The cream of the crop

In this special section, we profile the award-winning companies that made it to the very top of the judges’ lists as the Best...

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In this special section, we profile the award-winning companies that made it to the very top of the judges’ lists as the Best Places to Work in IT 2005




The award

Computer Weekly introduced the Best Places to Work in IT awards in spring 2004. We asked anyone who thought they worked for a great IT department to nominate it and complete an online survey.

The aim of the awards is to showcase the best in IT and highlight the most effective employment practice for other IT departments to follow. The quality and quantity of this year’s response makes it one of the largest and most definitive snapshots of IT employment undertaken in the UK.

Following the announcement of the shorlisted entrants, Computer Weekly has investigated the themes and approaches raised in a weekly series of articles.

The final winners, profiled in this section, received their awards at the Park Lane Hotel in London on 2 March.

Computer Weekly's Best Places to Work 2005 Awards are organised in association with Sun Microsystems

The Best of the Best: Procter & Gamble UK

Number of IT professionals: 120

Number of staff supported: 22,000

The IT team at Procter & Gamble enjoy innovative and pioneering projects, with the more routine support work now outsourced. Team members work in an informal but challenging environment. There is a flexible approach to work whereby staff dictate their own start and end times to meet personal needs, observing some core hours.

Some staff work part time and spend the balance of the week doing voluntary work, for example. One team member recently took advantage of a company scheme called "Go, give, grow", where she spent a year working for the World Health Organisation in Geneva.

After two years everyone in the team can take a three-month sabbatical, repeatable every seven years.

Procter & Gamble also offers an IT career development programme called IT Pathways, where staff are given the tools and skills to drive their own career along with their manager. This focuses on IT skills and competency through varied assignments.

All the staff in the IT team change assignment every two or three years, which means all staff can learn about new parts of the business and new technologies.

Everyone who joins the team is given a "buddy", a senior member of staff new starters can go to for help. Everyone is encouraged to have a mentor and the top talent are assigned sponsors – members of senior management – who help them succeed.

Work/life balance is taken very seriously and senior managers are role models for younger staff. The company is developing location-free roles so people can have the flexibility to combine their location preferences and personal needs.

Overall winner Procter & Gamble is also the category winner for Manufacturing and Engineering.

Judges’ comments

Procter & Gamble stands out in all areas, demonstrating a very positive working environment, strong emphasis on continued professional development and work-life balance.

A model for firms is the emphasis on the IT department being part of the whole culture; creating a win for the company, a win for the individual and a win for the community.

Sponsored by Madison Black

Banking and finance winner: Service Point Poole, Barclays Bank

Number of IT professionals: 84

Number of staff supported: 18,000

A winner last year, over the past 12 months Service Point has expanded rapidly as a top IT desktop service provider within Barclays. The department’s customer base has increased dramatically and continues to do so, and this has enabled Service Point to drive a large recruitment campaign.

The department selects new members on the basis of "recruit for attitude, train for skills’’ and this, coupled with its motto of "adapt and overcome’’, sums up the Service Point culture.

Service Point sees the continuous development of its staff as key to its success. The performance development process identifies training needs and encourages staff to develop themselves. The process supports career aspirations and staff have monthly one-to-one reviews and receive coaching from a team leader. There is a buddy scheme where staff are given one-to-one training from a more experienced team member.

"Star" is a recognition scheme which gives staff the ability to acknowledge the behaviours and achievements of their colleagues. It comprises six recognition elements, ranging from a thank you card to a television or a DVD player. This year 50 members of staff have been awarded thank you cards and gifts, and there have been five big achievement awards and five role model awards.

Judges’ comments

Barclays won this category with its one-to-one meetings, buddying, coaching and training. This is difficult to do in a front-line IT support operation such as this, as staff development means losing people away from the front line. Support is an underrated part of any business and Barclays has demonstrated it has the prescription to get it right.

Highly commended: Birmingham Midshires

Number of IT professionals: 81

Number of staff supported: 2,000

Financial group Birmingham Midshires offers IT staff a high proportion of new development work (70%) and a cross-skilling programme is part of a suite of professional development activities to help individuals who want to move between technologies.

The IT team also has training courses in general management skills and peer-to-peer coaching and mentoring from outside individuals’ own function features strongly.

