These are the best places to work in IT

The winners of the Best Places to Work in IT 2003 awards, profiled here, represent the pinnacle of best practice in running an IT...

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The winners of the Best Places to Work in IT 2003 awards, profiled here, represent the pinnacle of best practice in running an IT department. Over the following pages we profile the thinking behind their success and how they particularly impressed our judges. The result is a compelling snapshot of the success of IT users across all sectors in the UK, which reveals that there is a great deal to celebrate.

Banking and finance: Corporate

Barclays Bank Servicepoint

Number of staff supported: 15,000

IT staff turnover last year: 0%

Projects for the IT team at Servicepoint have included rolling out Windows XP and upgrading the organisation's server environment to Windows Server 2003.

The team is also particularly proud of a recent innovation called the Electronic Service Point. This is an intranet-based site for all users in the company which provides an electronic system to log requests, ranging from setting up new Lan accounts to moving electrical equipment.

The team has also implemented a knowledge management system just for the IT team which members said has reduced the time spent answering queries from users and increased efficiency.

Morale in the IT team is high. One team member said, "Everyone is eager to contribute and support each other. At peak periods everyone pulls together to deliver exceptional customer service and we always go that extra mile on every query to ensure outstanding customer satisfaction."

Another praised the level of training. "Employees undergo extensive training when new IT applications or technology are introduced. The training is tailored to suit individual needs and no restrictions are placed on the time taken," he said.

"Excellent communication skills and interaction between team members is encouraged and ensures we are continually coaching one another. No one is afraid to ask if they do not understand. We nominate champions to act as mentors."

Team leaders strive to keep the workforce fully informed of any changes in technology and to encourage their teams to adopt a positive attitude to change to remove any resistance.

"Continual support is offered within Servicepoint, and a culture of adapting to change has been successfully developed," said one.

"A learning culture encourages individuals to develop themselves to their full potential, by offering support and flexibility to suit everyone."

And there may be job opportunities at Servicepoint soon. "We have constant requests for job opportunities, which we will soon be able to offer when we take on more business in the future," said one team member.

Judges' comments
Judges praised the promotion opportunities, regular and comprehensive communications, continuous tailored training, cross-team working and the high staff morale that comes from feeling that their work is valued and rewarded and they are respected.

Banking and finance: SME

Firstplus Financial

Number of IT staff: 16

IT staff turnover last year: 0%

Firstplus Financial Group, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Woolwich, specialises in personal loans and mortgages. It has already received awards from the CBI for its positive approach to staff development.

Launched six years ago, Firstplus Financials has experienced high levels of growth in an ever-changing business environment, at the centre of which is IT.

One IT employee said, "The adoption of new technology is driven by the business. Firstplus is a rapidly growing company that would not have expanded how it has without technological changes to manage, map and control that growth efficiently and securely."

Another said the environment offers many opportunities to identify, investigate and propose the use of new technologies.

He said, "New ideas are encouraged and there is a defined process which allows us all to initiate a project for the implementation of any new or improved technology."

IT staff putting forward new project ideas are asked to present a comprehensive business plan containing a cost-benefit analysis, risk assessment and a project summary.

"Any proposal to implement new technology has been met with enthusiasm and open-mindedness, allowing me to make a case for the project and ultimately deliver new and improved systems into our workplace," an employee said.

Setting up such disciplines means that members of the IT team are being equipped with vital business skills that will stand them in good stead.

Another team member said, "We have every opportunity to develop our own careers and those of our colleagues."

Jeremy Potter, head of IT at Firstplus Financials, said his philosophy on career development is to give each team member responsibility for a system or topic in addition to their main job description so that they can specialise in that area.

Some team members are working towards Open University qualifications, supported equally by their line managers and colleagues. At the same time, the honing of non-technical skills such as teamwork is encouraged.

One member of the team summed it up. "We have a very skilled team of committed professionals who were all carefully chosen, ensuring that they are the best at what they do. We all support each other whenever possible."

Judges' comments
Judges were impressed that staff were kept actively informed and involved and were encouraged to learn and use their initiative in suggesting and owning new projects.

There was a friendly, knowledge-sharing supportive atmosphere at a time of growth. Staff had good promotion opportunities and worked towards clear personal and professional goals, supported by recognition by management of the need for industry qualifications and personal training and development.

Central and local government: Fewer than 250 employees

East Lothian Council

Number of IT staff: 36

IT staff turnover last year: 2.8%

Plaudits from IT staff at East Lothian Council pointed to a contented workforce.

"The council is a very enjoyable place to work and everyone gels well together," said one.

