Harrah's Entertainment Reveals New IT Structure

FRAMINGHAM (06/29/2000) - In an effort to balance the need for fast application development and high-quality, focused end-user support, casino operator Harrah's Entertainment Inc. will implement a new IT organizational structure next week. It's based on a consulting firm model in which workers are dedicated to specific projects or support roles for defined periods of time, rather than mixing their roles.

In the prior structure, information technology staff worked on development projects and were intermittently pulled off to do routine support and maintenance, said John Boushy, senior vice president of brand operations and IT at Harrah's. That was disconcerting to staff and often delayed project completion.

Developers generally love to work with users, according to David Foote, founding partner of Foote Partners, LLC in New Canaan, Connecticut. "But you can't afford to mess with their concentration, because they're very highly paid," he said.

Now, IT is split into two groups, development and support, Boushy explained.

"The support people handle application support, run the computers, run the network, deliver value," Boushy said. The development crew does infrastructure and application development. Development builds new value for the business, he added.

Many of the final processes and procedures won't be in place until later this year, but "everyone in IT is functioning in the new structure now," said Eileen Cassini, vice president of IT services at the Las Vegas firm.

Whether assigned to support or development, "people now know what they'll be doing when they go to work in the morning," Boushy noted. Moreover, workers can finish a project and then move on to a new assignment, or even change roles between development and support.

Boushy said the two-part structure also makes sense for his IT managers. "On the support side, you're constantly looking for ways to provide the same service at less cost," Boushy said. "On the development side, though, the management model is about how you put together a team that has the talent for a project and how to maintain the focus."

When Harrah's initiated the program in February, Boushy said, workers asked:

"Am I going to be pigeonholed? What does support mean? What does new development mean? How will management work?"

"We answered the questions and reviewed roles and responsibilities of each person," Boushy said. "We were amazed at how many people wanted to work on the support side."

"Some of the people who chose to move from development to the support did it to gain management responsibility, whereas some of the nonmanagement people from development simply wanted to interact with users," said Monica Tyson, manager for enterprise data warehouse projects at Harrah's.

"Prior to the new structure, I had responsibility for both development and support," Tyson said. "The issue we had was that production [support and maintenance] always had priority. Now I have more time to plan."

IT workers now enjoy a new level of predictability according to role and project, Cassini said. But they can rotate across projects and change roles.

Foote said, "People need to rotate. If you don't have a program to rotate assignments, people tend to leave. There's a lot of boredom out there."

"Sometimes our people joke about which side they're working for at the moment," Cassini said. Those who are working in support sometimes say they're at the heart of the organization, while people on the development side frequently claim to be the brains."

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