The IT function has its own focus group that takes the top issues concerning the team, investigates the issues and makes recommendations to the IT management team on how they should be addressed. All recommendations to date have been accepted and implemented. Staff can nominate individuals and teams for outstanding service awards, communications are encouraged, along with quarterly team progress update meetings and regular priority updates.

The working environment features open-plan offices, attractive grounds and free parking and staff can choose from a deli bar, a diner, shop, cybercafe and TV lounge. "I do not know how we find time to work," said one happy staff member.

Judges’ comments

There is a sense of fun working at Birmingham Midshires and the company achieves a broad-based IT function without pressure. There was a strong sense of community and many activities to make the staff feel part of a bigger team. There was a strong commitment to development and cross-skilling.

Sponsored by Orgtel Finance

Business services winner: Telereal

Number of IT professionals: 33

Number of staff supported: 369

At property services group Telereal, the "On time, right first time" programme encourages teamwork and good working practices.

Programme initiatives include balanced resourcing and investment in training to ensure the IT department has the right people and skills. An annual bonus scheme and monthly achievement awards also recognise and reward excellent work.

The high percentage of project work performed by the team – 70% of the work is new developments – means there are extensive opportunities for staff to develop new skills and experience. Annual performance reviews also include a structured training plan to support career development.

There are flexible working arrangements for staff. Several staff are full-time homeworkers and many others work from home occasionally. This helps promote a good work-life balance and the provision of technology such as laptops, tablets and mobiles with touchdown areas at offices across the UK promotes mobility.

The IT team’s track record of good performance in the delivery of operational systems and projects leads to positive relationships with and feedback from customers, which in in turn leads to a positive and motivated team that feels valued.

Judges’ comments

Telereal shows a well-rounded approach with a positive working environment, continued professional development and evidence of life-work balance. Both the work-related and the extra curricular team-building activities show that the work-life balance is not short term. The linkage of the "On time, right first time" quality initiative with career development indicates Telereal recognises that what is good for its customers is good for its staff.

Sponsored by Progressive

Central and local government winner: Adult Learning Inspectorate

Number of IT professionals: 15

Number of staff supported: 258

Based in Coventry, the IT team at the Adult Learning Inspectorate places strong emphasis on professional development, with all staff encouraged to take IT qualifications – two external training courses a year in addition to their other training objectives.

There is support for all staff to take higher qualifications on a day-release or part-time study basis. Mentoring and coaching arrangements for new staff are in place and, although it is a small IT department, the inspectorate employs a placement student from Coventry University every year.

Rotation through IT disciplines is encouraged. Work-life balance is facilitated through flexible working arrangements for staff and special help is given to team members with children.

In terms of the work-life balance, the IT department operates flexibly to encourage a participative attitude and foster commitment to the team. IT staff are encouraged to work unsupervised and independently to avoid a clock-watching culture. Staff appreciate this, and are willing to help at weekends on the rare occasions it is needed. At least six members of the team have small children and have taken advantage of flexible parental leave arrangements to assist at times of family need.

Judges’ comments

The Adult Learning Inspectorate demonstrated a passion about investing in people development that is normally only found in a mature organisation. It is relatively easy to achieve this in a large firm, but not in a small firm such as this. It has achieved some remarkably innovative schemes.

Sponsored by Real IT Resourcing

Other public sector and non-profit sector winner: Metropolitan Police Service – Directorate of Information

Number of IT professionals: 337

Number of staff supported: 45,000

Given the challenging nature of the Met’s work, it must compete effectively with the private sector to recruit and retain a highly skilled IT workforce. Accordingly, it offers a high standard of benefits and a range of flexible working options. These include part-time, home and term-time working, in addition to variable shift patterns or job share.

Staff studying for a professional or specialist qualification receive financial assistance, plus time off for assignments, revision and exams. In addition, a new Metropolitan Police Service leadership development programme has been introduced, in partnership with the Work Foundation, which includes the provision of mentoring and coaching schemes for staff.

Leave arrangements – whether for annual, maternity, paternity, adoption or extended sick leave – are well above the statutory legal requirement. There is also special leave with pay for staff who need to deal with a short-term crisis or emergency, unpaid parental leave and the opportunity for career breaks of up to five years.

