Over the coming months Computer Weekly will 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 financial services organisations
Number of IT staff: 16
Annual staff turnover: 0%
IT training budget per head: £3,000
Amount of new development work: 60%
Annual holiday: 22-29 days
What impressed the judges?
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 the IT function.
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 in the way it has without technological changes to manage, map and control that growth efficiently and securely." Another said this environment has offered many opportunities to identify, investigate and propose the use of new and emerging 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 workers putting forward new project ideas are asked to accompany any initiative with a comprehensive business plan containing elements such as a cost-benefit analysis, risk assessment and a project summary.
Another comment from an employee demonstrates the firm's willingness to take on fresh ideas.
"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," he 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 in the future.
This was not lost on one employee, who 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 among his team is to give each member responsibility for a system or topic in addition to their main job description so that they can specialise in that area.
The need for external, industry-recognised qualifications is also accepted. 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," he said.
"In addition to being skilled individuals we all work as a team ensuring that we each support others whenever possible."
Barclays Bank, Servicepoint
Number of IT staff: 56
Annual staff turnover: 0%
IT training budget per head: Flexible
Amount of new development work: 60%
Annual holiday: Up to 30 days
What impressed the judges? 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 that is available for all users within the company. Its purpose is to provide users with an electronic system to log requests ranging from setting up new Lan accounts to moving electrical equipment from area to another.
"It has been created to operate in a protected environment and is particularly user-friendly," said one member of the IT team.
Within the department technological innovations have also helped to improve customer service.
The team has implemented a knowledge management system just for the IT team which they say has reduced the time spent answering queries from users and increased efficiency.
Morale in the IT team is high. One respondent said, "Our IT department deserves to be named among the UK's best places to work in IT because everyone is eager to contribute and support each other, from the youngest to the oldest team members. At peak periods everyone pulls together to deliver exceptional customer service and we will always go that extra mile on every query and service request 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 and the teams individually is encouraged and ensures we are continually coaching one another. No one is afraid to ask if they do not understand. We nominate champions, who act as mentors." Team leaders strive to keep the workforce fully informed of any changes in technology being made and encourage their teams to adopt a positive attitude to change to remove any resistance that may arise.
"Continual support is offered within Servicepoint, and a culture of adapting to change has been successfully developed throughout the department," said one.
"A learning culture has been adopted to encourage individuals to develop themselves to their full potential, offering support and flexibility to suit everyone's needs. Cross-training between teams is encouraged, resulting in closer working relationships, trust and the ability to rely on one another at peak periods."
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 the desk increases to take on more business in the near future," said one team member.
Financial services sponsor
Huxley Associates Technology Finance group is a leading supplier of programmers, infrastructure support, business analysts and programme/project managers to the banking community.