At the edge of business and technology

Thursday, March 1, 2018

As the Digital Development Manager at Nationale-Nederlanden, one of the leading players in the Dutch insurance market, Femke Jacobs is responsible for developing IT for all digital channels, including portals, mobile apps and websites.

What does a typical day at the office look like for you?

My day starts at 7:30. I like to start early because many of the programmers on my teams prefer to get an early start. I get myself a cup of coffee and make a round to check in and see whether anyone needs support. During the day, I have seven multidisciplinary development teams working on portals and app functionalities. I step in when there are resource issues or blocking items that they cannot solve, but otherwise they are self-sufficient. At the operational level, my role is essentially to enable my teams to do their work.

At the strategic level, I look ahead to the next few months or even years. For example, I created a vision for our digital landscape as part of our 2020 plan. In doing so, I asked important questions: What’s changing in the market? Can we continue building on our platforms, or do we need new technology? We discuss the cloud, new innovations and what we should do with big data.

The agile way of working is an important part of our 2020 plan. Because digital technology changes at such a fast pace, we as an organisation need to be flexible. We cannot expect software applications we build next year to be functional a decade later. However, we can predict some staying trends. For example, we can expect a non-static digital environment where data on our online behaviour will somehow be used.

For us at Nationale-Nederlanden, this means that we need to challenge our teams to continuously think about innovations and engage in professional development accordingly. We need our teams to demonstrate craftsmanship at the technical level so we can stay ahead of what’s happening in the market.

Because we are a bank and an insurer, we have to consider some special circumstances. Most importantly, while we are expected to be entrepreneurial and innovative in our vision and strategy, we must also consider security and ensure we maintain the trust of our customers and our brokers.

What drove you to pursue a career in digital technology?

I have always been a tech lady, so studying IT was a natural choice for me. Later on, I combined it with business administration. The digital world, and particularly the possibilities that lie at the edge of business and technology, has always been my passion. Looking back, this was the best choice I could have made.

Because I’m knowledgeable about IT architecture and can program, I am able to understand what my team does every day. Moreover, because I know how to understand and develop business strategies, I’m capable of making the translation between IT policy and business needs.

What advice do you have for young women considering technology careers?

While there are many women on the business side of digital, we need more women in the trenches of engineering and development. Diversity on the work floor is important, and since IT is largely a male-dominated world, simply being a woman and being authentic adds value.

I want to say this to the young women who are just now beginning their careers: If you choose to work in technology, don’t be afraid to dive into the technical side of it. You have an advantage as a woman if you are able to combine in-depth IT knowledge with feminine skills.

As you progress in your careers, continue to develop your network. Within Nationale-Nederlanden, I have a monthly lunch with my female IT colleagues. It’s fun to sit down together and discuss different topics, like new technologies and new games. As a group of women working in digital technology, we can share our knowledge and experiences and help each other further.