Caesars plays the high-stakes game of digital transformation

Caesars CIO Les Ottolenghi replatformed the gaming and entertainment company on the cloud to facilitate personalization. The goal? Better guest experiences that translate to greater revenues.

Caesars plays the high-stakes game of digital transformation
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The proliferation of digital capabilities has facilitated a new era of personalization, with purveyors of goods and services using various software services and applications to tempt consumers with offers. Retailers have been the most visible players on this front, but casinos also view personalization as the new table stakes for revenue generation.

Targeting guests with offers at the right time and place, and with the right context, is the digital strategy Caesars Entertainment is betting on as it seeks to expand its share of the gaming and entertainment ante on the Las Vegas Strip. Since joining the company in 2016, CIO Les Ottolenghi is more than halfway through a five-year business transformation. The overhaul features new foundational technologies, including adopting cloud software and SaaS (software-as-a-service). Ottolenghi is also layering in digital capabilities to enhance the guest experience.

Revenue for Las Vegas Strip casinos plummeted in 2017, as tourists avoided the area in the wake of the Oct. 1 mass shooting at Mandalay Bay. But gaming wins surged in the latter half of 2018, topping $1 billion last October, according to Las Vegas Review Journal. Banking on slot machines and gaming tables alone is not enough to float a casino, as gaming and preferences diversify to include Esports, celebrity experiences and other entertainment options.

Resetting the bar

Ottolenghi joined Caesars with a remit to focus on “value creation for the business,” including boosting customer engagement and cultivating new business models. Reducing IT operating costs was also a key responsibility.

Like many other enterprises with decades-old legacy, Caesars’ IT profile was laden with technical debt with Ottolenghi took the reins. Caesars’ lifeblood casino systems ranged between 25 and 35 years old. Ottolenghi embarked on a digital transformation to enable every operating group to manage their own software platforms running private and public cloud systems.

Ottolenghi installed new ERP and human capital management systems and ramped up use of cloud services such as Microsoft Azure and Office 365, Amazon Web Services, Salesforce.com and Oracle. He consolidated and migrated disparate customer reservation and property management systems into global SaaS platforms. He also constructed a software-defined network to distribute infrastructure with high bandwidth and resiliency across the globe and added cybersecurity software from Palo Alto Networks to boost Caesars’ defenses.

These technologies serve as the foundations for Caesars’ next-generation customer experience, which includes leveraging mobility and localized presence to generate digital services at the moment of need. Think offers driven by internet of things (IoT), digital concierges, chatbots and augmented and virtual reality services.

Caesars is leveraging Salesforce.com Lightning Platform to enable IoT-driven marketing, based on preferences such as a guest's favorite cuisine, music or retail brands.

Les Ottolenghi, CIO, Caesars Entertainment Caesars Entertainment

Les Ottolenghi, CIO, Caesars Entertainment

Caesars Rewards loyalty program members receive real-time offers for upgrades and other perks to their smartphones while they’re on the premises. Ottolenghi says the offers, sent to guests’ smartphones who have downloaded the Caesars Rewards mobile app, has yielded higher levels of engagement, which allows them to retain guests longer.

"We can offer services inside rewards apps and outside rewards app to push messages [to guests] in real-time," Ottolenghi says. To improve the accuracy of offers, Caesars is working with Salesforce.com consultancy Bluewolf to sift through legacy systems and historical customer data from multiple sources to create unified customer profiles. Caesars also generates insights by using Cloudera software to comb through customer data, clickstream data, reservation data and millions of messages generated from point-of-sale and IoT devices.

Ivy, a digital concierge chatbot developed by Go Moment and powered by IBM Watson's cognitive intelligence software, uses natural language processing to improve guest experience. After check-in, guests who have provided a cell phone number for their reservation receive a welcome message from Ivy encouraging them to text her with any questions or requests. Ivy books dining, entertainment and spa experiences and facilitates housekeeping and maintenance requests.

Since last September, Caesars' LINQ Hotel & Casino has featured The Book, a high-tech sports book and bar where guests can watch games or play Xbox on 98-inch screen TVs, and rent "fan caves" to enjoy private gaming experiences, including virtual reality goggles, with friends. Guests can also order food from and play augmented reality games on a tablet.

Shifting to services delivery

While Ottolenghi says the transformation has been a lot of fun so far, he's excited about the next steps, including boosting efficiency in the back office, business process improvements to maintenance services, and facilitating more white-glove guest experiences.

For example, Caesars is experimenting with how Samsung smartwatches can be used to provide contextual information to customer experience teams. A casino host, for example, will receive a ping on his or her smartwatch when a Caesars’ rewards member comes in close proximity, which a host can then use to access the guest's name and customer profile. Caesars has a big announcement to make on the innovation front in the next two months, but Ottolenghi says he can't talk about it yet.

For now, Ottolenghi is focused on driving the second half of his IT transformation, which includes moving toward a DevOps model of continuous software delivery, and more importantly, from IT as asset manager to service delivery. And he doesn't really have a choice. Guests aren't the only parties whose expectations are rising with the digital upgrades Ottolenghi has overseen. As Ottolenghi fulfilled each promise, his business partners began "demanding more and more" capabilities.

That's okay with Ottolenghi as he advances Caesars' transformation. "We want to be more in line with the expectations of Google, Amazon.com or Microsoft in rolling out on-demand capabilities ... so that we as a company can become a fully digital business," Ottolenghi says.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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