by George Nott

CIO50 2016 #26-50: Melanie Sinton, Racing and Wagering Western Australia

Nov 24, 2016

Racing and Wagering Western Australia was established in 2003 to foster development, promote the welfare and ensure the integrity of metropolitan and country thoroughbred, harness and greyhound racing in Western Australia.

It is responsible for off-course wagering functions, covers approximately 54,000 races year spread across three codes, and supports over 320 TAB retail outlets across the state.

But the betting industry was changing fast, and the agency had to change with it.

“With the rapid change we see across the globe and the digitisation of businesses, the old monolithic organisations must change or die. The old scattergun, prescriptive approach where businesses had information leverage and customers did not have information parity when it came to purchasing products or services has mostly eroded away,” explains the organisation’s CIO, Melanie Sinton.

“In order to ensure that our business remains viable for the future, we realised we needed to build our products around the individual customer, which meant better information, better delivery and better analysis – all of which required a strong transformative IT initiative.”

The agency had been suffering from what Sinton calls a “bloated, siloed program of work” encompassing more than 150 different proposed projects and more than 45 different fitness metric criteria.

Under her leadership, the body implemented a corporate level Program Office with a set of five coherent, consistent customer-focused metrics. The numerous projects were evaluated and whittled down to 35.

“Projects were taken out of business silos and evaluated for fitness and designed for organisation-wide synergy, removing waste and unnecessary complexity,” she said.

Cultural change

Success required a significant cultural change at the agency. Lean principles and a ‘fail-fast’ mindset were adopted.

“We needed to change to be more agile having the entire organisation fully committed to being externally customer-driven. On the process side, we implemented a culture of ‘fail-fast’ for projects, where the failure criteria of a project is up-front and clearly specified. Projects that ‘failed’ have their resources immediately diverted to new or existing initiatives that continue to operate.”

Last year the agency spent $400,000 developing its BetLab webpage for customers to try-out new betting platforms with pretend money. It provided a proving ground for ideas, the most successful of which were rolled out organisation-wide. In addition new hires and consultants were brought in to accelerate the culture-shift throughout the hierarchy.

Sinton’s team has implemented a cohesive cloud development and deployment strategy, launched a curated and maintained public-facing API service for race and wagering data, and streamlined application development so that they can be developed, deployed and tested simultaneously over the major market leaders on Android and iOS.

For customers, a geo-fenced application that ensures that relevant, customer-specific offers are presented when they are at a specified location.

Everyday innovation

Innovation has now become a part of the agency’s day to day operation, thanks to Sinton’s leadership.

“Innovation to me means that we need to look at new ways of solving our problems to ensure we remain competitive in the current landscape. My role as CIO and specifically in the innovation piece means being seen as a true business ally not just trusted partner. This ensures that new and innovative ideas are socialised at the executive level with buy-in from the whole team, top down,” Sinton explains.

“Innovation is an ongoing thing, and as the CIO, we have to realise that our job is to support, nurture and guide initiatives so that innovation can thrive as part of our day-to-day operations. It’s the realisation that change for the better should always be the goal, and the acceptance that change for the better should always be happening.”