"Conditions of service are good, salaries stand in reasonable comparison with the private sector and, with e-government initiatives under way, the work is challenging," said another.

If you are an IT professional with a penchant for the rural way of life, it sounds like just the place for you. Another employee told us, "The quality of life in East Lothian is excellent. The department is based in Haddington, in the heart of the countryside, yet it is only 25 minutes from the centre of Edinburgh."

IT manager Colin Shand admitted that opportunities to provide financial rewards such as bonuses or other special awards are pretty much nil for IT staff working in a local authority.

"However, we do encourage staff to advance themselves via several initiatives such as career grade schemes, employee development reviews and regular team meetings," he said.

Shand said the low turnover rate of his staff can be accounted for in several ways. "We work in a blame-free environment. It is not a case of whose fault it is, but rather how can it be fixed and can safeguards be put in place," he said.

"There is also a regular away day organised and the working environment is open plan, which helps prevent any intellectual barriers being erected and helps promote an air of bonhomie."

Judges' comments
Although heavily involved in new IT development, the department did not neglect developing its people. Management communicated well with staff and delivered impressive benefits along with offering staff flexibility. The employers' practice was better than many private sector companies, even though they have to show best value without a large budget.

Central and local government: More than than 250 employees

Hampshire County Council

Number of staff supported: 33,000

IT staff turnover last year: 7.5%

"An attraction to working in IT in local government is the feeling that the work you do directly benefits the local community by improving services and providing better value for money," said one IT employee at Hampshire County Council.

"The range of different systems required to support a local authority is vast and this helps make the work more interesting.

"Hampshire has a reputation for innovation, making the work technically stimulating and challenging - something people probably do not associate with a local authority."

Over the past three years the department has transformed its IT environment from reliance on systems based on IBM mainframe and SNA technology to a 6,500-device Citrix thin-client environment exploiting packages running on Unix and Windows 2000, through a broadband network reaching more than 1,000 sites.

Another member of the IT team said there was a spirit of openness that allowed even the most junior members of staff to discuss ideas with senior management.

She said, "Staff are encouraged to move between the different sections of the department, making it easier for people to find their niche."

Another IT professional said there were "few, if any, perks" for people working in local government, but added, "Hampshire County Council IT services manages to attract and retain staff - many of whom could easily get higher-paid jobs elsewhere. What keeps them here is the nature of the work and the people, which makes this a great place to work."

Judges' comments
The judges were impressed that, as well as being able to "tick the boxes" for the Investor in People staff development activities, Hampshire also used its reputation for IT innovation and technically challenging work to attract and keep staff.

The council sought to maximise financial rewards, such as by offering incentives for internal progression and by paying honoraria for exceptional performance, even though budgets were limited.

Retail, wholesale and distribution: SME

Hyundai Car (UK)

Number of staff supported: 500

IT staff turnover last year: 5.5%

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 Hyundai and our dealer network," said one employee.

"Although they are not new technologies, they are of great benefit to our dealer network and ourselves," she added.

A datawarehouse project using Cognos has been implemented to provide reports on sales and aftersales activities for Hyundai and its dealers.

Rather than being isolated from the rest of the business, the IT department is assimilated into 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 getting outside help.

"People are given a general direction and then allowed to manage their own projects and objectives with minimal intervention, allowing people to develop in a risk-free environment.

"A number of us have come from the commercial side of the business, rather than a purely technical background. 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 performance objectives and their own development needs.

Judges' comments
Judges liked the department's self-proclaimed "gung ho" philosophy, which gives staff as much control over achieving goals as possible - and then celebrating their achievements with team building events such as working for a day on an organic farm, buggy racing and driving tanks.

Retail, wholesale and distribution: Corporate

Sainsbury's supermarkets

Number of staff supported: 140,000

IT staff turnover last year: 3.3%

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

He said, "We are replacing almost every system, achieving best-of-breed, single-standard and optimum operational support-models. So far, we have replaced over 500 stores' systems and have implemented Oracle for the finance and human resources departments.

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

His team have also implemented an enterprise datawarehouse and financial solutions for JS Bank, and e-commerce for Sainsbury's to You, its online shop.

In store the department 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, wireless handheld stock control systems, vehicle scheduling, and yard management.

Maggie Miller, IT manager, said the chance to work with new technologies has resulted in a boost to the team morale. "We are one of the only firms worldwide spending more on IT than ever before. We will replace every system in Sainbury's over a three to four year period - the challenges are motivating," she said.

