. The total cost of the build is expected to be about £3.5bn. It has been estimated that, at the peak of the programme, there will be 6,000 people working in or around the site and by the end of the project, 30,000 people will have provided input into the terminal's construction in some form.

The IT team at BAA has provided a service framework to support this programme, consisting of more than 114 applications on 2,250 PCs and 230 Cad workstations. Its on-site technical support responds to more than 500 calls a week. Of the more than 60 "virtual" suppliers, the IT team has provided site network connectivity to about 30 remote sites via VPN links and external connectivity. The team uses Cad to make 3D virtual models of the terminal buildings - the T5 programme has become the largest architectural desktop workshop in the UK .

One IT staffer said, "I enjoy my work on the T5 programme. Its sheer size and scale, coupled with the complexities and variety of working for the UK's biggest construction environment is exciting and continually changing.

"Supporting business-critical programme controls applications can be very demanding and challenging. As a team we need to understand our customers' business objectives to ensure we support them and their existing systems to deliver the programme on time and to budget. This means we have to maintain a good working relationship with our customers and within the IT team. 

"We work in an open plan office and this enables plenty of team interaction. We enjoy lots of banter and jokes and, in this way, we can support and encourage each other and engender a friendly, open environment. Social activities are regularly organised and we are encouraged to attend."


Number of IT staff: 65

Annual staff turnover: 1%

IT training budget per head: £2,000

Amount of new development work: 1%

Annual holiday: 25 days

Hanson is the largest producer of aggregates in the world; the third largest producer of ready mixed concrete and clay bricks; and the leading manufacturer of concrete pipes in the UK.

One member of the IT team said, "The adoption of Cognos business intelligence tools, Powerplay and Impromptu, to replace hard-copy management and sales reporting was a good indicator of the company's attitude to IT. We removed most of the hard-copy reporting and the timescale for users to access reports is greatly reduced."

The department has upgraded to the latest versions of the fourth generation languages. "Any change to the 4GLs means we have to deal with about 2,000 programs and up to 5,000 users. We are able, because of our in-house expertise and business knowledge, to assess the risks and approach the changes with confidence," said another member of the team.

The company has also been through a number of recent mergers and acquisitions, which have affected the IT department. One IT team member said, "New staff have gelled well with the retained staff which has aided the business through the post-convergence trauma and helped to build a credible, professional resource for the business. It has been a difficult period where the IT team has been put under a lot of pressure. It is a credit to the team that they have developed their relationships and consistently improved the level and range of services, maintained a sense of humour and still want to be part of a demanding roadmap over the next few years."

"We are given the chance to achieve recognition within the IT industry through training schemes and are encouraged to improve our technical and business knowledge. We are also encouraged to participate in user groups to interact with peers from similar businesses and users of the software we use from other sectors, increasing business and technical knowledge.

Engineering sponsor

Harvey Nash is a global recruitment consultancy operating in more than 24 offices worldwide. It works with some of the world's leading companies to place IT staff at all levels on a permanent and contract basis.

Read more on IT jobs and recruitment