A bet on technology

Harrah's Entertainment is known as a high-stakes player in the glitzy world of hotel casinos and gambling. But in contrast to the bright lights of Las Vegas, the company's Web presence was dull and static and did little more than house communications and financial investment information. Furthermore, several of the company's individual properties had developed their own marketing-oriented sites, leaving the company without a unified face on the Web.

All that has changed as the company rolled the dice on a relaunched Harrahs.com site featuring Harrah's eTotal Rewards program, which offers customers at the company's Harrah's, Showboat, and Rio properties comprehensive account information, benefits, and complimentary offers in real time.

"Basically, it's bringing a lot of our Total Rewards [offline customer benefits program] functionality to the Web," says David Norton, vice president of loyalty marketing at Harrah's.

The revamped site also leverages the company's internal call-center environment and enables hotel customers to access their information on the Web site.

"What we really wanted was to use our CRM back-end technology to integrate that onto the online channel," says Tim Stanley, vice president of IT development at Harrah's, in Las Vegas.

Now the company boasts of having some of the more leading-edge CRM management capabilities and providing a single view of the customer for more than 20 million Total Rewards participants.

To make the new site happen, Harrah's deployed IBM Corp.'s RISC System/6000 Unix hardware and WebSphere application suite, as well as the Interwoven content management system. IBM's MQ Series was deployed for live-action access to Harrah's human-resources system. An online gaming portion of the new site, in which customers can play games for fun and to receive credits toward reward levels rather than for money, is deployed on Windows NT.

Part of Harrah's Web efforts involved linking its call center -- used for making hotel reservations -- to the new Web site. Web visitors can now send e-mail to the call center, edit customer profiles, provide information such as physical and e-mail addresses, request nonsmoking rooms, and receive special offers at the casinos.

"The airlines' frequent-flyer model is a pretty good analogy here, but we've already taken that a step beyond, which is the concept of displaying your offers for you online," Stanley says.

IBM was selected as the initial integrator because of its experience in IT infrastructures and Web site development, Norton says. Systems integrator Sapient was brought in to work with Harrah's IT personnel in Memphis, Tenn., in building the eTotal Rewards application, which features a Java front end.

"The technology integration was a key [factor] for us," Norton says. "IBM did the integration when we initially launched the site. And to bring life to eTotal Rewards, we brought in Sapient in the March time frame to actually implement that."

Harrah's began the relaunch of its site on Sept. 29, 2000, by enabling customers to log on and find out how to earn a higher level "rewards card" that entitled them to various privileges at the company's properties. A second phase was kicked off on June 21, when eTotal Rewards was linked to the company's main marketing database and the site gained a new look and feel. The application accesses Harrah's Windnet system to handle CRM information.

Harrah's faced some challenges in integrating its new applications with old ones, Harrah's officials said. The company had to integrate the new systems with the legacy AS/400 infrastructure across a very distributed set of hotel properties.

"For instance, hotel bookings are very closely tied to our CRM strategy, and to execute the online experience and brand ... [the online system] has to be closely tied to our CRM system," Stanley says.

Business logic also had to be integrated, but working with Sapient helped smooth the integration, according to Stanley.

"We have an infrastructure now that supports everything we're doing," including on-property kiosks and online technologies, Stanley says.

As a result of the relaunch, site traffic shot up 39 percent from June to July during the second phase of the relaunch, with traffic reaching 700,000 hits.

"Traffic's grown dramatically, even since June 21," Norton says. "We're seeing a nice uptake in total visitation to the site, and one of the goals [is to see more] repeat visits to the site. ... I think we're really starting to leverage this channel" by utilizing e-mail campaigns as a way to sell rooms or events.

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