How This Director Is Leading London’s Premier League Football Club In Technology
Christelle Heikkila, IT Director at Arsenal F.C., traded in her white pharmaceutical coat to lead London’s Premier League football club in technology.
Arsenal F.C.’s rich history dates back to 1886. Over the last century, they have built a reputation as one of the most recognizable clubs in the world. Now, to add to their progressive culture, they’re focusing on technology to help them engage on a deeper level with their fans. Also, they’re utilizing innovative technology approaches to make the overall experience of attending a game more enriching. Although Heikkila has only been part of the front office team for less than a year, she has already made strides to technologically advancing the club.
“What attracted me so much to Arsenal,” Heikkila shares her story, “was the diversity of the club…We have a community department. We are a multi-channel retailer; we’re online and in shops. It makes the job of being the IT director really interesting because there’s all these applications and systems in use that are incredibly broad.”
As the world is becoming more data-driven, clubs have to stay abreast on the latest trends. “The club is a lot more scientific in terms of the decisions that it makes,” she states. “For example, improving the player’s performance. Technology is incredibly important. That’s why we’ve partnered with Acronis and use the data-cloud solution because they store and backup and help us, if necessary, retrieve eight terabytes of video.”
Arsenal has hundreds of millions of fans around the world. Part of Heikkila’s role is to support how the club interacts with its fan base. In order to understand how to communicate with fans in an appropriate way, the club first has to understand who the fans are. “We have a CRM [customer relationship management] system that tries to catch all the data about our fans,” she explains, “and give us a single view of the fan. We need to understand the nature of our fans, how to better communicate with them and how to better meet their needs.”
Heikkila never set out to work for the club. Initially, she wanted to be a pharmacist. Very quickly after earning a pharmaceutical degree she realized that she didn’t want to spend her entire career working on the retail side of pharmaceuticals. She was able to land a position as a consultant at a management firm that had her flying around the world working with clients in both the retail and entertainment industries. Once she had her two children she decided to resign as a consultant and enter the retail space on the technology side. For over a decade she built a large cross-functional team defining functional, non-functional and operational requirements, and was responsible for the management of senior stakeholder relationships. In addition, she was a pioneer in the use of agile methodologies in the retail sector.
“Because I started as a pharmacist, I’ve worked in retail and now I’m at the football club, it’s made me a lot more rounded being an IT director,” Heikkila states. “I’m not completely in the depths of technology the whole time. It gives me a more well-rounded perspective, appreciation of what the club is trying to achieve.”
As an IT director, she notices the lack of females within the technology industry. “I’ve heard young girls are less interested in technology,” she expresses. “They don’t necessarily see IT as an interesting industry to work in. My message is IT is not just about being a programmer or just about being a network engineer. There are many different roles working in IT. For example, every department in the club has technological needs. It’s my responsibility to understand what those needs are.”
Heikkila has transitioned seamlessly throughout her career. Below are her tips on how to successfully pivot:
- Be open-minded and embrace a different environment and culture. The broader your experience, the more value you add to a company.
- Learn how to adapt. Being flexible allows you to open yourself up to new opportunities, experiences and a new way of operating within an industry.
- Open yourself up to share a different perspective. Don’t think you can’t talk about something that references your former career or industry; that’s what can add value to your next company and your next career.
“As the IT director,” she concludes, “I have to know how to talk to my very technical staff, and I have to make that language meaningful when speaking to the club; to show them how technology will draw value to the club. I really enjoy being part of this team and understanding how technology can enhance the overall vision of the club.”