As Vienna House’s Head of IT, Stefan Urdl is responsible for the proper functioning and further development of the IT infrastructure. The native of Wiener Neustadt south of Vienna tells us what he finds so special about his trade, how he balances his work in his free time, and why he is an analogue cook.
When did you get your first computer?
I got my first computer when I was 15, though I had been fascinated by technology at an even earlier age. Programming was never number one for me, however; I was more interested in the idea of what you can achieve with IT. That’s why I don’t really see myself as technically minded. I want to help make work easier for the users – for me, that is the focus of IT. My area of responsibility as Head of IT is the interface between developers and users. I know the needs of both and help them to communicate.
The IT sector is a fast-growing one. When you got started, did you think that innovation would happen so quickly?
I was 14 when I first suspected that this technological trend could become very interesting. This laid the foundation for my education. School was not really easy for me, however, as I was only marginally interested in the truly technical subjects. But all in all, this was the best path I could have taken. After all, almost nothing goes without IT these day.
But I definitely underestimated the speed of the change. More has happened in the last five years than in the ten years before that.
With all these changes, how do you stay on the ball?
There’s nothing like reading a lot and talking with others. Networking is extremely important in this business – it helps you to see beyond the end of your own nose.
What is special about IT in the hotel industry?
The special thing is that there are two types of users. On the one hand, we work for the hotel staff; on the other hand, for the guests. And the focus for both sides is innovation. Other sectors might have to react, but we have to be proactive; we have to know today what will be the best tomorrow for the guest and for our employees.
Is the mobile concierge a part of this fast-paced change?
Absolutely. The mobile concierge is the medium we are currently concentrating on the most. It could also soon be integrated with chatbots, for example, to automatically answer standard guest questions and so allow the receptionist to focus on other tasks. The idea is not to replace people with a machine, but to delegate tasks. One big problem these days is that people get held up doing routine tasks that could easily be handled automatically.
How do you deal with older guests who may not be as tech-savvy?
The most important thing is ease of use. And we would never put a concept into practice if it is based exclusively on the latest technologies. If we want to reach the general public, we will have to continue to offer classic operating devices as well as add-ons for the next generation.
What are your hobbies and how do you find your work-life balance?
I do a lot of sport. Almost every day before I start work, I go to the fitness centre to exercise. That helps me to clear my head. I did a course to become a personal trainer and I even used to work as one on the side. Today that’s all just a hobby, but one that really helps me to find my balance.
When I’m not at the fitness centre, I’m either having a good workout on the badminton courts or you’ll find me enjoying life with my girlfriend. Friends really are the most important thing in life, both on the job and in private.
Something that doing a lot of sport brings with it: I get up early and eat a low-carb diet. So when it comes to food, I’m more of an analogue cook than the digital meal orderer.