From Core to Cool
How is Bally Systems doing this year, given that many believe the recession is turning the corner?
Srinivasan: Bally Systems has recorded four consecutive years of revenue growth and hopefully this fiscal year that ends June 30, 2010, will be the fifth. We have done reasonably well, especially considering the economic circumstances during the past couple of years. We have been lucky enough to have more than doubled our annual revenue levels during the past five years. We have seen a slower level of growth during the past couple of years – but most experts will agree that any growth under the current circumstances is pretty good. Our Systems backlog and pipeline numbers are at record levels now. Our win-loss ratio in value terms has never been better. All the hard work we have done during the past few years of carrying our core products to world-class technology levels, re-engineering them with scalable, open, interoperable, reliable, and configurable architectures and creating many new innovative solutions around them – is beginning to pay off very well for both our current and new customers. The inflection point is just around the corner – and that is very satisfying and thrilling – for Bally and our customers.
What factors do you attribute to Bally Systems’ success?
Srinivasan: There are three major factors that contributed to our relative success.
Attention to core products: Our customers made us understand clearly that the future wave of new and innovative technologies that the gaming industry is about to witness can only be built on a very strong foundation of reliable and scalable foundation slot, player tracking, and table-management systems. The fact that we paid attention to that, and re-engineered them where they needed to be, has been a big factor. Most of our re-engineering tasks were completed in our Version 11 product releases – of which there are more than 200 installations in the field today.
Rate of Improvement: I have been in the world of Business Systems across multiple industries for about 23 years now – and there is one lesson that I learned very early. In most walks in life, especially in the world of Business Systems, it almost does not matter how good we are today. The only thing that matters is how good we are at improving. It is all about continuous improvement. I suspect that our rate of improvement during the past few years has been much better than our competition, which has been key.
Services and Support: It is very hard to create perfect Business Systems products. Our success has had a lot to do with the fact we took Services and Support very seriously and never neglected current-day issues just because we were also spending a lot of time and resources building out a viable technology path for the future. We surrounded our fast-improving products with great customer-centric support and services people equipped with state-of-the-art customer support systems – and that was crucial to our success.
And when was Version 11 introduced?
Srinivasan: Version 11 of most of our products was released during the second half of calendar 2009. This version – across almost our entire set of product lines – has helped provide Bally and our customers with the kind of solid core foundation on which the future innovations can be built successfully on. It is now a lot easier for us to implement new and innovative solutions like the Bally Command Center – the centerpiece of our server-based gaming solutions – Business Intelligence, Live Floor View, CoolSign and iVIEW DM. That has been one of the reasons for Bally being the no. 1 winner of the global gaming technology awards during the past couple of years.
How well has that gone?
Srinivasan: The Version 11 installs have gone reasonably well. The first few installs of some of those products were bumpy – and that is not entirely surprising given the extent of re-engineering efforts involved in creating them – and now that we have gotten past virtually all of those challenges – progress is flowing normally. I cannot wait for the next 12 to 24 months. The next few years are going to be very exciting.
So it sounds like you’re not used to resting on your laurels.
Srinivasan: Life in Business Systems will never allow anyone who truly cares the luxury of resting on one’s laurels. Business Systems will always remain a humbling experience for everyone involved. We clearly understand that there is a long path ahead of us to reach the goals we set for ourselves a few years ago. It is very possible that one very successful phase is coming to an end now – giving way to the next phase where we can really help this industry reach world-class technology levels with the kind of automation and exciting new marketing and operational tools and possibilities that this industry deserves. It is hard to contain our excitement when we think of the rate of innovation that is possible now – but we remain humble with our feet firmly on the ground. Our vision and innovation are driven by our customers. While there is a lot of new innovation already in place – there is a lot more coming up soon.
What are some examples?
Srinivasan: There are a number of innovative new solutions coming up. Truly integrated CoolSign-enabled media management, including the ability to provide customized marketing-related communication to patrons even in their hotel rooms; Business Intelligence tools that will provide sophisticated predictive analytics and provide the kind of configurable rules-driven decision-making capabilities that will help casinos realize the true benefits of server-based gaming; the Elite Bonusing Suite that not only comes with a number of player and machine-centric bonusing products but also makes it very easy for both us and our customers to create new bonusing solutions; Biometric Recognition that will enable effective marketing to non-carded players as well; effective true server-based gaming through the Bally Command Center; automated bet and card recognition on tables…. there is truly a lot to list here. But, let me focus on the one product that is fast becoming the game window picture-in-picture technology standard –iVIEW Display Manager (DM).
One of our new customers, who recently made the decision to replace a competitor system with SDS/CMP, should be live by the time this interview is printed with iVIEW DM on 80 percent of the floor – across games from virtually all manufacturers. And there are a number of other implementations coming up with iVIEW DM across all games where a touch screen is available on one of the two game screens. There are a number of other attractive bonusing and other marketing applications being released during the next couple of months that will add tremendous value to this product. Enabling a game window is one thing. Making it truly count with applications that create excitement on the floor is where the true value lies. One of the most important applications being released in the July/August timeframe is the DM Cash Spin Wheel. The Cash Spin slot machine, which won the best slot machine award in last year’s G2E, has been rolling out by the hundreds across many casino floors during the past couple of months, and has been a resounding success, generating performance multiple times house-average virtually everywhere. The DM Cash Spin Wheel provides casinos the ability to use the same U-Spin concept across practically all games on the floor for exciting new bonusing and other marketing purposes. We expect the Elite Bonusing Suite to continue feeding many such ideas that can be used on iVIEW and iVIEW DM that will make a casino floor a lot more exciting for the players.
Describe how the DM Wheel works.
Srinivasan: Our iVIEW DM Cash Spin Wheel application puts one of the most popular game mechanics in history on the main game screen using picture-in-picture or the traditional iVIEW display to give customers a marketing reinvestment at the point-of-play. The player is awarded a certain prize, and the prizes available on each wedge of that wheel could vary among various levels of patron. The image of the wheel can be shown in both 2D and 3D, and the customer actually controls the speed of the spin based on how they interact with the screen. Like it is with all applications we are building now, this application is also entirely configurable and can be adapted to exactly how our customers want to use it, without needing underlying software changes.
These sorts of applications mark a change for Systems, don’t they?
Srinivasan: I think Systems is and should be both about Core and Cool applications. Innovations and massive improvements must constantly happen in both kinds of applications. Just good core products, without innovative server-based, marketing and bonusing applications, would be no fun. And just innovative cool applications not built on a solid foundation of scalable, reliable, open, and configurable core products will not work with the kind of robustness and repeatability that will be absolutely required in the field.
Ramesh Srinivasan has served as executive vice president of Bally Technologies’ Bally Systems division since March 2005. He is responsible for its worldwide Systems business including sales, product management, product development, services, and customer support. Prior to joining Bally, Srinivasan served as executive vice president, Warehouse Management Systems, for Manhattan Associates, Inc. During his seven-year tenure there, Srinivasan was one of the key players that helped Manhattan grow from a $40 million revenue per annum company to a $250 million plus supply chain execution technology giant. Srinivasan received his bachelor’s degree in Metallurgical Engineering from the Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India, and his MBA in Finance, Marketing and Systems from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, India. In late May, Srinivasan sat down with Casino Journal Managing Editor Marian Green to discuss the path Bally Systems has taken since he joined the company, and where the division is headed today and into the future.