by Alice Dragoon

20/20 HONOREES – John Boushy

Oct 01, 20022 mins

CIO and Senior Vice President of Operations, Products and Services

Harrah’s Entertainment Inc.

IBM and AT&T told him it couldn’t be done. John Boushy, then senior vice president of IT and marketing services at Harrah’s Entertainment, wanted to connect multiple AS/400 mainframes to a Unix database?a feat that had never before been accomplished. But Boushy and Harrah’s CEO, Phil Satre, were undaunted. In 1993, an era when most casinos were luring customers with fountains and volcanoes, they were determined to build a single, integrated customer database that would enable the first national recognition and rewards system in the casino industry.

The task would require a mammoth multiyear integration effort to connect transactional AS/400 mainframes at some 20 Harrah’s properties to a single Unix-based database. Armed with a vision of a customer-centric business, Boushy rallied his IT staff by emphasizing the end goal and reminding them often of the little engine that could. Under his leadership, the Harrah’s IT team would accomplish the seemingly impossible.

Three years into the project?and three months before the scheduled completion date?Boushy pledged not to cut his hair until the system was up and running. Two months later, a database error wiped out the entire 300GB database, and a bug in the backup software rendered the backup tape useless. The team had to start from scratch the six-month process of reloading data. The day after the database, dubbed WINet, went live in February 1997, Boushy let everyone who’d worked on the project snip a lock of his hair. “It was the rattiest-looking haircut,” says Boushy, 48, who had just enough time to get it cleaned up before the next board meeting.

Today, WINet puts the company in what Boushy, now CIO, estimates is the top 5 percent of CRM practitioners, enabling a sophisticated revenue management system that calculates the expected profitability of individual customers on the fly.

“Most competitors emphasize hardware?restaurants, hotel rooms and fountains,” says Satre. “While those are all important, underlying everything we do is how does it fit into our software? John was critical in architecting that software.”