2007 Chief Of The Year: Tim Stanley
Tim Stanley stands over a roulette wheel in a basement at Harrah's Entertainment's Las Vegas headquarters. This isn't the real thing--it's a prototype system in Harrah's innovation lab where Stanley, the company's CIO and senior VP of innovation, gaming, and technology, gets to experiment with what comes next in the booming business of entertainment, games, and gambling. Here, Harrah's is testing the concept of virtual roulette, in which a dealer somewhere in the casino spins the wheel and gamblers place bets in front of a bank of screens rather than at a table. It's potentially a more efficient--and profitable--way of gaming.
"It's too easy to sit back and come up with lots of reasons why you wouldn't want to do something or how to prevent things from happening," Stanley says. "I generally subscribe to this approach: Let's get in the game, work a little bit, and through the course of that we'll figure out what the opportunity and the challenge are."
In an era when far too many CIOs are still struggling to align technology with "the business," Stanley has already made the two indistinguishable at Harrah's Entertainment. He's involved in the casino and hospitality company's highest-level decision making, including who it acquires and where it will expand next. Several acquisitions, including a $9.4 billion buyout of Caesars Entertainment in 2005, have made Harrah's the largest casino gaming company in the world. The growing population of tech-savvy visitors has presented an opportunity for Harrah's to interact with its customers in new ways, from promotions on mobile devices to RFID-based identification.
Stanley's title might as well be chief multitasker. As CIO, he oversees the single largest corporate-level organization at Harrah's: 350 people in headquarters IT and another 350 at the company's various properties. But that's just his day job. As senior VP, he also oversees the company's 40 casinos in three countries. And with "innovation" added to his title early this year, Stanley is charged with looking ahead six months, a year, five years, to divine those technologies and processes that will attract new customers to Harrah's while keeping existing ones coming back--and spreading their money around in more ways.
In the last year, Stanley's innovation group has been testing and planning to deploy RFID, server-based casino gaming machines, Microsoft's Surface tabletop computer, and computer systems to control hotel room functions through TVs. The IT group has opened a new data center in Memphis, Tenn., and put more resources into making Harrah's massive customer data warehouse more "active" so the company can react to customer needs in real time. Stanley also has helped develop plans to give the company's property in downtown Las Vegas a makeover.
Stanley's data-powered approach to customer engagement is the envy of the industry, increasingly letting Harrah's measure, track, anticipate, and provide just about anything gamblers, shoppers, and hotel visitors do and would ever want. That devotion to the business coupled with his skill at adapting and innovating while deftly juggling multiple responsibilities make him the clear choice as InformationWeek's 2007 Chief of the Year.
What makes Stanley so special? Colleagues and partners point to the depth and breadth of his technical knowledge and business vision. He can shift from the minutiae of RFID tagging to a discussion of the company's $1 billion plan to develop 370 acres of Las Vegas real estate, including a $500 million, 20,000-seat arena. "He can kind of scroll through all the different topics and then double-click on one and dive deep on that," says Chris Chang, who reports to Stanley as VP of innovation and IT strategy.
When Bill Nuti, CEO of NCR, met with Stanley a few weeks ago in Las Vegas to talk about NCR's plans for self-service technology in the gaming industry, Nuti was impressed with how Stanley steered the conversation toward Harrah's customers--and not just on an esoteric level. "Tim gets that customers' behavior, in terms of how they connect, interact, and transact with Harrah's, is changing dramatically, and he's figured that out from a data-driven approach," Nuti says. "His implementations are based on trends, based on numbers, as opposed to thinking you know what the customer wants because you do a few sweeps of the casino from time to time."
Harrah's began consolidating its customer data in the late 1990s when it launched its Total Rewards loyalty program, but Stanley took both Total Rewards and the company's customer data to the next level. The company now hosts about 20 Tbytes of data on more than 42 million customers. Between 300,000 and 1 million customers come through Harrah's doors daily, so that's a lot of data turnover.
