Meeting business challenges and sharing knowledge keeps staff happy and skills sharp

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 retail sector.

Number of IT staff: 17

Annual staff turnover: 5.5%

IT training budget per head: £1,500

Amount of new development work: 65%

Annual holiday: 25 days

Over the past two years the IT department at Hyundai has implemented new ERP and CRM systems. "These have provided us with a platform on which to build enhanced system capabilities for both Hyundai and our dealer network," said one employee.

"Although not new technologies as far as the IT industry may be concerned, they are of great benefit to our dealer network and ourselves," she added.

The IT department has also brought in SMS text messaging to alert dealers to new test-drive leads from the internet. A datawarehouse project using Cognos has also been implemented to provide reports on sales and aftersales activities for Hyundai and its dealers.

Rather than being marooned away from the rest of the business, the Hyundai IT department is assimilated into the rest of the company. Another employee said, "Our IT department is a great place to work because we are part of a great company. Our departmental objectives are driven by what the business needs rather than IT for IT's sake.

"This means we all have a lot of interaction with the business so we are not seen as a bunch of anoraks. We do not have a huge IT budget but we work together to find solutions rather than always get outside help in.

"People are given a general direction and then allowed to manage their own projects and objectives with minimal intervention. This allows our people to develop in a risk-free environment. A number of us have come to systems from the commercial side of the business rather than having a purely technical background and this helps with the overall lively feel of the department."

Personal development is taken seriously at the company, with employees taking part in quarterly reviews of both performance objectives and their own development needs.

Number of IT staff: 3

Annual staff turnover: 0%

IT training budget per head: £1,000

Amount of new development work: 50%

Annual holiday: 26 days
Based in Dorking , Surrey, Holsten UK is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Holsten Brauerei, Germany's largest brewer.

It distributes a number of drink products, particularly premium packaged lagers such as Holsten Export and Konig. Its prize product is Holsten Pils, which is the third best selling lager in the UK and has a 10% market share.

Matt Fry, a network administrator in Holsten's small IT department, says because it has only three staff there is a feeling of openness in the team. "Everyone is involved in every project because we sit so near to each other that we discuss everything that is going on," he said. "It gives you a good idea of the IT strategy as a whole."

But at the same time everyone has their own area of responsibility and feels empowered to make decisions because of the knowledge they have built up, Fry said.

Fry looks after the Lotus Notes e-mail system and has been involved in developing internal applications aimed at aiding logistics forecasting and sales analysis. He has also spearheaded the development of a new website, including building an e-commerce function so visitors to the site can buy souvenirs such as beer mugs and T-shirts.

The IT department is testing wireless applications as well as running two Linux machines, one on the mail router managing e-mail before it gets to the Notes system, and the other running an intrusion detection application. Fry said Linux does have a place in the enterprise and these are both main line business applications. However, the main server network is Windows 2000 using Active Directory for log-in and file share.

Holsten is reknowned as a progressive company in terms of its attitudes to staff development and benefits and has also been accredited with an Investors in People award. One of the more popular perks is the beer allowance - every staff member receives two cases of Holsten lager each month.

Number of IT staff: 3

Annual staff turnover: 0%

IT training budget per head: £5,000

Amount of new development work: 60%

Annual holiday: 30 to 33 days

Based in Wakefield, Actamed distributes medical equipment to UK hospitals. From surgical instruments to temperature gauges, chest drains to implant materials, the company supplies more than 2,000 items.

In April this year it launched an online web purchasing system, the Actamed Shop Online, to encourage NHS Trusts to order online and streamline their procurement processes.

Actamed is already a trailblazer in the field of e-commerce, having been the first UK medical supply company to sign up to the Global Healthcare Exchange (GHX) internet purchasing system used by hospitals throughout the UK, Europe and the US. GHX is acknowledged to have helped to revolutionise the NHS' purchasing power and saved it substantial sums of money through more efficient electronic ordering procedures.

David Idle, the IT manager at Actamed, said the IT department has also been heavily involved in developing IT systems that support Actamed's sales staff working remotely. "Almost half our workforce are teleworkers out in the field, visiting hospitals and servicing our customers," he said. "We survive on sales and a vital part of selling is having the right information at your fingertips."

Idle said his team has used extranet technologies to push information out to the road warriors who use their laptops to access clinical documents to support sales discussions, and sales performance spreadsheets that are updated daily. Messaging functionality in the SQL Server database is also used to send daily sales highlights to mobile phones.

The long-term plan for supporting the remote workers is to use technology to build a cyber community, says Idle.

"I would like to enable them to keep in touch with the company and their colleagues in other ways beyond the daily sales updates." He says he is looking at ways to make his Wan "more social".

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