All of us, from the marketers to the park rangers, need to be able to interpret data
Harriet van der Winden is the IT Director at Landal GreenParks, the largest holiday provider in bungalow parks across Western Europe.
What are your core responsibilities as the IT director?
At Landal GreenParks, we aim to provide unforgettable holidays for our guests. I manage the IT systems that make this possible. On any given day, this could mean setting up laptops for the office, evaluating the best tool to help our restaurant kitchens digitise or steering the creation of an app to inform guests about fun activities at our parks. I get to poke my nose in everything, and that’s what I love most about working in digital technology at Landal.
An important component of my role is setting the vision for the company’s digital development. I have to understand the different business processes at play, along with their connections and dependences, so I can make the right decisions for the company. I also need to develop a strong and committed team capable of carrying out this vision. I really enjoy driving a wide range of initiatives that help the company grow.
How is digital technology changing the tourism industry?
The effective use of large amounts of data is becoming more and more important. For example, in 2016, we completed a €1 million project to redesign and restructure a 12-year-old data warehouse to unlock the business intelligence we need. In doing so, we brought the data from a large number of our systems together: financial data, booking records, guest reviews and complaints, all in one big bowl.
We use this information to power our search results and display recommendations based on what we know about our guests. With this foundation, we can also start developing dashboards and tools for our partners and support staff. This means that everyone within our company, from the marketers to the park managers, can receive data tailored to their information needs. However, this also means that they must be able to interpret that data. Developments like this are fundamentally changing the competencies required in a modern workforce. This is why I always say that everyone works in IT.
In the wake of these changes, communication skills are crucial. IT people need to become more and more bilingual. They must be able to understand the bytes and bits, as well as explain these concepts in a way that others can understand. This is where things get interesting: while there are many specialists, only a small group is good at describing what they do. There is potentially an opportunity for women to close this gap.
Do you see many women in technology-focused leadership roles?
When I attend IT leadership events in Holland, I’m typically one of the very few women present. However, we are part of an American company, and when I travel to the States for similar events, usually half the attendees are women.
My guess is that this largely has to do with our different attitudes towards part-time work. My American colleagues are often surprised that I spend Fridays at home with my son. However, I strongly believe that both individuals and organisations can benefit from more flexible working arrangements, and perhaps promoting this perspective will encourage women to pursue more senior roles.
Balancing work and family life is a big challenge, and it’s something that many women must learn, because both your family and your job will keep on asking you for more. You have to learn to say no and trust that both sides will still like you if you do.
What advice do you have for young women stepping out into the professional world?
My strongest advice would be to take the time to figure out what you really like, and when you do, enjoy it. You learn best when you’re having fun. Young people today might fall into the trap of thinking that the first three years will determine their entire careers. My experience is that life is full of interesting curveballs, and your career will unfold as it will. I will say that if you’re interested in technology, that’s brilliant, because it will be one of the most important areas in business, and it’s not going away any time soon. If you choose to work in this area, you’ll have so much fun.