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You are here: HomeArticle › So that's why IT staff retention and motivation is so good at Iceland

So that's why IT staff retention and motivation is so good at Iceland

Michael Dean investigates how £2.4bn turnover, sector leader Iceland Frozen Foods Ltd used NCC’s IT Department Accreditation Scheme to increase IT team motivation and improve alignment of processes across the business IT.

“Staff turnover is low here; no-one in IT has resigned in four years! It is a sign that Iceland is a great employer that recognises the value of its workforce and we want to keep it that way.” Says Mark Pearson, IS Director at the UK’s leading high street frozen food retailer. With significant and profitable growth in the last 5 years, he wants to retain the motivation and morale of his team to ensure continuing success. And that growth has truly been significant; last year saw the opening of 70 new stores, 50 vacated by Woolworths, taking the total number of stores to over 750.

However, times weren’t always so good and Iceland has rebuilt itself since the disastrous days of the early 2000’s when the previous management team led the company to near collapse, a period Iceland openly refer to as the Dark Ages.

Back row: John Finney (NCC), Ian Bandy, Lucy Jones, Stuart Bickley, Jason Boulton & Chris MacGillivray
Front row: Liz Hodge, Laura Vost, Mark Pearson (IS Director) & Vicky Baines

Headquartered in scenic Deeside, North Wales, the company which also sells chilled food and groceries has returned to its core values of innovation (they were the first to offer home deliveries, and round pound pricing), product quality and marketing nous (they know their customers inside out and have lots of plans for their already successful customer frequency card). “Looking back, five years ago was a difficult time,” conceded Mark, “staff numbers were almost halved and that included IT. But the new management led by original company founder Malcolm Walker had to take drastic measures to ensure sustainability.” Today they employ 22,000 staff including just fewer than 50 in IT.

The recent change in fortunes is significantly underpinned by Iceland’s effective use of IT. Whilst the reduction in IT staff numbers necessitated an increase in outsourcing, the IT function took a strategic look at how it interacted with the business and devised a number of new roles which continue to provide a dedicated interface between the business divisions and IT thereby ensuring that the business is represented in IT and IT is represented in the business. There are seven Business Systems Managers, each responsible for liaison with a particular function, be it Supply Chain, Buying, Finance, or Marketing. The system works very well and the team are forever busy on projects prioritised in agreement with the business as a whole to defined budgets and timeframes. The way IS is structured allows capacity to flow where it is needed according to business priority.

Laura Vost, Business Systems Manager for Marketing commented, “We are a small team for the size of the company but it is essential that we deliver 24/7/365. IT is mission critical and an ever evolving opportunity to add value to the business. For example, we are currently updating all our EPOS and in-store back office systems, implementing a new profit forecasting system for Buying, installing RF in-store, updating our central server and storage estate, building a bespoke CRM solution to support Marketing and looking at real time solutions for our Bonus Card!”

With so much critical work going on Mark wanted to ensure that the IT team were ready for the challenge and motivated to succeed. When he attended last year’s NCC Annual Conference he saw the certificates being presented to the first IT Departments to be accredited to the National Computing Centre’s new standard for IT Departments (The IT Department Accreditation Scheme, or ITDA) and recognised that this would add value to Iceland’s IS credentials and be a great motivational tool for the team. He challenged his management team with the objective of achieving certification and Laura with heading up the project.
“We really value our team”, enthused Laura, and the ITDA provided us with an opportunity to both gain an independent understanding of our strengths and weaknesses, and to challenge the team to prove they could achieve the highest standards.”

The assessment scheme which underpins the NCC ITDA examines an IT department’s performance against 110 common controls, enabling the department to compare and understand its own strengths and weaknesses. The ITDA is also an accreditation scheme, so those IT departments who meet or exceed the Standard will be awarded with a recognised accreditation to the NCC Standard. The ITDA provides a framework for Business Management, Business Direction, Business or Service Generation, Delivery and Operations and Customer Relationships.

Despite being Retail Systems Magazine’s IT Department of the year 2009, achieving the ITDA was still a challenge for the IS team, but in true Iceland fashion, they prepared well, delegated appropriately and met regularly to discuss how best to present the evidence required to achieve accreditation. “As a mature IS organisation we are compliant to good practice in a host of areas, (all staff are ITIL and Prince 2 certified), but we rarely saw how these activities compared to give us an holistic picture of our performance. The ITDA provided us with a simple and effective framework that enabled us to assess our consistency across all of our service delivery lines.”

“In particular we found it valuable to assess how each of the Business Systems Managers interacted and performed with the rest of the business. We found differing approaches to service delivery, some more effective than others. The ITDA helped us identify the best practices and was a good vehicle to help us share them across the IS Department and adopt them as official processes. We have learnt valuable lessons, and improved our effectiveness.” said Laura.

The outcome is another award for IS at Iceland – accreditation to the NCC Standard for IT Departments. The NCC Moderator singled out Iceland’s exemplary approach to aligning IT with the business and was pleased to see their hunger for continuous improvement.

“The team are delighted with the result”, said Mark, “It is real recognition for work well done. Retail Systems Awards 2009 WinnerNow that we have made the grade, the team are motivated to do even better next year and the business is happy its IT works as it should.”

Our final congratulations go Laura who is expecting her third child very soon and then she really can say… “that’s why mum’s go to Iceland!”

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