The View From the Top
by Saverio R. Scheri III
The View From the Top
Why casino general managers don’t seem to pay enough attention to IT
Saverio R. Scheri III is managing director of WhiteSand Consulting. He may be reached by e-mail at sscheri@WhiteSandConsulting.com.
For years, I have written about various ways to get IT projects approved, increase budgets and headcount, raise priorities and have IT leaders participate in strategic planning. Throughout the gaming industry, these initiatives have been met with varying degrees of success, usually depending on the organization.
The perspective of this column has always been written from the IT point-of-view, making assumptions about why or why not casino general managers made certain decisions.
My recent experience as general manager of the Morongo Casino Resort and Spa has helped remind me why certain areas, such as IT, don’t seem to get the same attention that marketing, food & beverage, and casino operations receive. The answer is simple, but the solution is daunting: Unfortunately, many events take priority over IT. The focus on revenue can be overwhelming. This affects key operating departments, and efforts are made daily to increase revenues through direct mail, advertising, promotions and player development. Tied-in to these events are usually hotel, food & beverage and casino related support.
Further monopolizing a GM’s time is the overabundant amount of personnel issues. Managing a casino resort with thousands of employees often presents sensitive, time-critical issues on a daily basis. Hiring, terminations, unions, injuries, complaints and theft are just some of the events that may require GMs to participate in a key decision about an employee. Personnel issues often take up more than fifty percent of a GM’s day. Sprinkle in a few property emergencies like a burst pipe, small fire or equipment failure and the GM soon has little time to devote to IT—and many other departments; Engineering only seems to get attention when there is a property emergency, and some other departments almost never interact with the GM. Of course, IT emergencies will often get the attention of the GM, but it’s the wrong kind of attention!
This lack of attention isn’t because IT is deemed less important, nor because they do not generate revenue. The only reason is (or at least should be) is that other unscheduled events have captured the GM’s attention. If a GM does not get involved with IT because of a lack of technology understanding, that person has no right to be a GM in this day and age.
So how do you get more face time with the GM? One of the first things you need to do is make sure your office is near the GM and other executives. IT leaders often feel a need to be near the computer room and the IT staff, but this is a mistake. By not being close by, you immediately are not perceived to be at the same level as other executives that do have offices near the GM. Worse, you miss the impromptu meetings that occur in the hallways, or being pulled into the GM’s office for some quick advice. If you’re down the hall, you’re much more likely to get called in for a quick question or meeting than if you’re downstairs or across the building.
An easy way to spend time with the GM is to make the GM leader of your IT steering committee (which is logical anyway). This would allow at the very least a monthly review of key projects, time to discuss and prioritize the projects and even possibly address other IT issues such as personnel or budgets. The monthly P&L meetings and yearly budget meetings are also good face time opportunities, but usually restrict the interaction to a pre-defined process.
The most important thing an IT leader can do is demonstrate their ability to provide useful input at the strategic level. Some of the brightest and most innovative ideas often come from IT because of their unique perspective. Often they have experience from outside the gaming industry, or perhaps can apply a new technology concept to an old casino challenge. If you’re not already part of the strategic planning process, make an effort to run some ideas by the GM. They’ll know a good idea when they hear it, and the effort should make them realize you have something important to offer in the planning process.
For IT leaders—and other department heads—you shouldn’t feel slighted if you think you’re not getting enough attention from the GM. You need to make sure that you do get some time with the GM, and that the time you do get is valuable. IT is just as important as the other operating departments—think what would happen if one or more systems went down for any length of time. Basically, the entire operation would be at risk for losing revenue, increasing costs, decreasing efficiency and possibly ceasing operations. For what my two cents are worth, I think IT is one of the most important departments, and needs the same attention the other departments receive.
Ten or 20 years ago, GMs didn’t fully realize the criticality of IT. Today more than ever, they realize just how important IT is to the operation and the role it plays in almost every aspect of the casino. I think it is less about how they feel about IT and more about finding the time to fit everything in to their schedule each day. If we could only find a way to squeeze in a few extra hours to each day, we would be all set.