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Number Crunching = Better Service

Agilysys dominates the data analytics business in the gaming industry by creating superior products and crafting innovative partnerships

Number Crunching = Better Service

The gaming industry has been late to recognize the power of data analytics. Although hospitality-based, the industry is so unique that executives at first didn’t believe that data could determine the impact of a casino player.

Yes, it worked well for the hotel business, but when you comp rooms to real gamblers, how do you account for that?

It’s been a long, slow process, but the professionals at Agilysys have developed systems to plug in neatly to gaming systems and give operators a better idea of how their gaming customers interact with the casino, and how they differ from non-gaming customers.

Agilysys is an international company that trades in hospitality systems and data analytics. In addition to gaming, the company is active in the hotel, restaurant, food service, cruise, university, stadium and healthcare industries. But it’s been in the gaming industry where Agilysys has most recently made its mark.

As if to cement that commitment, the company recently announced the appointment of former Bally Technologies CEO Ramesh Srinivasan as the company’s new president and chief executive officer.

Srinivasan’s early agenda will include the implementation of the company’s accelerated investments in its products, sales and services. He will lead the development and execution of go-to-market strategies that better align Agilysys’ products and organizational capabilities with the company’s near-term opportunities to aggressively expand the business with large-scale and international customers.

Jim Walker, senior vice president of global revenue for Agilysys, likes the Srinivasan appointment.

“As part of our selection process, we looked for a leader with a track record of strategic agility, business acumen and vision, with the proven ability to accelerate innovative product delivery,” says Walker. “Ramesh is a great fit with our growth objectives and our team. We’re delighted that he’s accepted the position.”

Gaming Numbers

Even before Srinivasan’s appointment, Agilysys was in an aggressive growth mode in gaming. Walker says that is a result of the company’s long history in the industry.

“We bring a huge breadth of experience to the gaming business,” he says. “And we’ve organized ourselves into key product groups anchored by core products we refer to as planets that are orbited by complementary products. We have anchor products in the point-of-sale arena, property management arena and the payments services part of the business, as well as inventory and procurement.

“One of the things that’s happened in hospitality over the years is all of those systems have tended to operate in silos. You didn’t have access to all of the information you needed. You couldn’t build a complete view of what your guest was doing, their likes and their dislikes, what offers you might want to extend them. So, the whole purpose of our next-generation system, the rGuest platform, is to take those silos and draw them together, and then be able to give to our customers in the gaming business actionable information about their guests so they can make offers that are relevant to them. Everybody likes a personalized offer. Nobody likes an impersonal one.”

Walker recognizes that Agilysys can’t be the single complete system provider across all casino operations, but it can aggregate information that comes in from all the diverse systems within a casino resort.

“Let’s go back to the platform idea,” he says. “As many great products as we have, we can never be a single-source provider to any one of our customers. One of the things that we feel is key going forward is putting together an offering that allows different data to be brought in to a single source. So if we provide a platform with open APIs (application program interfaces), that gives our customers the ability to bring data into that platform, and augment data from the systems that we provide them. That provides a single collection point for the data.”

Gathering the data, while not easy, is only the first step. Interpreting it is the goal, says Walker.

“One of the things that we do, that a lot of companies we compete against don’t do quite as well, I feel, is provide a level of what we call white-glove service and training. We are constantly training and supporting our customers, to help their people understand what they’re looking at, at any point in time.”

Non-Gaming Focus

As gaming revenues remain flat or even start to decline, it’s more important to operators to understand how to drive non-gaming revenues, through rooms, food-and-beverage, entertainment, retail and more. The Agilysys rGuest platform is designed to break out data and show operators the most profitable guests in the most profitable segments of their businesses.

“That’s the whole thought process behind the rGuest platform,” Walker says. “We are able to bring that data to our platform, draw it together, turn it around and make it actionable at that point.

“For example, we have a seat management system. Our application is integrated to our point-of-sale system. If a patron makes a reservation in that seat management platform, you’ve got data about that patron. You’ve got their visit history, you’ve got the things that they like, you’ve got their allergies, and you’ve also got a quick score—a numerical score, from 1 to 100, that tells you whether they’re a good patron or one of your best patrons.

“Now you can make that information available to the folks that are out there serving the guests, at the point of service, at the time it’s needed most. So, when our best patron walks in, we can immediately see he or she has a score of 93, so this is a very good customer. This patron likes red wine, so we deliver a great bottle of Chimney Rock, that we might recommend.”

