When Business Intelligence Pays Off

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For her latest expansive data project at Station Casinos, information manager Karen O’Dell, as usual, decided to go all in.

O’Dell’s BI team, working alongside contracted vendors and involved corporate executives, recently hammered out a real-time enterprise data warehouse with business intelligence reporting for customer gaming and guest interaction data at Station’s 18 casinos and hotels.

The enterprise project is the latest product of her decades of gaming industry experience that have led to quick returns on investment and other benefits. O’Dell, whose official titles are business intelligence product director and director of business systems, has spearheaded programs that have garnered awards and attention (including a spot in Information Management’s25 Top Information Managers of 2011”).

One such project replaced or reconfigured the circuits within all of Station’s more than 23,000 slot machines, mapped the new information that resulted and brought better customer rewards and new high-value reporting on trending and customer activity to the business for the first time.

An even bigger award-winning data warehouse project unified CRM system data and created common scripting for customer interactions across properties.

These projects are part of the greater enterprise warehouse that replaced old homegrown parts with a modern Teradata system that gathers gaming, hotel and financial data in a new data model for all variations of ETL.

The scope of enterprise data unification was a new venture for the casino BI team. “It was basically almost [building] our own MDM,” O’Dell says.

The group operated from a single “war room” for the duration of the project – a workspace that contributed to team unity – and condensed a typical three-to-five year project down to one.

Throughout her career, O’Dell has focused on strong preparation and a tactical approach that combines integration savvy with close business and IT involvement.

“Being able to calmly sit down and talk about the correct path to go down and how you resolve [problems] and talk through it, that is the biggest thing,” says O’Dell.

She looks for well-written contracts and statements of work, and makes sure all parties have a stake in the game.

“It’s not operating like an R&D type project,” she says. “I know exactly what my deliverables are and I tie all payments to a deliverable.”

These approaches avoid side tracks and uncertainty that might otherwise delay a short time frame.

Closeness and direct communication were requirements for such a complicated undertaking in a quick time frame.

“We could have gotten sidetracked very easily by any problem and said, ‘Oh, we’re just going to throw that out and try something different,’ which would have set us back six months.”

The results have yielded a $1 million per month reduction in marketing and promotional expenses, a $500,000 per month reduction in production expenses and a 14 percent improvement in guest retention. Data errors declined radically, from 80 percent to about 1 percent.

In total, the new enterprise data warehouse has contributed about $1.5 million per month in increased profit for Station Casinos, returning its investment in about six months.

Success also came from sponsorship from the very highest levels of the corporation, with marketing and IT working together under a senior VP who looks over both departments. Going forward, the integration provides a real-time, single path through the data for the various business stakeholders and IT officers at the casino operator, says O’Dell.

“There wasn’t that, you know, ‘I’m IT and you’re marketing and I’ll do it the way I want to,’” O’Dell says.

She’ll use the same cohesive approach in upcoming projects to connect the casino’s real-time enterprise with social media chatter in applications that incent customers. All parties benefit when measures of customer experience are linked to initiatives for rewards programs and quality control, so O’Dell sees this wave of information funneling as central to the whole company’s interests.

“It’s not so much that we have the software development group and we have the server and desktop group and we have the networking group. We can’t operate autonomously anymore,” O’Dell says, later adding, “So, someone playing a slot machine, we know history about them, we know what they’re doing right at this minute and we know how they’re going to react based on what just happened, so let’s talk to them right now.”

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