Why did I buy into a systems meltdown?
A user guide for avoiding systems failure before you unpack the server!
(Published Casino Life Magazine March 2020)
In an ever more competitive landscape, it’s essential to make informed decisions in order to remain competitive and choosing the best casino management system for your operation can increasingly mean the difference between success and failure. During my first slots system installation I distinctly remember that there was an air of excitement that comes with being a tech and being involved with new technology. For my part it involved hard wiring the systems cables to the slot machines hard meters, connecting them to an interface box and testing for both server communications and accounting accuracy. It may have been a simple accounting system, but the slots director was happy, the GM was happy, and the local gaming authority were happy just because the system gave us faster, more accurate data that enabled us to produce better results. The system had its limitations, but we knew that long before making any financial commitment. We had discussed our internal requirements, we did our systems research, we set aside a budget and came up with a plan that aligned with both our strategic and financial goals. We knew what we wanted and made it happen and in doing so avoided a systems meltdown and quickly became one of the top performing casinos in the region.
However, not all systems are created equal so it’s important to have a strong business case, a solid organizational structure and a plan that will successfully take your system from a mere concept to a major part of both your operational and financial success. The idea is simple enough yet so many operators continue to experience unnecessary systems frustrations such as a lack of quality hardware design, poor software performance and inadequate product support and training. Casino management systems don’t come cheap so it may be worth taking your time and considering some or all of the following to help you avoid a system meltdown and give your operation the necessary technology and credibility to become a market leader.
Knowing what you want is an essential first step for any business venture to become successful. Each casino market has its own unique requirements as does each operational department so it’s never a good idea for just one individual to take on all the responsibility of knowing exactly what an operation needs without first discussing it with the management team. Involving your key employees in the thought process from the very start can and will provide you with valuable insights and minimize the risk of failure. It will also serve to motivate the team, increase employee buy-in and help maximize the use of operational time and resources. Your operation may only need a simple slots accounting system, or it may require every module available regardless of the cost, but no matter what jurisdiction you operate in or how many customers you have in your database, knowing what you want from the very start is one of the first steps towards maximizing your systems potential.
Product Research is very important as it can be easy to get caught up in all the different terminology, tech specs, sales pitches, payment terms and the day-to-day pressure that comes with running a successful operation. Hire a consultant if necessary, as choosing a system should never be rushed and what ever you do, please don’t take the sales rep’s word for it!!! I’ve had the privilege of participating in systems research and product installations for all types of gambling operations and for companies from both sides of the budget spectrum. This invaluable experience has taught me that there are indeed systems available to satisfy all your requirements no matter what your budget or size of your operation. However, without the appropriate research choosing the right system becomes nothing more than a gamble which is the kind of risk that no serious operator should be willing to take. There are modules for everything including slot accounting, table management, cage and finance, player tracking, analytics, BI and AI, dispatch and alerts, self-service modules, marketing and there are also modules within modules!!! The bottom line is that all this information can easily make decision making become much more challenging so it’s important to research what each vendor is offering as well as the key differences between each system. Just as important as researching the actual system is researching the vendors which, in the age of social media, has become so much easier to do. Asking your team for advice, checking out the competition and requesting the provider for feedback from their existing customers are also very useful techniques to help you reach a well-informed decision.
Technical reliability and after sales service are huge factors if your objective is to avoid a total systems catastrophe and the almost certain wrath of your slot customers. It’s also important that you have your operational staff’s buy-in for the system and that they can see the immediate benefits of using a it (especially a new one) on a daily basis which, without reliable software and hardware, is never going to happen. It’s one thing to have a faulty communications harness but it’s something quite different to have your machine lock up for a hand pay because of a systems timeout error. It’s also widely considered a bad sign if you have to change the hardware on a daily basis because of overheating due to a design fault on an inferior quality product. As already stated, systems don’t come cheap but neither does the hardware, machine downtime or the exodus of your once loyal customers. After sales service, especially during the first months directly after going live is essential as there is nothing more irritating than when helpline calls and emails go unanswered. The best systems providers have 24/7 helplines and a reliable automated tech support system so it’s always advisable to make sure you get the kind of after sales service that meets all of your operational requirements.
Economies of scale and budgets come into play especially for smaller operators as it becomes very difficult to compete against the big cooperation’s on a head-to-head basis so in order to remain competitive every penny invested has to create a positive impact on results. Words like Business Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence are great buzz words and they are truly amazing tools to have at your fingertips, but they do come at a price and if you’re daily win per unit is below $100 a day then you may need a lot of slot machines to justify what can be a very large investment. There are cheaper alternatives to the systems vendors AI and BI solutions and any progressive company knows that and will invest in them and their staff whenever appropriate in order to make sure that they maximize the benefits and remain competitive. Reasonably priced online courses for everything from creating automated dashboards to creating your own apps are also readily available and investing in your existing employees will almost always give you a healthy return on investment. As previously stated, most systems are available in modules and each one may come with a separate price tag so it’s important to be aware of the costs involved and to eliminate any unnecessary modules when planning your budget. Another budget awareness tip is to make sure you negotiate service fees as they can vary widely from one vendor to another.
Organization and training are factors that need to be analyzed early on in the purchasing process as it’s very nice to buy and own a formula one car but not so nice to find out after the fact that you actually need someone who can drive it for it to make any real money! It’s essential that operators recognize and make the necessary changes to their organization in order to accommodate the system so that it may be used to its maximum potential. Operators should be asking questions such as, “do I need to change the company’s organizational structure to accommodate the necessary changes?” or, “do I need to hire more staff?” or even, “should I invest in extra training to maximize the systems potential?” On site training for operations staff is pretty standard but without the necessary resources in place early on, it can prove difficult to maintain the necessary momentum after the initial support period has ended which can and will cause delays in seeing any real return on investment.
As with any major project it’s important to have a solid business case for your system and it’s equally important to be clear on your product requirements and project roles and responsibilities. Your company will also need to have the right organizational structure in place and have a solid plan that will not only direct, manage and deliver your system on time and on budget, but one that will also keep your staff motivated to meet and exceed your customers expectations on a consistent and long term basis.