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

Judges comments
Judges were impressed by Sainsbury's IT staff's ability to successfully combine in-house team skills supported by an outsourced partnership in the face of a truly daunting project completion schedule.

IT software, services and hardware: SME

Data Connection

Number of staff supported: 273

IT staff turnover last year: 8%

Data Connection is a Middlesex-based software house that develops networking and internet products. The IT team often works with bleeding-edge technologies and frequently takes part in beta test programs.

"We are 'on the ball' with new systems and applications such as Windows 2003 Server and Office 2003," said one employee.

The department also works with the latest releases of Linux (Red Hat, Caldera and SuSe), Solaris and HP-UX.

With offices in the US, the IT team can source a wide variety of equipment not yet available here - particularly wireless and Bluetooth technologies.

"We have a state-of-the-art Alcatel phone system that supports IP telephony, soft phones and H.323," said another employee. "We have also integrated voicemail with Outlook so voicemail is e-mailed to the desktop."

He said the company had adopted HP Ultrium tape drives for back-ups and recently migrated the tape hardware to a rack-mounted LTO tape magazine from Dell.

Company outings have included trips to Monaco, a hot-air balloon trip and Christmas dinner at the Natural History Museum.

Judges comments
Judges praised the high staff morale in an environment where IT staff need to work with bleeding-edge technologies to match those of their highly technical business users.

IT software, services and hardware: Corporate

Mastercare PCserviceCall

Number of staff supported: 4,000

IT staff turnover last year: 0%

Mastercare PCServiceCall, part of the Dixons Group, has been recognised by its parent company as being at the forefront of the group's use of new technology.

The IT department has a dedicated test environment to try new products and has agreements with both Microsoft and Novell for beta tests.

One member of the IT team said, "We maintain a strong relationship with suppliers to ensure we are kept up-to-date and we spend time keeping abreast of industry publications. We also invest in training for team members.

"We are fortunate that our IT manager understands the benefits of new technology and is interested in it. Our users trust us to recommend the best, most cost-effective solution. The best thing we do is give our development teams time to trial new technology and assess how useful it would be."

Another employee said, "Each area within the department interacts with others to ensure customer satisfaction and is constantly inviting feedback. Each member is empowered to achieve their own goals and there is a training mentality to help everyone improve their skills. We have a close relationship with our customers, which leads to a productive and open environment.

"There is a positive and happy atmosphere. Even when deadlines are tight, there is a great team spirit and everyone is approachable and willing to help.

"The department manager is always available for support and there are also social activities. New team members are welcomed and allowed time to adjust. The benefits package the company provides is excellent and makes us feel valued."

Judges comments
Judges were impressed by the sense of real enthusiasm IT staff displayed for constantly learning new skills to meet the ongoing challenge of providing IT in an IT service environment.

Media, hospitality, leisure and entertainment: SME

Firefly PR

Number of staff supported: 70

IT staff turnover last year: 25%

Over the past three years, the IT team at Firefly's offices in London has introduced a number of business-critical systems such as an intranet, an extranet, an IP office telephony system, a wireless Lan, a business management program and Citrix.

It has also implemented Microsoft XP and installed a gigabit backbone for the networked servers for faster throughput of traffic.

One member of the team said, "Planning has always been a big part of managing our projects. We like to get as much input from our users as we can to ensure that any new IT does its job more effectively and efficiently.

"The board has always encouraged the IT department to be an integral part of the business, rather than just being a support function. We have been given the freedom to explore and purchase technologies that are beneficial to the business."

He said the IT team has a 90% response time to all support calls. "Our fix rate is 65% within the hour and 90% are fixed within eight working hours."

Another IT team member said, "Each member gains hands-on knowledge and training on at least two new technologies or applications each year. Also, Firefly encourages and pays for all exams related to their daily role, from Microsoft certified systems engineer track to Cisco certified network engineer.

Judges comments
The judges praised FireFly for its good approach to benefits and flexible working, as well as specific initiatives demonstrating a commitment to team-working and a good social environment.

Media, hospitality, leisure and entertainment: Corporate

Carlton Television

Number of staff supported: 2,700

IT staff turnover last year: 4%

Carlton's IT department prides itself on an innovative yet rational approach to the adoption of new technologies and it evaluates and identifies the latest IT to enhance the whole company.

Business systems managers regularly discuss new technologies with the technical teams, which allows the department to brief the business and discuss practical applications. If a technology is found to have a convincing business case, it will be installed.

One IT team member said, "Our inclusive approach involves working with staff and business systems managers to ensure we are achieving what the company requires. We have a participative approach to the adoption of new technologies, as opposed to autocratically selecting the systems used. This is reflected in areas such as our broadcast IT systems, where we have pioneered desktop journalism tools and systems later adopted by larger competitors.