Harrah's puts much of that data to work doing what Stanley calls "interactive CRM." Every time a Total Rewards customers swipes his program card at a slot machine, restaurant, or another of the growing number of touch points throughout the company's properties, he's transmitting actionable information--for example, on the amount of money he's betting or on his food and drink preferences.
So not only can Harrah's give priority to big-spending customers with comped rooms and meals, but it also can celebrate their jackpot wins above all others' on the casino floor and even, potentially, notify a spouse in another part of the casino about the win via a text message.
Near-term plans include the installation of interactive digital displays in slot machines, letting customers, for instance, order drinks without having to wait for a waitress to show up (and making sure preferred customers get their drinks pronto). And the company plans to expand a program in place at Harrah's Atlantic City, where customers are given mobile devices to order drinks; those devices potentially could be used for mobile gambling in certain areas of a casino.
BETTING ON INNOVATION
Stanley's innovation group is at the heart of what's coming next from Harrah's. In late 2006, Stanley and Chang assembled a team of 10 permanent people from multiple disciplines, regularly rotating several others in and out of the group, to pilot new technologies and approaches and deploy the most promising ones.
In the basement of 1 Harrah's Court in Las Vegas, dozens of slot machines and screens sit in a mock-up of a casino floor. Racks of servers hum in one corner of the room, while newfangled games are scattered in another. They're all part of an innovation lab--one of several at Harrah's--that's very different from the standard IT testing lab running the latest version of Windows or Oracle.
Short-range wireless technologies may hold the most promise for Harrah's, whether through RFID-enabled poker chips, table games, and identification schemes or through kiosks that can read promotional text messages sent to customers' cell phones. For example, Harrah's is testing RFID-embedded chips that interact with readers installed under gaming tables, letting floor bosses track and rate play far more accurately than they can now. RFID might have run into problems at some early adopters like Wal-Mart, but Stanley says there's no stopping it in gaming, especially as an emerging mass market drives down prices.
More broadly, RFID features heavily in Stanley's plans for the next generation of Total Rewards--chips embedded in bracelets, for example, that customers might use to buy items at a pool when they don't have their wallets, or possibly in waitresses' uniforms to track their service. RFID-embedded stickers attached to customers' cell phones might one day let them buy food or cash in on promotions with a swipe of the device.
Harrah's wants to keep increasing those digital customer touch points as well. In one major project, Stanley's team is experimenting with Microsoft's forthcoming Surface multitouch tabletop computers, potentially letting customers in casino lounges and bars play bowling, multiplayer pinball, and other games, as well as order and pay for drinks using promotional rewards cards that the table's screen will identify.
Stanley and Chang have broken down Harrah's innovation opportunities into six categories: "interactive CRM"; "games and gaming" (introducing new casino games and improving existing ones); "my-way service and smart touch points" (new ways for customers to buy things and interact with Harrah's); "expanded channels" (new ways to monetize existing assets), "capabilities and systems" (improving Harrah's core IT systems); and "enabling platforms and technologies" (adapting technologies such as RFID and Bluetooth to future-proof those systems).
Stanley is quick to note that he and his team don't "own" all the innovation at Harrah's. "It would probably be unwise for a lot of reasons," he says. "Innovation comes from all different parts, all different levels, and all different points."
Still, Stanley brings creativity, marketing experience, and "orthogonal thinking" to his innovation role, Chang says. As Microsoft began focusing on the hospitality industry 18 months ago, Chang relates how Harrah's sent top executives to Redmond to see what the vendor was working on. Almost as a throwaway at the end of Microsoft's presentation, Chang says, the company showed off the Surface tabletop computer. At the time, Microsoft pitched it as a home product, but Stanley immediately saw its potential for Harrah's, and Microsoft is now on board.
Heath Daughtrey, VP of IT services and integration at Harrah's, says the company culture is "no longer about operational performance and compliance" but about "innovation as a growth driver."
"To create that competency in a company is a pretty daunting challenge," Daughtrey says. "That's the dilemma that Tim has to manage: How do you create an environment that breeds creativity and an appetite to take risks but not fail?"