Walker admits there’s a fine line here, where a guest might view these things as intrusive, so you have to be careful.

“We don’t want to predict what they want, but what we’d like to do is be able to provide enough information that you can make a relevant offer.”

And that extends to email or social media offerings.

“We all get thousands of offers via emails each day,” he says. “Most of them are irrelevant; I don’t like them. I delete them. But the ones that are relevant, I like all of those. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”

But Walker says the Agilysys rGuest platform won’t tell the operators how they should respond; it suggests options.

“We want to give them the data to make that decision on their own, because that’s how they’re going to separate themselves,” he says.

Another application of the rGuest system would be upselling a guest once they’re on property by understanding their preferences.

“We call it cycle of consumption,” Walker explains. “The most expensive thing that our clients do is get that guest on the property. That’s where all the money goes—we have to get them from wherever they are, onto the property. Then, once they get on the property, probably the single most profitable thing they can do, from an ROI perspective, is sell them more stuff. That’s what we’re trying to enable. We want to, first of all, help them get the guest to the property. Second of all, we want to help them maximize that spend once they’re on the property.”

Getting them to return to the property is also important, but Walker says that’s a different approach.

“The whole concept of loyalty has changed an awful lot,” he says. “Loyalty today is driven not only by the experience you have, but also by the experience that others have had at the same property.

“For example, when I go into a new location or city, I go to

TripAdvisor or Yelp to find a good place for dinner. I check out the hotel. And I think everybody else is doing that. So, I think part of the loyalty today is coming up with a methodology to engage the guest and have them become a participant in that form of social media. You’d like for them to post their impressions of the property and you’d like their experience to be a positive one; you’d like them to tell somebody about it. So, to the extent that you can foster that behavior, you can continue to increase your brand loyalty.”

Head in the Clouds

The cloud is a huge part of the future plans for Agilysys. Walker says it takes some of the sting out of the “upgrade” process that often turned into nightmares for operators.

“If you’re in an on-premises environment, everybody’s had the experience of the vendors going from one version of the product to another version of the product,” he says. “It’s called a forklift upgrade, where you come in and you take what you’ve got in there out, and you’ve got to put something else in. Inevitably, there’s some incompatibility.”

The cloud makes that process much smoother, he says.

“We’d like to make that a thing of the past,” he says. “So instead of focusing our business around those big, incremental upgrades, we can now focus it around small, reoccurring upgrades over time, so the system evolves more than it’s upgraded. This gets you out of that upgrade process. You still have to refresh your hardware, and manage the basic maintenance, but the upgrades come on a consistent basis.”

Walker says the cloud can also reduce costs and boost ROI for operators.

“It helps from an infrastructure standpoint. You certainly don’t have to buy and maintain the server infrastructure that you had to in the past. The other thing you don’t have to do is pay the people who are managing that. I think those two things go a long way toward reducing costs. It lets the people in the hospitality business focus on hospitality, rather than run an IT system.”

With the cloud, however, comes some vulnerability to the dreaded hackers. But Walker says there are advances in that area, too.

“The companies that make hosting and delivering software-as-a-service the focal point of their business are able to attract and keep better resources, particularly in the security arena,” Walker explains. “I’m not going to suggest that nobody’s vulnerable, because everybody is in today’s environment, but they’re only vulnerable to the point that they can spend resources to keep themselves protected. Security is one of the key differentiators that putting your data in the cloud brings. It offers an ability to focus on your core competencies, rather than on-premises technology issues you have to manage along with every other thing that happens on a daily basis.”

Purchases and Partnerships

Agilysys has expanded down through the years by buying innovative companies that have developed unique products. Probably the most important acquisition for gaming operators came in 2007 with the purchase of the InfoGenesis system that is the heart of the company’s point-of-sale operations. InfoGenesis allows hospitality and gaming companies to lower IT costs and increase their ROI. Today, it includes a wide range of payment options, and creates business intelligence on a real-time basis.

Partnerships are also important to Agilysys, especially when it comes to maximizing room revenue. The company has created partnerships with analytics leaders like Rainmaker and Duetto, says Walker. And the partnership with Duetto just got deeper, he explains.

“We are going to be offering Duetto’s product from a reseller perspective, and more tightly integrating that into our solutions, to address the competitive issue so hotels and casinos using our system can be sure they are getting the best rate available,” he says.

