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 utilities and mobile communications
Number of IT staff: 11
Annual staff turnover: 0%
IT training budget per head: £3,000
Amount of new development work: 60%
Annual holiday: 25 days
Economy Power is an energy company set up two years ago to supply electricity to businesses. Its customers range from high street stores to public sector organisations, farms and sports clubs.
The company has offices in Cardiff, Cwmbran and Manchester.
According to one member of the IT team, technology is at the heart of the great strides the company has made in the past few years. He said, "We are very keen to help Economy Power stay at the forefront of the electricity industry, to increase productivity and to be able to process the thousands of contracts we receive each month. We feel it is essential to keep our technologies up-to-date."
In the past nine months the company has installed SQL Server 2000, upgraded from Access 97 to Access 2002 and installed a new web server to enable the IT team to develop the company intranet. It has also upgraded all network switches to 100mbps so that users have quicker access to databases and systems.
As the company is expanding at a fast rate, newcomers to the IT team are settled in as quickly as possible. "We are starting up to five new employees a month at the moment," said another member of the IT team. "We make sure they can start working as smoothly and efficiently as possible. We always buy new PCs as they guarantee the fewest problems and it also allows new starters to get up and running extremely quickly. New staff are trained with all the skills we feel they will need to get the most out of the software and hardware with which we develop our systems."
Newcomers to the IT department at Economy Power will be entering an environment where morale is high. Another member of the team told Computer Weekly, "Unlike many companies, each member of the team is self-managed. There are no levels of bureaucracy or an old-fashioned work ethic.
Once a person starts with the team they are given a portfolio of work and they are then responsible for it.
"This gives them the confidence that the company trusts them to provide a committed service. This is why our team is dedicated 100% to the smooth operational day-to-day running of the company and they regularly work additional hours to achieve this.
"Honesty and communication are integral to the team. Ideas are shared and the progress of projects is regularly discussed in meetings, which provides people with the opportunity to express their opinions." The team member added that career progression is encouraged through training that focuses on technology and interpersonal skills.
Two second-year university students are on one-year work placements in the department and both have been guaranteeda full-time position at the end of their studies.
Virgin Mobile Telecommunications
Number of IT staff: 97
Annual staff turnover: 11%
IT training budget per head: N/A
Amount of new development work: 60%
Annual holiday: 25 days
The Virgin Mobile IT department, based at Trowbridge in Wiltshire, has introduced new networking and telecommunications technologies for its end-users, such as a Cisco Lan, voice over IP and a wireless Lan, in the past 18 months.
The team also works with servers from Sun Microsytems and storage area network technology from HDS. One member of the IT team said, "Our department is not always the first to innovate with a new technology. We are very aware that new technology often requires significant support, so we try to ensure that we are able to train and support people so that we do not put them into situations where they are unprepared.
"We always try to assess a new technology to see if its benefits are compatible with what we want for our organisation and our customers." Commenting on the atmosphere in the team, another member of the IT department said, "The people in here make the place tick. We have great group of skilled, fun and enthusiastic people who know when to party, and when to put in the effort.
"The employees invest a lot in an incredibly dynamic organisation which demands high levels of customer service, and it is right to return that input by following Virgin values and doing what we can to look after their interests."
Head of IT John Kandiah said that maintaining a high morale among employees and creating a good working environment are among his key aims.
The team has an annual summer party to which employees' families are invited, and at Christmas, besides giving a present to every employee, the company organises a party for their children. Twice a year, the IT department staff go off-site for team-building exercises which include half a day of fun activities.
Kandiah said, "To improve the working environment and live the company values of fun and flexibility, we run frequent competitions on-site, with prizes up for grabs.
"One of the most successful schemes currently in place is the 'Shout' programme, the company's award and recognition scheme. It is a fun and different way to say thank you and recognise somebody who has 'gone the extra mile'.
"The programme is employee-nominated and offers 13 prizes every month, including a weekend break. It culminates in all the 'Shouts' collected during the past 12 months being entered into a draw for a special big prize at the end of the year - a holiday in South Africa."
To help the staff keep a healthy work/life balance, employees enjoy additional perks such as on-site massages, access to an external legal firm during working hours for personal matters such as wills and mortgages, and laundry and car-washing services.
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.