IW500: Harrah's Places Its Bet On IT
The $10.8 billion resort and gaming company outlines ways to grow by providing new services, during a discussion at the InformationWeek 500 Conference.
Harrah's CIO Tim Stanley is helping lead the way for the company to grow without having to invest billions on expensive new hotels and casinos, CEO Gary Loveman said Tuesday.
"In a business that loves to consume capital, we need to find ways to make our businesses profitable without building multibillion-dollar properties," Loveman said. Harrah's is looking to improve profits by finding better ways to deliver services.
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Loveman spoke along with Stanley at a discussion of "Tomorrow's CIO And What The CEO Looks For," moderated by InformationWeek VP and editor-in-chief Rob Preston.
Stanley wears multiple hats at Harrah's. As CIO, he oversees a staff of 700. He is also senior VP of gaming, where he oversees casino resorts responsible for two-thirds of the company's revenue. And he's VP of innovation, overseeing a multidisciplinary team of 10 people.
Harrah's is working on doing a better job analyzing customer transactions to determine patterns of spending and better anticipate and influence spending, Loveman said. The hospitality business offers a broad range of services to its customers: Harrah's feeds its guests, parks their cars, and puts them to bed at night. Harrah's is developing systems to suggest services to customers based on transactional information received in real time, rather than waiting until he customer has checked out, as has been done to date.
"The guest will have a better and richer experience, and say, 'You know me,' and they'll be more likely to come back," Stanley said. The goal is to keep customers on the property; in Las Vegas, Harrah's competition is just a stroll across the street.
For example, if a guest who enjoys fine dining checks in, Harrah's systems would automatically hold a table for the guest -- assuming there is one available -- reserve tickets at a show afterward, and then suggest the activity with a message on the guest's mobile device, Loveman said.
"In Vegas, we're very fortunate that people don't plan ahead very often. The person who is sober and has money directs," Loveman quipped.
These principles could be applied to other businesses, Loveman said. For example, ski resorts and supermarkets acquire huge amounts of data about customers and don't make the most effective use of it.
"Groceries send weekly ads to lifelong vegetarians and cat-food offers to dog owners," he said. The customer information is used to offer discounts but not to influence buying patterns. Preston added that grocery stores reward lighter customers with shorter checkout lines -- express checkout for people buying just a few items.
Some of the efforts to track customers misfired. For example, Stanley personally tried greeting customers by name and talking with them about their past business history at Harrah's, but the customers found that experience creepy and Big Brother-ish.
Preston asked where Harrah's draws the line with regard to respecting customer privacy. Loveman responded that it's not too much of a problem -- customers in the gaming business expect the property to keep track of their activities and don't have a problem, so long as the information is accurate and they get the benefits they think they deserve. For example, people who lose a lot of money expect to get their lodging comped. Harrah's draws the line at giving data away to third parties -- it doesn't sell or give away customer information.