Duetto, a revenue strategy technology company serving the hotel and casino industries, has worked closely with Agilysys through the years, and the two companies recently expanded their relationship. Duetto’s revenue strategy platform is now available with Agilysys’ Lodging Management System (LMS) and Visual One PMS, and the new integration with LMS enables casino hotels to take full advantage of personalized loyalty pricing with dynamic offers based on a customer’s total worth.

“Agilysys is the rare technology company that understands the true challenge today’s casino owner and operator faces,” says Marco

Benvenuti, Duetto co-founder and chief product officer. “Casinos need better tools to manage integrated and complex resorts, and Agilysys has been an innovator in providing solutions that drive guest satisfaction and maximize revenue. Our goals are well-aligned, and this strategic partnership allows us to further our mission of helping casinos attract and retain their most profitable customers through advanced analytics and optimal pricing decisions.”

Agilysys and Rainmaker have collaborated since 2004 to ensure that their many mutual casino hotel customers around the globe have access to the most advanced and proven property management and revenue management solutions available. Rainmaker is a longstanding integration partner with Agilysys, and provides seamless system integration between its guestRev solution and Agilysys’ LMS and Visual One PMS.

Rainmaker’s ability to integrate seamlessly with the Agilysys PMS provides hoteliers with a deep understanding of demand by various customer segments. This highly granular insight allows revenue managers to make the most informed decisions when optimizing profitability and revenue.

“Gaming properties, in particular, require a keen and detailed understanding of the enterprise value of every guest when optimizing the hotel,” says Tammy Farley, president of the Rainmaker Group. “Revenue managers need to be able to identify and manage their most profitable revenue sources by forecasting demand by expected guest value and producing recommendations that ensure rooms will always be available for the property’s most valuable guests. Our seamless integration with Agilysys makes the data collection process fast and efficient, and includes guest stay and property-spend history as part of the pricing analysis, helping to maximize profitability property-wide.”

Another “silent” partner in the Agilysys gaming business is the regulator. When you’re talking about business intelligence or player information, regulators get very concerned. Walker is not.

“We’ve been doing this for so long, it’s just baked in at this point,” he says. “It is just a normal process of our doing business. I don’t know how we’d do it any other way. And particularly, as we expand the business geographically, we run into different regulations in Europe and in parts of Asia, so we put a huge effort around regulatory compliance.”

Going Mobile

One of the fastest-moving developments in gaming is the use of mobile devices. Agilysys addresses this phenomenon in two ways.

“There are guest-facing and staff-facing solutions to this issue,” he says. “Let’s talk about staff-facing first. We’ve taken our entire InfoGenesis point-of-sale solution and we’ve made it available on either an eight-inch or a 10-inch tablet. One of the things that we’ve seen with several of our customers is that with the eight-inch device, as you walk around and bring the point of service to the guest at the point of need, you get a revenue bump. We’ve had a couple of clients that have used them around pools this past year, and you’ve seen revenue bumps in the 60 percent to 70 percent range. That is a huge advantage, but it did come with some operational challenges.

“Especially here in Vegas, you’ve got a heat problem in the summer, and it was hard to keep the devices cool and usable. We’ve even had one client keep the darn things in the refrigerator; but it worked. And the sunglasses the staff wore are polarized, so if you’ve got a wait staff wearing polarized glasses, they don’t see the screen as well. So, polarized lenses were out. There were a couple of minor operational changes, but the payoff has been huge.”

For the guest-facing applications, there are other operational challenges: bring your own device or use a device provided by the hotel.

“On the other side, we have come out with some guest-facing kiosk solutions,” Walker explains. “They’re in the food services management part of our business today, but they’re going to be coming into the gaming part of our business sometime this year, where the guest can self-serve. The guest places an order; the order fires off to the kitchen. If you’re in the buffet and you’ve checked yourself in, this allows the guest to provide their own point of service.”

Unfortunately, it gets even more complicated when it comes to guests using their own devices.

“There’s no way we could possibly ever bring enough applications to meet the needs of our customers,” he says. “So, our job, as we see it, is provide the integration points for our customers to be able to integrate those solutions into our systems.

“We’ve found our clients want to use their own apps, for branding reasons, and we’re completely fine with that.”

For a company active in many industries and businesses, Walker says there is not one that gets more priority than gaming.

“Gaming has been a very important part of our business in the past,” he says, “and it continues to be a very important part of our business today. You are going to see Agilysys grow in some other areas of hospitality. Just because we grow in other areas of hospitality doesn’t mean gaming is any less important to us. It is the top item on our agenda.”

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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