25th Anniversary at Griffiths & Armour – Q&A with Chris Yue and Tracey Pollard
To celebrate their 25th Anniversary of working in the IT team, we took the opportunity to catch up with Director of IT, Chris Yue and IT Development Manager, Tracey Pollard to discuss their time working at Griffiths & Armour and how they have adapted to working from home.
How did you start your career in IT?
I began working at Griffiths & Armour in the Financial Services team in August 1993 and after two years moved over to the G&A IT team during which time I completed a part time Degree in Computer Studies which I found to be a good fit. I then went on to complete further Microsoft Certification which I was able to apply in the workplace. Incidentally when I first joined, there was no email system or any connectivity between the offices, so we have certainly come a long way. I find computing easy, straightforward and enjoy the logic.
Initially I was convinced my career path was going to be in the social work sector. Unbelievably, I did not get the required A-level grades (which I cannot even blame on watching too much Only Fools and Horses!) for the place I had been offered at Lancaster University. Subsequently, after chatting with a career adviser, I enrolled on a two-year HND Computer Studies course at Lancashire Polytechnic with the prospect of moving onto a combined Honours Degree with Computing and Sociology. However, within those two years I found IT interesting, exciting and I loved developing applications with an emphasis of solving logical problems. In 1990, my initial career path changed and after relocating for my first ever job (for a company in Cambridgeshire) I progressed from a Trainee Programmer to that of an Analyst/Programmer
Can you tell us about your role at Griffiths & Armour? Do you have a favourite moment since joining 25 years ago?
IT is split into two distinct teams – Infrastructure and Development. I head up Infrastructure, and Tracey leads the Development team. The Infrastructure team looks after the Hardware environment (Servers, Desktops, Laptops, IGELs, mobile devices etc), the associated Software such as Citrix and Microsoft Office, as well as system maintenance and all the communication links between offices. I get great satisfaction in being involved in the design and rollout of systems and services that help make everyone’s jobs a bit easier. We also facilitate collaboration across the business through various technologies which support a more flexible way of working. IT provides full access to all systems such that the office now comes to you.
One of my favourite moments has been introducing Office 365 and Virtualisation technology to the Business. I was able to seamlessly migrate all the Mailboxes and Public Folders with minimum disruption. Virtualisation of our server estate also allowed IT to respond to changing Business needs very quickly. Traditionally we would have to purchase the server hardware, install it into our cabinet and then configure accordingly. What would take days can now be done in a matter of hours.
In August 1995, I got a great opportunity to move back home to the North-West, after securing a position as a Senior Analyst/Programmer for the IT Department at Griffiths & Armour. Although for the first couple of years, as Griffiths and Armour were embracing technology through hardware and networking, my role was more helping Chris in support rather than developing applications. However, once the environment became established, I was back in my element, designing and developing a multitude of applications. Over the past few years I am very proud of becoming the Development Team Manager as I now head a fantastic team of five experienced developers; Mike specialising in web based applications; Stephen, Howard and Dermot specialising in window based applications and Phil specialising in Business Information reporting. Currently I am still ‘hands on’ in certain areas of development, business focused, and expanding my managerial skills, as I am working towards the latter / phasing out the former (well trying my best at least!). Wow, it is difficult in trying to recollect a single favourite moment as there have been so many over the past quarter of a century. If I had to choose one, I think it would be back in 2005 whereby I had to pitch the idea that the replacement of a broking application, used by our Professional Risks Division (PR), would be feasible to be a bespoke system built in-house instead of using an ‘off the shelf package’. I am delighted that PRSym (our windows application PR System), since initially going live in 2008 has been constantly evolving over the years.
What are your early memories of the pandemic and how did it impact how IT operates?
One of my most vivid memories was running around PC World grabbing the last available laptops before they sold out. Ultimately, we were well prepared for the quick transition to homeworking as it was an extension of how the IT team provides remote access anyway. During this time, IT also helped onboard 80+ laptops during the lockdown period whilst maintaining our helpdesk response times. These laptops were built by members of the IT staff from their own houses and then shipped out to staff. Given that the whole workforce was now working from home, the spotlight fell on the security aspect as well as the ability to continue to provide support to our users. Thankfully, we already require Multi-Factor Authentication for system access, and we have the necessary utilities to assist our staff remotely. In addition, we continue to maintain very high levels of protection against any threats coming in the form of email as well as the Internet itself.
I am so proud of infrastructure, onboarding the whole company in a week! They were integral to our transition to homeworking, as they enabled the whole business to function as normal. I am pleased to say that for the Development team, we are able to carry on with all our projects as usual (unfortunately no excuses for not meeting deadlines!), the only real difference is that we now have our meetings virtually via Microsoft Teams instead of having to book into a meeting room in the office.
What exciting IT developments are you currently working on?
With the greater intake of laptops, we are focused on moving as many if not all the applications from our Citrix environment onto these devices. Increased use of other Office 365 and cloud services will enhance the drive for greater mobility and collaboration that we have seen already through the introduction of Microsoft Teams.
With our in-house web-side of development, one of our biggest evolving projects is that of RMworks, a risk management platform, built for our Insurance Brokers Division (IB). Mike has recently been working on a Claims Intelligence module, which has just recently gone live and I am really proud to say that Mike and our Risk Management team have been nominated for an award. This is such a great achievement and we are full of anticipation to see if RMworks will win.
Regarding our PRSym development, recently working in collaboration with James and Chris from Urban Zoo, we have launched our first client portal for online renewals. Stephen, Howard, and Dermot have a busy year ahead as we will be continuing with another five phases of development with PRSym and the online world, also looking at additional functionality to process information to/from the London markets.
With our relatively new BI reporting development, Phil will be moving us into a new era of data analysis by providing both insight and the visualisation of data by creating reports using Tableau. There is an extremely busy year ahead as it will stem over both the IB and PR Divisions.
Although COVID-19 may prevent our ‘normal’ hobbies – what do you enjoy doing most outside of work?
I’m a big fan of F1 racing and enjoy keeping fit. I also enjoy going to the cinema and reading.
One of my favourite things to do outside of work is to spend quality time with my husband and two dogs … we are very lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful areas to explore and enjoy on walks.
Also, in this time of madness, I enjoy catching up with family and friends via phone calls and messaging. Not forgetting, I have found quite a few good box sets on Sky and Netflix, which is currently a great alternative to a cinema night out!
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in IT?
My best piece of advice would be to always have an open mind, always be curious and always question. There will always be a better way to do something, but you will never know until you ask.
The great thing about IT is that it is such a wide and varied sector. You can never know everything about IT, it is always evolving (sometimes at rapid rates) and not everyone can be in the right place at the right time like a Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.
However, if you can find an area of interest that you enjoy, have a willingness to learn and move with the times, are flexible, open minded and hardworking, you can be sure that your career in IT will be a long and successful one.
We would like to thank Chris and Tracey for taking time out to chat with us about their experiences. If you would like to find out more about people just like Chris and Tracey who work at G&A then please visit the Inside G&A section of our website found in the main menu.
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