The head of Northern Ireland’s largest IT company has paid tribute to hundreds of staff in the North West for helping ensure the firm’s continued success during the COVID-19 crisis.
Allstate NI was established in 1998 to provide high quality software development services and business solutions in support of its US-based parent company, the Allstate Corporation.
It employs 900 people in its Derry and Strabane offices, and a further 1500 staff in Belfast, and is one of a number of North West firms who have managed to thrive despite the challenges posed by the crisis.
The firm took the decision to move all 2400 staff to virtual working in mid-March. Since then, Allstate has managed to maintain productivity levels and a steady order book – an achievement Managing Director John Healy attributes to the talent, skills and connectivity found in the North West, and Northern Ireland in general.
“I’m hugely proud of how the workforce has responded to this,” Mr Healy said. “As I talk to the leaders back in the US, they are incredibly happy with what we’ve managed to achieve here.”
“We already have a culture within the business of people working from home; we have the infrastructure to allow that to happen, and we periodically test it. But whenever you’re doing it for real, to watch how people respond, now for over 11 weeks, it’s just been amazing.”
Staff from the Derry and Strabane sites were “incredibly busy” as Covid-19 unfolded, with part of Allstate’s technology helpdesk functionality run in these locations.
“During the initial weeks of the crisis, those teams in the North West helped our colleagues right around the globe to move quickly and safely to working from home,” said Mr Healy.
“The volumes have now come back down to normal levels, but definitely they were key to the success of the corporation as a whole as we all move to new ways of working.”
As a major centre for innovative software development, covering the full lifecycle from design to maintenance and support, the local wealth of talent and experience was a huge draw for Allstate.
Asked what message he would give to other investors who are considering the North West as a location, Mr Healy said: “The initial set-up of Allstate in the North West was around getting access to a deep talent pool, not just in Derry and Strabane, but also from hinterland such as Donegal.
“What we’ve managed to achieve over the years that we’ve operated out of the North West shows that decision was absolutely spot on. These are really talented individuals who are making a great contribution to the success of all of our businesses.
“And the innovation, the resilience, the ingenuity of the people who are making it work, from home, in recent weeks has been great.”
Mr Healy predicted longer term changes to working practices for many businesses, including Allstate NI.
“We’ll still have the office and we’ll still have people who are calling in to work with colleagues and interact with others, but I think it will definitely change our perception around how much we need to be in the office and how that space is used,” he said.
“Whenever you’re working in a hi-tech environment like ours, as long as you’ve got your laptop and a connection to the internet, you’re able to connect onto the Allstate infrastructure and do your job from wherever you find yourself.”
The broadband infrastructure in employees’ homes has been holding up “incredibly well”, Mr Healy added.
“We’ve had very few issues with connectivity for our employees when they’ve been working from home.
“It’s fantastic that we can have everybody at home, safe and secure, at a time of crisis.”
The firm have even recently completed another successful recruitment drive for Service Desk Analysts in the North West – initially working from home but based out of their Derry and Strabane offices when it is safe to return.