Working smarter at West Group

Carie Allen, technology manager in the applications development group at West Group, a division of Toronto-based The Thomson Corp., talks about what it’s like to work at the company, which provides software for the legal industry.

ComputerWorld: Has the economy changed the way your department operates?

Allen: Employees here have taken it upon themselves to work smarter. If there’s a group of people who want to attend a conference, they choose the best person to go, and that person comes back and teaches what they learned.

ComputerWorld: Is that type of response indicative of your culture?

Allen: You read in the paper about the many companies in the Twin Cities laying off people by the thousands. And it might sound corny, but I think it’s a positive reflection of a large company that has given a lot to its employees, and the employees appreciate that and are looking for ways to give back to the company.

ComputerWorld: What are the most critical business functions supported or developed by the IT group?

Allen: The technical services group houses the data repository containing legal, regulatory and business information, maintains data integrity, manages storage and develops and deploys the Web servers. The applications group develops the user interface software, and the database group does content conversion and preparation of the data to be housed in the repositories.

ComputerWorld: How would you describe the pace of the work?

Allen: We have done some proactive things to keep it as steady as possible, such as monthly releases of software applications, not three very large releases in one year. We try to keep people balanced with routine things but also with projects that allow access to new technology.

ComputerWorld: Can you give an example?

Allen: One of our new platforms is multilingual. No one on the development team speaks Japanese, so they were out looking on Japanese Web sites and in chat rooms, talking to people across the world about how to handle different technical issues. It was something completely out of the realm of things they’d worked on before.

ComputerWorld: What do you think makes your company’s IT department unique?

Allen: Employees at all levels have the power to make a difference. That inspires people to take risks, to bring things to the table and work smarter. We also have an end-of-year discretionary bonus given to 15 employees who had exceptional contributions throughout the year.

ComputerWorld: What do you like best about how career advancement and training are handled?

Allen: We encourage employees to look not just for upward movement but also lateral movement.

ComputerWorld: What aspect of work do you look forward to each day?

Allen: I’m restless, and I tend to always be striving toward the next thing that will stump me, so I’d say the challenge of my job keeps me fired up. I’m always learning from other people and technologies I’m encountering.

ComputerWorld: What aspect do you dread each day?

Allen: If I dreaded something, I’d be out of here.