IT managers gamble on short staff

New Year's Day is a perennial challenge for IT managers in the gambling industry, when the busiest time of year must be met with minimal staff.

Ensuring the roulette wheel keeps on turning at Sky City in New Zealand this Christmas and New Year is the responsibility of Damian Swaffield and his 80 IS staff.

Sky City will only have about four IT people working on Christmas Day, carrying out maintenance on what is expected to be one of its busiest days of the year, but Swaffield, CIO of the casino company, says maintaining 24/7 service is one of the main challenges of his job, along with integration issues and dealing with some unusual and specialist technologies.

Since joining Sky City in 1999, the former Welshman says the organisation has grown from employing 2400 staff to 4000, his own department more than doubling in size to 32. Sky City has opened casinos in Queenstown and Hamilton. It bought the Adelaide casino, the Canbet Australian online betting company, plus 75% of Force Corporation and its Village Roadshow cinema chain.

The expansion leaves Sky City with a diverse range of systems including US-based Micros point of sale systems and Fidelio hotel management software, Australian-based Aristocrat gaming software and the MICROster rostering product from Australia. Sitting across the entire entertainment group, allowing real-time earning and spending of membership points, is the Melbourne-sourced Action customer management program.

Swaffield, a former KPMG consultant, says creating linkages between the diverse systems of the various companies, such as adopting middleware and data warehousing, is his biggest issue. Sky City is looking at some kind of middleware or enterprise application integration (EAI) system to "glue" it all together. It is also purchasing a single ERP system for the entire company. Currently, an old version of World from JD Edwards is used in Australia, while New Zealand uses a US-supplied Infinium system, commonly used by the gaming industry.

Six or seven vendors replied to a proposals tender this month and Swaffield expects implementation in the first quarter of 2004.

The ERP would include functions, like hotel management, sales management, finance management, point-of-sale and gaming systems. It will be capable of dealing with future company growth, including a planned $60 million conference centre, $320 million five-star hotel and extra gaming space in Auckland.

Swaffield says the 24/7 nature of the business means service must be consistent, as taking things down for repair is not usually possible. Solutions must be designed with some redundancy or they can be taken down with minimum impact.

"[Consequently] we will be doing a lot of work on Christmas day, working to a detailed plan, on things like database maintenance and security patching," he says.

Swaffield won't be there himself as his staff have a "clear workplan and an escalation framework should there be any issues", he says.

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