The Project: Develop and deploy applications for Microsoft Surface, a
computer in the form of a table. Surface employs
internal cameras that respond to hand gestures or physical objects placed on its 30-inch
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Enticing Return Customers is the Name of the Game at Harrah’s
The Business Case: Harrah’s board was wowed by the system, which allows
people to use their hands to touch and move objects on the screen and which recognizes
objects placed on it based on their shape or a bar code. But Harrah’s CIO and SVP of innovation, gaming and technology Tim Stanley (who
retired in January) saw more than a flashy user interface. He envisioned new ways to
The decision to try Surface came from the gut, says Harrah’s Vice President of Innovation
Chris Chang. The goal was to “establish Surface as a platform to guests and then figure out
how to make money from it.” Nevertheless, the company defined how much it was willing to
spend to prove the technology would create value.
First Steps: Harrah’s signed on as one of five inaugural customers for
Surface in 2006. Chang created a cross-functional team to brainstorm ideas for it, then five
developers spent almost a year building eight applications. Among them: Flirt, which allows
guests to chat with each other across a bar, and Mixologist, which enables guests to create
and order custom cocktails.
Harrah’s introduced Surface at the PURE nightclub in Caesar’s Palace during a celebrity
poker event in February 2008. Then the company installed six machines at the iBar lounge in
its Rio Hotel & Casino for a 120-day pilot. Flirt was an instant hit. Mixologist, meanwhile,
has proven to be a revenue generator.
During the pilot, Harrah’s signed tequila-maker Patrón Spirits as a Surface sponsor.
They offered a Patrón-themed bowling game, created coasters that launched a
Patrón ad and handed out cards that, when placed on the Surface, offered prizes like a
free margarita. Drink sales rose 15 percent as a result of the program.
Overall, Harrah’s links most of the 19 percent increase in both sales and traffic at the
iBar to the presence of the Surface computers. Property managers liked the devices so much
that Harrah’s let them remain once the pilot was over. Now Chang’s team is developing new
applications and plans more deployments in Las Vegas this year. The ultimate goal (assuming
regulators approve): Use the Surface to deliver casino gaming.
What to Watch Out For: You need patience when deploying something untested.
Surface was “extremely immature,” Stanley says.
One of Surface’s main attractions—its ability to recognize many points of contact
simultaneously—has been Harrah’s greatest pain point. “It’s another whole level of
complexity as opposed to single-function, single-stream transaction-based applications,”
says Stanley. Plus, there are currently no automated alerts or remote monitoring processes
for the Surface; Harrah’s depends on users alerting bartenders or wait staff if the system
Initially, Harrah’s wanted to let guests discover how to use the system on their own. But
Chang found that help videos were a better idea.