FROM GEEK TO GAMES
As if that weren't challenging enough, Stanley has another assignment: Oversee the part of the business--gaming--that generates two-thirds of the company's $9.7 billion in total revenue. Like innovation, gaming also has a relatively small management group, with 20-plus people in corporate and heads of each casino reporting to Stanley. It's a full-time job in itself, comprising gaming products and product development, pricing, and vendor relationships, all amid a regulatory environment that differs state to state, country to country, and which is changing all the time.
Though Stanley may be the company's top IT exec--VP Chang calls him "chief geek"--a passion for the business is at his core. "If Tim were not CIO, there are a number of other executive things he could do well," Harrah's CEO Gary Loveman says. "He knows that this is all in the service of making guests happy as they buy the sorts of things they buy from us, and he's very operationally savvy." Stanley reports directly to Loveman. They exchange e-mails daily and meet in person at least once a week, more if they're in the same place at the same time. One-on-ones are rarer, with Stanley initiating meetings every six weeks or so to update Loveman on what he has cooking.
Loveman rattles off a list of qualities he thinks make Stanley a superior manager and business exec: having a vision for the future, being able to articulate it, being able to execute against it, being decisive, setting high expectations for his team, having a keen intellect (or, as Loveman puts it, "having a very large brain"), and exuding charisma so that people simply want to be around him.
While he's long been comfortable digging into the details of an issue, the expanding job assignment has forced Stanley, a self-labeled workaholic, to decide where to dive deep and where to just stay apprised of what's going on. "When you have a lot of stuff, and now with the three broader roles, there's never enough time in the day," he says.
Still, Stanley is as suited as anyone to wear those various hats. Educated first as an engineer and later in IT management, his work experience prepared him for all parts of the business. Working in IT in the Air Force, Stanley burnished his technical know-how, learned a bit about management, and worked internationally. At Kimberly-Clark, he jumped into consumer products, R&D, and operations. A stint at Intel brought him experience in product marketing, software, and the Internet, as well as driving internal innovation.
He's also been a CIO with small airlines, but he says his years as a consultant prepared him best for Harrah's, which he joined in 2001. "You're constantly dealing with internal customers, constituencies, and at the same time, if you are to be successful, you should be a thought leader in terms of advocating a point of view and a position on things as well as round out the broader company strategy," Stanley says. "That inherently has some consultative stuff embedded in it."
CHIEF INTEGRATION OFFICER
Harrah's has grown more than fivefold since the mid-1990s, mostly by gobbling up properties including Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino, Barbary Coast, Horseshoe Gaming, and its biggest prize, Caesars Entertainment. Along the way, Stanley has played a hands-on role. "One of the things Tim was able to do quickly was accomplish pretty complex integration challenges," former Harrah's CEO Phil Satre says.
When Harrah's began buying properties and companies, the technology integration process tended to be drawn out--one property at a time. Harrah's would convert a casino to fit into its IT infrastructure, then another and another. "If that had to be the process when we bought Caesars, we'd all die of old age before we finished that," Loveman says.
Rather than having to rebuild at every step, Stanley's team created an architecture based on Tibco Software middleware to connect systems at new properties to those at Harrah's. It integrated all of Caesars' dozen-plus properties with those of Harrah's in about a year, less time than it took to integrate one Atlantic City property in 1998. The integration was especially meaningful to Stanley because it validated the company's investment in sophisticated CRM capabilities. When Harrah's asked IT team members at Caesars if they wanted to keep their own budding customer-rewards program, they decided against it. The reason? They told Stanley that they'd been trying to replicate the Total Rewards program for years without violating the company's patents on it.
Looking ahead, Stanley expects to apply his experience and skills as Harrah's expands internationally. "I'm heavily involved in not only thinking about where we are and where we're going, but the approaches we're going to use to bring new developments or third parties into the fold in terms of how we operate," he says.
Will he be successful at parlaying lessons learned in Vegas to venues around the world? The odds are in his favor.