Big data can provide casino operators with a competitive advantage, but requires a well-planned approach to properly obtain, manage, analyze and leverage the information in a way that can improve bottom-line results.

This was the primary takeaway from the “Volume, Velocity, Variety: Conquering Big Data with Big Analytics” session conducted by the SAS Institute at Global Gaming Expo (G2E), which took place earlier this month in Las Vegas.

Kelly McGuire, executive director of hospitality and travel global practice for SAS, gave an in-depth look into how analyzing big data gives a competitive advantage to businesses in the casino and gaming industries. She touched on how casino teams should be thinking about big data in relation analytics, identifying opportunities to leverage new data sources and learning how to build a roadmap for managing the information.

“There’s a challenge and opportunity with the data,” McGuire said. “But it’s becoming more and more complex. It’s about getting that insight at the speed of business in order to have that competitive advantage.”

The challenge, according to McGuire, is that big data usually comes in formats unfamiliar to business managers. Traditionally, transaction data from the casino floor and customer profiles can be easily structured and accessed. However, experts say that 70-90 percent of the data that business generates today is in unstructured formats such as e-mails, blogs, click screen data, call center records, text data, GPS and location data that is not easily structured into rows and columns.

McGuire went on to explain that this unstructured data is coming at us so fast that it’s already stale, like location data, or a tweet from a customer that might have been missed. This is what makes it hard to collect data. In order to do so, storage today needs to be cheaper, flexible, faster and scalable, and this is what SAS and its big data innovations can bring to the table. One such improvement is Hadoop, a new system designed to specifically capture and store big data. According to McGuire, the program is built on a commodity and hardware infrastructure, so it’s inexpensive. More importantly it’s flexible, so data doesn’t have to relate and align neatly in rows and columns to be stored.

A vital element of big data touched upon at the session was social media, which is classified as “unstructured text” and is an important component of increasing customer loyalty. “As we work with our customers in the casino industry, and across industries, we see people biting off chunks of this journey and really adding value to the organization by leveraging some of the big analytics on top of this big data and delivering those results at the speed of business,” McGuire said. “So a big area that people have been getting into lately is the ability to analyze unstructured text.”

She explained that by applying advanced text modeling to unstructured data including guest surveys, social media, call logs, etc., operators can use that information to improve service recovery strategies, onboard offerings, operational processes and more. An example of this practice: replying to a customer and rewarding them with a service free of charge for speaking highly of your company via social media.

When it comes to getting started “The good news is there is a lot of opportunity,” McGuire said. “The bad news is it requires an investment in modernizing the IT infrastructure.”

McGuire offers the following list for companies looking to improve their big data gathering, management and analytics operation:

• Pick a high impact small project to try out some new data sources and advanced analytics that can be cross functional;

• Build a team with executive sponsorship that can understand measure and manage the data;

• Forage a partnership between the business and IT. Bring in partners on the business side to justify the investment on the IT side to execute freely;

• Make sure you get everyone across the organization interested and educated – share your results; and

• Don’t forget to build your informational processes around how you want to deliver the results.

“Think as much about how you’re going to use it as how you’re going to gather and analyze it,” McGuire added.

Annette Green, vice president of SAS, opened the session with an introduction to the company explaining that they deliver proven solutions that drive innovation and improve performance. SAS helps businesses make sense of the message, and as a leader in business analytics software and services, SAS transforms data into insights that can give a fresh perspective on their business.

All in all, SAS helps organizations turn large amounts of data into knowledge they can actually use, she said.