13th Annual Report: 100 Best Places to Work in IT 2006

Technologists at these companies are recognized as both creators and co-workers. When they propose ideas, their companies listen -- and act.

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Seeing the Purpose

There's no doubt that technology staffers want to work with leading-edge technology, and many of the companies on the list meet that criteria. For instance, MasterCard International Inc., which ranks No. 34, is implementing an MPLS-based global network, and Allstate has based its application infrastructure on a service-oriented architecture.

But there's more to cool projects than just technology, says Paul Glen, author of Leading Geeks (Jossey-Bass, 2002) and a Computerworld columnist. "People want to work on something interesting, and that can happen because of the technology itself, their peers, the role they're playing or because there's an interesting outcome to the project," he says.

For Sharp HealthCare, which ranks 77 on the list, technology projects are inextricably linked to "the Sharp experience," which encompasses the company's efforts to create a great environment for its staff, physicians and patients. A case in point is Sharp's work in recent years to become an early user of wireless-enabled computerized intravenous pumps. The pumps incorporate customized control tables that regulate the amount of medication that gets administered to patients. By integrating them with the organization's 802.11-based wireless network, Sharp's IT staff enabled those control tables to be easily updated, and data can be quickly extracted for safety reviews and administrative purposes.

"At the time the pump was invented, no one else had done that," says Bill Spooner, senior vice president and CIO at the San Diego-based nonprofit health care organization. "It was clearly recognized as leading-edge from a patient safety standpoint."

Meanwhile, at Allstate, the importance of technology gets high visibility every day, whether at corporate meetings, when senior leaders interact with employees via streaming media and Web conferencing, or out in the field, when wireless tools enable mobile- response units to efficiently respond to victims of natural disasters.

"Being able to work remotely and more efficiently with better desktop tools, Web conferencing, mobile applications and streaming media is continually cited by employees as one of the best aspects of working at Allstate," says Carolyn Sitkiewicz, director of IT communications. It helps that two senior IT leaders at Allstate have seats on the management board, she adds.

Getting Along

Similarly, at MasterCard, IT and business go hand in hand, says Robert Reeg, CTO at the $2.2 billion credit card company. "You can't have one without the other," he says. "That's a little different from other places I've worked at, where IT is in some sense a sideline. Here, IT is the business."

Just the same, MasterCard recently invested even further in building solid relationships between IT and the rest of the business. It established the new position of "technology liaison," appointing more than 60 people globally to play this role in its major business units. "It will help us work with our business partners to provide them with the right services," Reeg says.

This type of relationship-building effort is another trait shared among this year's Best Places. In fact, 95% of respondents said they enjoy good relationships with their co-workers. At Northwestern Mutual (No. 15), employees get to know one another over free lunches in the cafeteria and through company-subsidized clubs.

At Marriott, global IT field representatives are sent out to visit hotels and reservation centers to discover business issues, alert end users to new initiatives and ensure that service levels are acceptable. IT staffers periodically work at reservation centers or hotel front desks as well; that policy recently yielded improvements to Marriott's help desk training, Foster says.

At Sharp, a program called "Walk in My Shoes" embeds IT staffers in business units to observe what goes on during a normal workday. By the end of the year, 30% of the IT staff will have taken part in the program, says Chris Johnson, senior systems analyst at Sharp.

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