"As a department we are forward-looking and excited about the expanding possibilities within the media that the convergence of broadcast and IT is enabling."

The service desk provides strong and wide-ranging support, allowing the IT team to concentrate on its core role. Although the department is dispersed geographically, there is a strong team identity and a high level of camaraderie.

Another team member said, "Our department has a stable team with high motivation and a low staff turnover. We do activities outside of work, such as running, gym or paintballing. We have team away-days where we reflect on what we have achieved and where we are going."

Judges' comments
Judges believed Carlton's comprehensive approach to benefits geared to flexibility, and its support for staff and their work/life balance made it stand out in its category.

Non-profit companies: Fewer than 250 staff

The Woodland Trust

Number of staff supported: 220

IT staff turnover last year: 0%

"The Woodland Trust is very much a pro-IT company," said one member of the IT team. "The IT strategy is designed to support the trust's planned work. We have the freedom to explore new advances in IT, especially for tactical advantages."

"This is a successful company that makes maximum use of its investment in people and technology" said another. "The IT department is well-regarded and we have a long track record of success. We have not been given the respect of the company - we have earned it.

"Management style is relaxed and informal. Success is recognised and failure is not a problem as long as the lessons are learned - not that we fail very often. This is a friendly, dedicated rabble who work hard to keep the trust successful."

Judges' comments
The judges identified commitment, enthusiasm and job satisfaction and were particularly impressed by a boss who credits his team with "helping make my job a pleasure".

Non-profit companies: More than 250 staff

WWF

Number of staff supported: 330

IT staff turnover last year: 0%

"As an environmental charity with a limited budget, we have to make sure we get value for money and justify the cost of our IT projects," said one WWF IT team member.

"We may not be on the cutting-edge, but we aim to keep up with the technology that is most suited to our needs. There is a very relaxed atmosphere and I enjoy coming to work. If you ask any of our 300-plus users, you will find they are all very happy with the service we provide.

"Although being a charity can sometimes be a financial hindrance, all technologies are reviewed and discussed before implementation. For example, we have recently installed broadband in our regional offices to give the staff remote access to core systems based on servers at our head office."

Judges' comments
Judges praised the people management practices which contributed to a positive working environment, demonstrated by commitment, enthusiasm and job satisfaction.

Manufacturing and engineering: Corporate

Eli Lilly and Co

Number of staff supported: 2,300

IT staff turnover last year: 8%

Eli Lilly is a manufacturer of medicines to treat depression, schizophrenia, diabetes, cancer and osteoporosis. Some of the 70 IT staff work to produce instrumentation for drugs research, including networks, data storage and retrieval, 3D visualisation and instant messaging.

One team member said, "We use Windows 2000 and plan to migrate to XP this year. We support Unix, Linux and systems for scientific instrumentation and manufacturing. I have been involved in pilot programmes for wireless networking, broadband remote access and personal digital assistants."

Many IT managers at the firm started as part of the student recruitment programme. Another team member said, "I started at Lilly about 16 months ago, and have been promoted twice. IT staff can put themselves forward for promotion in their current role and, as a result, the staff turnover is very low."

Judges' comments
There is a culture of long-term investment in technology and people, and IT staff are encouraged to contribute to business objectives via computational molecular modelling and customer relationship management.

There is an emphasis on identifying and developing latent talent with strong support and coaching from management and sharing best practices.

Manufacturing and engineering: SME

BAE Systems

Number of IT staff: 24

IT staff turnover last year: 0%

BAE Systems is a global company that develops and installs systems for military aircraft, ships, submarines, space systems, radar and guided weapons.

It designs and builds ships and submarines and has built two new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy. It also supplies test equipment for shuttle and satellite launches and space mapping technology.

The IT department handles many projects and each member of the 24 staff is assigned autonomy over their work, demanding a high level of trust from the rest of the team.

One member of staff said, "We have a monthly meeting to discuss the latest technologies that could be applied to the workplace and our tasks, which helps to promote good practice between the teams and aids in the development of our strategies."

Utilities and communications: More than than 250 employees

Economy Power

Number of staff supported: 135

IT staff turnover last year: 0%

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 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 an intranet. It has also upgraded all network switches to 100mbps so that users have quicker access to databases and systems.

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 buy new PCs as they guarantee the fewest problems and allow new starters to get up and running quickly. New staff are trained with all the skills we feel they will need to get the most out of the software and hardware."