The expertise of the IT specialists is also recognised through the technical banding pay structure, which helps in recruitment and recognising the depth of employee skills.

Judges’ comments

The Metropolitan Police Service demonstrated a strong leadership development and mentoring programme, together with a wide-ranging suite of flexible working arrangements.

Sponsored by Hudson

Construction, agriculture and mining winner: Davis Langdon LLP

Number of IT professionals: 27

Number of staff supported: 1,200

Since the rebuilding of its IT department in late 2002, construction consultancy Davis Langdon has turned around the image of IT in the business, creating a healthy respect for the department as true IT professionals who care about what they do.

IT staff talk to customers without technical jargon and encourage communication at all levels. This has made working in the department a far more positive experience for IT staff because they are valued throughout the business, not just by their immediate colleagues.

Within IT, open discussion is the watchword. Monthly one-to-one, department and team meetings are used to communicate and share goals, objectives and news. The team are also planning their first IT conference day this year to combine learning, getting to know each other better and relaxing.

A monthly personal planning process complements annual appraisals and relevant training can be requested at any time, not simply as part of reviews.

The IT department plans to focus on creating a more comprehensive career development scheme to allow greater planning and mentoring for staff. It is also about to sign the team up for BCS membership.

Judges’ comments

As well as a good package of benefits valued throughout the business, Davis Langdon demonstrated a plan and vision for the future. A best place relates not just to what a firm is doing now, but what it is building and planning for the future.

IT software, hardware and services winner (less than 250 employees supported): Brett Technologies Ltd

Number of IT professionals: 12

Number of staff supported: Not applicable

Microsoft gold partner Brett Technologies exercises an internal award scheme that enables employees to gain monthly bonuses in recognition for gaining accreditations, which helps the company maintain its partner status with Microsoft. Qualifications include Prince 2, Microsoft Business Solutions Navision and Microsoft CRM, all of which contribute towards improved personal development.

The company rewards employees for incentives which generate revenue, such as new marketing ideas, improving opportunities with existing clients and introducing new products to improve service provision.

The company finances social functions throughout the year. Regular company meetings are held where everyone is encouraged to participate and share the knowledge of the business and future plans.

The company also runs student placements from the University of Central Lancashire. Each student is allocated a mentor and becomes fully involved in company projects with the additional benefit of securing full-time employment once qualified.

There is also support for paternity leave, parent-friendly work hours and sabbaticals Many employees have access to mobile technology for remote working.

Judges’ comments

Brett’s imaginative and non-financial incentives contributed towards providing a well-balanced approach for its employees. There is strong communication on business elements and a strong enabling sense of community. Brett has a good stance on life-work balance.

Sponsored by Pathway Resourcing

IT software, hardware and services winner (more than 250 employees supported): Data Connection

Number of IT professionals: 13

Number of staff supported: 300

Communications technology group Data Connection is owned by an Employee Benefit Trust, which distributes the profit the company makes back to employees. Each employee is guaranteed to receive a sum equal to 7.5% of their salary and can receive an additional discretionary amount. Last year IT employees received a profit share of 8% to 41% of their salaries.

The management style means employees are kept up to date on the company’s commercial position, organisational changes and planned activities. Its review process offer the opportunity to meet with the chairman or chief executive, who spends half an hour in a one-to-one meeting with every employee every nine months.

Data Connection operates "a rigorous but fair" recruitment process. From day one, a new staff member is treated as part of a team, with someone always available for advice and training. Normally mentors are provided for up to six months.

The company works at the leading edge of the computer industry, which means staff are exposed to new IT that will not hit the outside world for another three or more years. The training budget is £6,700 per IT professional.

Judges’ comments

Data Connection is unusual as the employees own the company, so it is an almost unique environment with profits going back to the staff. It employs a rigorous process to nurture a high level of professional skills. There is a strong focus on the individual and the company has a significant training budget.

Sponsored by Pathway Resourcing

Manufacturing and engineering winner: Procter & Gamble UK

See entry for Best of the Best award on p54.

Sponsored by Search Consultancy

Media, hospitality, entertainment and leisure winner: Betfair

Number of IT professionals: 120

Number of staff supported: 300

Online gambling company Betfair champions leading-edge technology which proves a strong motivating factor for IT professionals at the company. The fact that the business would not be viable without the use of innovative technology means that all staff recognise the quality and effort demonstrated by the IT team.

