Penrith Panthers scores high with IT project

Home of the Penrith Panthers, Panthers Entertainment Group is undertaking a range of IT projects, which its CIO claims is "as close to a corporate brain transplant as it gets".

Based in Penrith, an outer western suburb of Sydney, Panthers World of Entertainment (PEG) grew from a single NRL club to 13 when it embarked on an amalgamation strategy three years ago that resulted in another 12 clubs across NSW coming under the Panthers banner.

Now, with a total of 120,000 members and assets of $275 million, PEG is now spending millions of dollars on IT projects ranging from ERP, to point-of-sale, and loyalty solutions in an effort to integrate the clubs.

After going from one club to 13, PEG appointed a CIO as the IT team that previously handled one site ramped up operations to cover multiple sites. PEG's CIO James Huckerby was headhunted from contracting work in the UK and Europe that included working with organisations including the British Broadcasting Corporation and Tetley Tea.

Huckerby said PEG has about eight IT support staff, and about 32 IT staff in its Penrith head office.

"The first thing I did was roll out Windows XP to all sites which involved a lockdown of 450 desktop machines, plus a couple of hundred point-of-sale machines, and Windows 2000 desktop and server. We have two servers for disaster recovery, and some very good WAN (wide area network) links. We had to build this foundation before we could do the interesting things we are doing now," Huckerby said.

With anything from 450 to 1600 end users, Huckerby had the tough task of integrating and centrally managing different financial software and IT systems.

"Each club had a different system. As we amalgamated with the different clubs, we had issues with gaming, payroll, membership, point-of-sale, and so on. We had every possible combination imaginable, and are now getting it all integrated," Huckerby said.

PEG chose Applied Business Technology Group (ABT) to provide financial and technology solutions and is implementing Microsoft Business Solutions - Great Plains Edition solution, which will go live this month.

"ABT was selected because one its directors has specialised in hospitality industry and understood our business. The experience it had made the sales and implementation cycle easier. It was a rapid implementation, a period of six months from the initial sales cycle," he said.

The solution includes finance modules for fixed assets, national accounts, and multi-dimensional analysis, along with distribution modules including purchase orders, inventory, general ledger, and accounts payable and receivable.

"Previously, PEG had a club-specific solution in place. We looked into SAP and a couple of other ERP vendors, but found Great Plains to be the most cost-effective. The pricing is reasonable for what you get," Huckerby said, adding that PEG's investment in the Great Plains project was hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"ERP is the core backbone, and there is going to be so much we can achieve. At the moment we have a shop on the Internet, and as an example, it's a real pain that it doesn't integrate. But now with the implementation, we'll have the ability to promise stock, and can make orders, as we know what is there, and what's not," Huckerby said adding that PEG will have at least 100 remote users, from its other clubs, accessing and entering information via e-commerce portals.

Huckerby said the information from the system will give PEG the capacity to automate reporting they require daily, weekly or monthly, and "enable us to make better decisions".

While ruling out any major hiccups during the current implementation phase, Huckerby admitted that such large-scale projects are never easy. Other projects PEG is working on includes a $1.1 million point-of-sale system to handle PEG's distributors.

This is in addition to a $800,000 Loyalty Magic project. "This attracts people to Panthers for a chance to win $100,000 by swiping their loyalty card," Huckerby said.

PEG is also in the process of rolling out a $1.5 million IGS WAN system, supplied by gaming vendor IGT, to the PEG club sites, which should be completed in July.

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