Another member of the team told Computer Weekly, "Each member of the team is self-managed. There are no levels of bureaucracy or an old-fashioned work ethic. Newcomers are given a portfolio of work and they are responsible for it. This gives them the confidence that the company trusts them.

"Honesty and communication are integral to the team. Ideas are shared and projects are regularly discussed in meetings, which provides an opportunity to express opinions." Career progression is also encouraged through training focusing on technology and interpersonal skills.

Two second-year university students are on one-year work placements in the department and both have been guaranteed a full-time position at the end of their studies.

Judges' comments
Judges identified a culture placing strong emphasis on good working relationships and a sense of team fun, with good support for personal development and investment in career progression.

There was a keen sense of staff empowerment and a culture of employee-balanced, progressive management.

Construction and agriculture

BAA Terminal 5 project

Number of staff supported: 2,600

IT staff turnover last year: 8%

The total cost of Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5 project is expected to be about £3.5bn. It has been estimated that 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.

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 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 - its sheer size and scale, coupled with the complexities and variety of working for the UK's biggest construction environment is exciting.

"Supporting business-critical programme controls applications can be very demanding and challenging. As a team we need to understand our customers' 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.

"We work in an open plan office which enables plenty of team interaction. We enjoy lots of banter and jokes and we support and encourage each other and engender a friendly, open environment."

Judges' comments
Judges noted that despite the high-pressure working environment of a massive construction project to which IT is a vital contributor, IT staff benefit from a sense of achievement and vital and valued participation. Nor does the department neglect to celebrate milestones with presentations, parties and prizes, as well as easing the pressure through job rotation, secondments and shadowing.

Business services

Gartner

Number of staff supported: 950

IT staff turnover last year: 0%

As befits an organisation that researches and analyses the use of IT, the IT team at Gartner is often involved in beta-testing the latest developments.

One member of the team said, "We regularly test new technologies to see whether they will be able to increase efficiencies.

"We tend to be in the second wave of adoption, avoiding the bleeding-edge implementations that absorb our technical staff."

Another team member said running pilot tests pays off. "The technologies that are adopted have total buy-in from all parties, thus the transition is smooth, training is good and the technologies invariably become part of daily life in a short time."

Upbeat statements indicate contented staff. One said, "There is a great team of people here and the flat hierarchy of management allows each member of staff to be empowered.

"An open communication policy ensures that everyone is kept informed of developments that can affect them internally and their associates externally, which means we can give an excellent service."

Another member of the IT staff said, "We are an energetic and enthusiastic team that has built a reputation for excellence within our organisation. We enjoy working with each other and our team spirit is commented on throughout the company."

Judges' comments
Judges felt that IT staff evidenced a real feeling of team spirit and were involved and empowered as part of the company. Although staff were pleased to work with leading-edge technology, there was a recognition that it serves users' needs and takes the business forward.

The judges   

David Clarke, British Computer Society  With more than 38,000 members in 100 countries, the BCS is the leading professional learned society in the field of computers and IT. It works to generate public awareness of the social and economic benefits of IT. 

Ceri Diffley,  Work Foundation  The Work Foundation is a unique consultancy firm that works with employers to improve the quality and productivity of working life in the UK. It undertakes research and consultancy work and is a campaigner on work and business issues.   

Jonathan Exten-Wright,  DLA  One of the UK's top 10 law firms and part of the international DLA Group,the DLA is a leading adviser to many industry sectors on technology and employment law including outsourcing, intellectual property and dispute resolution.   

Angela Baron, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development  The CIPD is a professional body with  more than 118,000 members specialising in the management and development of people. The institute provides training to help its members improve their organisation's performance.    

Karen Price, E-Skills UK  The industry body responsible for articulating and acting on the IT skills needs of employers. E-Skills is responsible for uniting employers, specialist trainers and government to improve the productivity of e-business in the UK. 

Jane King, Personnel Today  The UK's only weekly news magazine for human resources and training professionals. Personnel Today provides advice, resources and guidance for HR professionals and runs an annual awards ceremony to reward HR strategy and staff training.  

Peter Scargill,  Federation of Small Businesses  The FSB has more than 185,000 members across 230 branches. It offers advice to small businesses through a national helpline and also lobbies government and the media on financial and legal issues. 

Ruth Spellman, Investers in People UK  The national standard for employers in the UK, which sets good practice benchmarks for training and development of staff and managers. The body works with managers to help them attain the  Investor in People designation. 

Andrew Davies, Cranfield School of Management  One of the world's leading university business schools, which offers postgraduate courses in subjects ranging from small business management to research doctorates.

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