For IT workers in retailing, IT is the business, and getting it right is a source of pride

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 employment best practice for other IT departments to follow. This week we profile the high achievers in the retailing sector.

Retailing  sponsor 

Progressive Computer Recruitment specialises in providing permanent and contract IT staff across the UK and Europe. After a decade of success, we continue to strive for a high quality of service for all our clients.


Number of IT staff: 136 

Annual staff turnover: 1.5% 

IT training budget per head: £5,000 

Amount of new development work: 75% 

Annual holiday: 24 days   

As part of the Wal-Mart family, Asda is in a great position when it comes to exploiting new technologies. The company is a leader in adopting RFID technology in stores for inventory management using handheld terminals backed up by world-class supply chain and logistics systems. It was also among the first retailers to adopt chip and Pin in its stores, a rapid implementation made possible by the close partnership between Wal-Mart and IBM.  

Asda is also ahead of the curve when it comes to wireless communications. Many of the stores use the latest Blackberry devices and Bluetooth technology, enabling managers to connect with head office whatever their location. 

It has also developed sophisticated supply-chain and business-intelligence systems. Asda's Retail Link is a system that enables the company's associates to analyse worldwide sales, shopping patterns and trends and to conduct online auctions. It gives Asda suppliers up-to-the-minute information about how and where their product is selling, which in turn enables them to optimise replenishment.   

According to one IT employee, the majority of Asda 's applications are developed in-house, either written from scratch or by customising source code of off-the-shelf packages. "This flexibility enables us to react as quickly as possible to the demands of the UK retail environment," he said. 

"Working in the IT department at Asda means that you play a key role in either driving sales or lowering costs. We pride ourselves on our ability to think as our customers think. We simply don't do IT for IT's sake, but deliver tangible benefits throughout our business." 

The management has also brought in some innovative work practices for IT staff. One team member told us, " Work/life balance is key. A simple example is the joker card which allows you to leave work a couple of hours early one day each week."

Avon Cosmetics   

Number of IT staff: 96 

Annual staff turnover: 2% 

IT training budget per head: £1,200 

Amount of new development work: 60% 

Annual holiday: 24-28 days   

The UK arm of Avon first opened in 1959 and today sales in the UK exceed £250m. Over 160,000 independent sales representatives sell Avon products direct to customers and now nearly a third of women in the UK shop with Avon. 

The company employs around 2,000 people in the UK. Avon's head office is in Northampton and its distribution and customer service centre is situated at Corby, where more than 10,000 orders are processed daily. 

Kevan Moorcroft, vice-president of regional IT at Avon UK, said the IT group is recognised as an integral part of the  overall business. He said, "IT staff have regular contact with users. They are all actively encouraged to participate in different business, operational and strategic projects even if no real IT involvement is necessary." 

Moorcroft says that he is proud of the IT department's low staff turnover rate and the length of service of some of his team. In some cases, individuals have worked in IT at Avon for between 20 and 30 years. 

Moorcroft says there is a range of perks for IT workers. "The flexible working patterns and benefits package are extremely supportive of the company values and  deliver the right work/life balance," he said. 

IT staff can also profit from a pay scheme related to company performance plus individual and team objectives. A number of company-wide recognition schemes offer financial rewards for outstanding projects and individual efforts. "We have received numerous awards over the last few years, including ones for supply chain and web initiatives," he said. 

Other elements of the job package include a career-mapping process, the opportunity to transfer or take a secondment to other areas of the business or another country locations, extensive overseas travel in some roles and company social events (partners welcome).


Number of IT staff: 30 

Annual staff turnover: 3.3% 

IT training budget per head: £2,000 

Amount of new development work: 80% 

Annual holiday: 27 days   

According to one IT employee, Sainbury's IT has been transformed in the past two years through a comprehensive outsourcing partnership with Accenture.  

He said, "We are replacing almost every system, achieving best-of-breed, single-standard and optimum operational support-model solutions. So far, we have replaced over 500 stores' systems (both point-of-sale and back-office) and have implemented Oracle for Finance and HR. 

"We have also replaced our intranet, installed product and range management systems for trading and installed multiple new supply chains." 

In addition he said his team have implemented an enterprise data warehouse and financial solutions for JS Bank and e-commerce for Sainsbury's to You, its online shop.  With an emphasis on innovation, the IT department has been central to facilitating the adoption of new technologies.  

In store it has trialled and adopted self-scanning/self-checkout, mobile stocktaking solutions, picking solutions for customer home-shopping, and various customer information systems. In depots, the team has installed automation software for warehouse control, wireless handheld stock control systems, vehicle scheduling, and yard management.  

Maggie Miller, IT manager, said the chance to work with new and exciting technologies has resulted in a massive boost to the morale of the IT team. "We are one of the only companies worldwide that is spending more on IT than ever before. We are committed to replace every IT system in Sainbury's over a three to four year period. The challenges are motivating for those with a passion for IT," she said.  

"Our outsourcing deal is ground-breaking and it's energising making it work. We are Accenture's biggest client in this type of outsourcing and being a constant source of reference is a source of pride to us all."

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