Technological Disruptions Affecting the Casino Industry

John Kenefick, VP of IT, Pechanga Resort & Casino
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John Kenefick, VP of IT, Pechanga Resort & Casino

John Kenefick, VP of IT, Pechanga Resort & Casino

Cloud: How do you see the benefits of cloud computing for the casinos, and how have you embraced it? For our organization, it’s a balance of what we feel comfortable putting in the cloud and what still needs to remain on premise. The reality is cloud services are here to stay and we look for opportunities that can possibly reduce cost and gain efficiencies to the property. That being said, cloud solutions do not always fit either due to cost or due to the level of complexities of a large casino operation. When looking at cloud options I would suggest finding opportunities for small wins for the organization that will build a level of trust and gain support. As people become more comfortable and a level of trust is built, you can tackle large initiatives that cloud solution can possibly solve.

Big Data: Most organizations have high hopes for using big data analytics in their casinos but many have had challenges in deploying it. What are your thoughts on this?

It is no secret that casinos have always been largely a data driven business. The vast majority would probably tell you they are great at what they do. After our property fully engaging in a big data incentive, I would argue that casinos are ok at data analytics. From our experience, there were a few challenges but in the end we are starting to see the wins that big data can bring. Some of the challenges and pit falls to be mindful of are as follows.

• Understanding the concept of testing and failing fast. But in any failure learning from it and trying again. Conducting small use cases with minimal financial impact is a great tool in the big data tool box to learn what works and what does not.

• Determine what you want to accomplish with a big data architecture and make sure the hardware and software supports that vision.

• It’s a whole journey. It’s not a solution that you’ll have up and running in a year. Particularly for casinos, there is no plug-in solution you can buy tomorrow that allows you to immediately be big data experts. Companies are trying to develop this, but at the end of the day you know your business better than they do.

• Take the base hits and don’t focus on the home run. Big Data can be an expensive proposition and ROI will always come up.

We made this investment, now where is the return? I think casinos and organizations in general look for home runs to gain that quick return. Home runs are there, but I would take the base hits all day every day. Those base hits add up and every now and then you will hit a home run.

• Typically departments have their data they look at which is inherently in siloes due to disparate systems the data lives in. BI tries to solve some of this, but when looking at large amounts of information from several systems it’s not efficient. Big Data will facilitate business units seeing a broader picture of the business. Slots can see more than just slot machine metrics. The key is encouraging people to use the added information they are armed with. That can be tough when folks are used to doing things a certain way.

• Our biggest big data challenge and what will be a challenge for most organizations is the internal talent required to operate a big data environment. Don’t underestimate how long it could take to find the appropriate people. It seems these days everyone is a data scientist, but are they really? This is an area that outside assistance in the interview process can help. Also don’t discount individuals that are not in the gaming industry. True, data scientists are smart people and will learn the ropes quickly with some coaching.

Innovation: What are some steps the casinos can take to foster innovation and/or growth?

I would suggest engaging departments that have an interest in partnering on technology ideas. Challenge your department leaders to speak with their teams and ask how innovation can help in their daily job responsibilities. Don’t land in the trap of IT coming up with all the ideas on how innovation can make things better. I would also encourage looking outside industry for ideas. Regulated environments are not always the best place for fostering innovation.

Trends: What are some of the other technologies, you think should be adopted in the near future?

Not new technology or innovation but one area I think has big possibilities is cashless payments. I came into the industry just as TITO (ticket in ticket out) came on the scene. There are huge efficiency benefits in moving to a cashless system or even a hybrid of cashless and TITO. There are challenges to implementation of cashless but the upside seems big.

Advice: With your rich experience of managing IT organization and steering technology for your enterprise, can you please share some of the unique lessons learned and your advice for fellow CIOs? How has the role of a CIO changed over all these years looking into the entire technology paradigm shift?

Advice as it pertains to the casino business I would say always challenge the status quo. There are folks in the industry that are set in their ways and that can be a challenging environment for any CIO. Make a point to build relationships and trust with your peers. A couple of years back I was on stage at a speaking engagement with both our CFO & CMO. After the event, I was asked time and time again how I managed to get the other C level executives to be part of the conversation. It was very surprising to me that the relationship I had with my peers was not the norm. This also reminded me of why we have had the level of success when it comes to technology initiatives. Don’t be afraid to let others outside your environment into your world. Part of our responsibilities as CIOs is to coach.

Technology: How can technology be used to mitigate rising casino costs?

We consistently look for ways to improve business processes that can result in efficiencies. An example of this is paperless jackpots and challenging the status quo in requiring paper for processing a jackpot. Turns out the answer is no and we set out on a path to streamline the whole experience for both our team members and customers. The end result was much faster payouts with less labor involved. If we had not looked for a technology solution, our rising business levels would have required additional FTE’s to handle the volume. Big Data can be used to schedule to business volume by looking at the whole picture and not just department silos.

IoT: What does the Internet of Things mean for casino?

I suspect IoT will mean different things for different people. But for me I look at it as an opportunity to use our connected world to communicate and engage more with our team members and more importantly to our patrons. With that, there are also responsibilities in how we communicate and use connected devices to interact with our business. Today we have access to more data than we ever did before, but we need to be cautious about how we develop and use that information.

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