Tim Stanley stands over a roulette wheel in a basement at Harrah's Entertainment's Las Vegas headquarters. This isn't the real thing--it's a prototype system in Harrah's innovation lab where Stanley, the company's CIO and senior VP of innovation, gaming, and technology, gets to experiment with what comes next in the booming business of entertainment, games, and gambling. Here, Harrah's is testing the concept of virtual roulette, in which a dealer somewhere in the casino spins the wheel and gamblers place bets in front of a bank of screens rather than at a table. It's potentially a more efficient--and profitable--way of gaming.
"It's too easy to sit back and come up with lots of reasons why you wouldn't want to do something or how to prevent things from happening," Stanley says. "I generally subscribe to this approach: Let's get in the game, work a little bit, and through the course of that we'll figure out what the opportunity and the challenge are."
In an era when far too many CIOs are still struggling to align technology with "the business," Stanley has already made the two indistinguishable at Harrah's Entertainment. He's involved in the casino and hospitality company's highest-level decision making, including who it acquires and where it will expand next. Several acquisitions, including a $9.4 billion buyout of Caesars Entertainment in 2005, have made Harrah's the largest casino gaming company in the world. The growing population of tech-savvy visitors has presented an opportunity for Harrah's to interact with its customers in new ways, from promotions on mobile devices to RFID-based identification.
Making Of A CIO
Tim Stanley has college degrees in engineering and IT management. His work experience includes a stint as CIO of National Airlines and tech management jobs with the Air Force and Kimberly-Clark. He's also been a consultant. He was hired by Harrah's Entertainment in 2001 and promoted to CIO in 2003.
A would-be entrepreneur, Stanley, during his college years, admired Apple founder Steve Jobs. He might have launched a startup of his own if it weren't for constantly being challenged by "new and exciting" work at Harrah's. The future? Maybe becoming a college professor.
Downtime is often spent in Southern California at the Stanley family's vacation home.
Stanley's title might as well be chief multitasker. As CIO, he oversees the single largest corporate-level organization at Harrah's: 350 people in headquarters IT and another 350 at the company's various properties. But that's just his day job. As senior VP, he also oversees the company's 40 casinos in three countries. And with "innovation" added to his title early this year, Stanley is charged with looking ahead six months, a year, five years, to divine those technologies and processes that will attract new customers to Harrah's while keeping existing ones coming back--and spreading their money around in more ways.
In the last year, Stanley's innovation group has been testing and planning to deploy RFID, server-based casino gaming machines, Microsoft's Surface tabletop computer, and computer systems to control hotel room functions through TVs. The IT group has opened a new data center in Memphis, Tenn., and put more resources into making Harrah's massive customer data warehouse more "active" so the company can react to customer needs in real time. Stanley also has helped develop plans to give the company's property in downtown Las Vegas a makeover.
Stanley's data-powered approach to customer engagement is the envy of the industry, increasingly letting Harrah's measure, track, anticipate, and provide just about anything gamblers, shoppers, and hotel visitors do and would ever want. That devotion to the business coupled with his skill at adapting and innovating while deftly juggling multiple responsibilities make him the clear choice as InformationWeek's 2007 Chief of the Year.
What makes Stanley so special? Colleagues and partners point to the depth and breadth of his technical knowledge and business vision. He can shift from the minutiae of RFID tagging to a discussion of the company's $1 billion plan to develop 370 acres of Las Vegas real estate, including a $500 million, 20,000-seat arena. "He can kind of scroll through all the different topics and then double-click on one and dive deep on that," says Chris Chang, who reports to Stanley as VP of innovation and IT strategy.
When Bill Nuti, CEO of NCR, met with Stanley a few weeks ago in Las Vegas to talk about NCR's plans for self-service technology in the gaming industry, Nuti was impressed with how Stanley steered the conversation toward Harrah's customers--and not just on an esoteric level. "Tim gets that customers' behavior, in terms of how they connect, interact, and transact with Harrah's, is changing dramatically, and he's figured that out from a data-driven approach," Nuti says. "His implementations are based on trends, based on numbers, as opposed to thinking you know what the customer wants because you do a few sweeps of the casino from time to time."
Harrah's began consolidating its customer data in the late 1990s when it launched its Total Rewards loyalty program, but Stanley took both Total Rewards and the company's customer data to the next level. The company now hosts about 20 Tbytes of data on more than 42 million customers. Between 300,000 and 1 million customers come through Harrah's doors daily, so that's a lot of data turnover.
Harrah's puts much of that data to work doing what Stanley calls "interactive CRM." Every time a Total Rewards customers swipes his program card at a slot machine, restaurant, or another of the growing number of touch points throughout the company's properties, he's transmitting actionable information--for example, on the amount of money he's betting or on his food and drink preferences.
So not only can Harrah's give priority to big-spending customers with comped rooms and meals, but it also can celebrate their jackpot wins above all others' on the casino floor and even, potentially, notify a spouse in another part of the casino about the win via a text message.
Near-term plans include the installation of interactive digital displays in slot machines, letting customers, for instance, order drinks without having to wait for a waitress to show up (and making sure preferred customers get their drinks pronto). And the company plans to expand a program in place at Harrah's Atlantic City, where customers are given mobile devices to order drinks; those devices potentially could be used for mobile gambling in certain areas of a casino.
The Business of Going DigitalDigital business isn't about changing code; it's about changing what legacy sales, distribution, customer service, and product groups do in the new digital age. It's about bringing big data analytics, mobile, social, marketing automation, cloud computing, and the app economy together to launch new products and services. We're seeing new titles in this digital revolution, new responsibilities, new business models, and major shifts in technology spending.