The company offers an uptime bonus of £200 per month per person if the website has 100% uptime for the whole month. This not only motivates the team to work together to ensure 100% uptime, but also gives everyone an incentive to work towards the goal as a team.

All engineers have the opportunity to work from home. Betfair pays for their internet access and encourages staff to work from home whenever they feel it would benefit them, either for work or personal reasons. Similarly, employees often work from home during paternity leave and are able to extend their time at home with their new child.

Judges’ comments

Betfair has a positive working environment with an emphasis on encouraging teamwork. IT professionals work with leading-edge technology and the importance of their function is recognised by the company, such that IT staff feel they are a critical part of the company’s success. There are good opportunities for career progression, both within IT or in business departments.

Sponsored by Hudson

Retail, wholesale and distribution winner: Asda Stores

Number of IT professionals: 161

Number of staff supported: 143,000

Asda’s IT department regularly communicates with its end-users through surveys, business appreciation programmes and working alongside them in their departments.

An annual online "We’re listening" survey solicits feedback from end-users, from which staff decide the top "Five to drive" priorities. Scores are increasing year on year. A training and development days initiative generated by the IT department also has become company best practice and is emulated in other business departments.

There are monthly awards to staff in three categories: service to the customer; respect for the individual; and striving for excellence.

The IT department has a "Think like a merchant" programme to encourage IT staff to understand the business.

Staff have regular quarterly career progression reviews and, in addition to reviews with their manager, are reviewed with their manager’s manager ("grandparent reviews") and are encouraged to take part in the head office mentor programme for career guidance. IT staff benefit from a £5,000 individual training budget.

IT staff are actively recruited from Asda’s user community and also encouraged to pursue positions in the business as part of their career development.

Judges’ comments

Asda’s IT department displays a strong positive working environment. It places emphasis on understanding the end-user, encourages staff to work in end-user teams and actively seeks quarterly feedback on the

effectiveness of the department. The IT department’s "Colleague circle" seminar initiative has been adopted in other business departments.

Sponsored by

Utilities and communications winner: BP Digital & Communications Technology

Number of IT professionals: 1,350 (permanent)

Number of staff supported: 70,000 plus

BP Digital & Communications Technology is the largest IT department to win a Best Places to Work in IT award. Everyone is expected to take up to 10 days’ relevant training a year, and knowledge sharing and networking across the group is encouraged and sponsored.

Individual employee career aspirations are discussed between management from different areas of the business to help identify career paths and positions within and outside the function. There is a strong spirit of inclusiveness which extends to inviting former contract and consultant staff to celebratory events.

Working from home is available to all, including contract staff, and the company provides employees with free home wireless networking. Employees are encouraged to work with their local communities.

The IT department is setting up a "digital academy", where individual employee career aspirations are discussed between management from different areas of the business. This helps identify positions and career paths within and outside the function. IT staff can choose to follow a technical career path as well as a managerial one with the various roles graded and their salary bands published.

Judges’ comments

Although BP provides all anyone would expect of a large organisation, the Digital and Communications Technology group has taken it and built on it in ways such as setting up a digital academy and recognising technical careers as well as managerial.

Sponsored by Search IT Consultancy

The judging panel

Members of the judging panel for the Best Place to Work in IT 2005 awards combine the best of business, IT and employment expertise. They include:

British Computer Society - With a membership of more than 42,000, the BCS is the leading professional and learned society in the field of computers and IT.

IT Directors’ Network - This social networking club for heads of IT (or equivalent) was formed more than 18 months ago. Co-founders Roger Ellis and Julie Loveday have had a long association with the IT industry.

UK Oracle User Group - An organisation that provides an independent voice for corporations and individuals using Oracle products and technologies in the UK and Ireland.

E-Skills UK - The industry body responsible for articulating and acting on the IT skills needs of UK employers.

National Computing Centre - The independent membership and research organisation whose mission is to promote the more effective use of IT.

Communications Management Association - The UK’s premier business communications user association represents those with responsibility for communications systems. Members are drawn from the ranks of the top 1,000 UK organisations.

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