Station Casinos Makes a Safe Bet with Informatica
March 15, 2011 Jenny Thomas
A safe bet is the holy grail for most Las Vegas gamers. But when Station Casinos began looking for solutions to link data from all 18 of its casinos and hotels in and around the Las Vegas area, they weren’t about to take any gambles with their critical information. Informatica, as it turned out, dealt a winning hand.
Station Casinos, is a long-time IBM i user, first adopting the then-called AS/400 platform in the early 1990s. The company uses a mix of IBM i applications that are commonly found in casinos around the world, including Agilysys for hotel operations and JD Edwards for financials.
Today, all 18 of the Station Casino sites have their own production databases. The company is running three IBM i systems, including two Power 5-based eServer i5 Model 570s–one with eight of eight processors activated–and one high availability (HA) model using six of eight processors. These three servers house nine partitions–including two HA source partitions and two HA target partitions–and are split between OS/400 V5R4 and IBM i 6.1. The company is currently upgrading to Power 6 technology. The remaining server–a two-way System i Model 820–has two LPARS, one for development and one for production extract, transform, and load (ETL) workloads.
Station Casinos’ goal was to create a real-time customer analytics solution that delivered a unified 360-degree views of customers across each of its 18 properties. This solution would hopefully increase customer loyalty and profitability by enabling highly personalized marketing campaigns and more rewarding customer experiences.
While many of Station Casinos’ key applications run on the IBM i platform, the company uses an open system solution from Teradata for business intelligence and analytics. The challenge for Station Casinos was how it should move the DB2/400 data from the IBM i applications into Teradata for analysis.
“All of our critical systems are on the i: hotel, gaming, and financials,” said Karen O’Dell, business intelligence product director at Station Casinos. “We were looking for a best-of-breed solution. We wanted to leverage our data from the iSeries.”
In addition, Station Casinos wanted to look at data quality issues. “We had systems creating incorrect data, where we would find anomalies within the data,” said Jeff Martin, director of business intelligence at Station Casinos. “We needed to allow access to information in cross-functional areas in a concise way. So we were also doing data governance on the source side.”
Station Casino first started looking into Informatica based on a recommendation from Teradata. Informatica set up a proof of concept, and it was successful, so Informatica got to work. According to Informatica’s Scott Hagan, product manager for the iSeries adapters, the casino industry had requirements that prevent working on the production boxes, so everything had to be done using remote journaling.
Doing the work remotely was not an unusual request, Hagan said. “Companies don’t want to touch the production boxes. They want to do the work on the boxes that are remote,” he said. “We had the software to support that. We ran with the remote journals and built the data warehouse using it.”
“There was very little staging,” agreed O’Dell. “There was no interference with our source systems to make the switch. We took HA journals from the i and did remote journals.”
Hagan worked with all the data on the iSeries and passed it into the Informatica products. Informatica’s PowerExchange was a key piece in the puzzle. PowerExchange provides fast native connectivity and secure access to a broad range of data sources and formats. This software eliminates the need for hand coding, increasing the efficiency of limited IT resources while reducing the costs of delivering data.
“I think of PowerExchange as a plumbing piece,” Hagan said. “It takes the data from the iSeries and runs it into all of our suites.”
Multiple components of the Informatica platform are now in use at Station Casinos. Informatica’s PowerCenter integrates customer, gaming, and finance information from more than 500 sources. That data is pushed down to the most appropriate processing resource within Station Casinos’ systems environment to ensure high performance and scalability. Changed data is captured non-intrusively, and in real-time, from remote journals to avoid burdening the company’s business-critical source systems.
Also in play is Informatica’s Data Quality product suite, which performs in-line data matching across millions of customer records, providing Station Casinos with a complete view of customer information within and across all its properties despite name variances, data entry errors, and shortcuts (for example, Chris Jones vs. Chrissy Jones).
“The whole process took 14 months,” said O’Dell. Since the roll-out was completed, Station Casinos says the Informatica platform has enabled them to:
Customers at Station Casinos can see immediate results in the player rewards programs. “When you swipe your card, it takes the data into that iSeries box,” Hagan said. “It captures the changes, and the customer walks over to a rewards machine and can see the update.”
For Informatica, Hagan said the IBM i “will always be a key platform for us. We have a variety of apps for data–subsetting, data matching, data quality–and our products allow us to read from and write to an iSeries.”
The next steps for Station Casinos include delving deeper into social media to deliver meaningful offers and rewards to customers. Station Casinos already runs multiple Websites and has been collecting emails on the iSeries for many years in data warehouses they designed specifically for that purpose. “On our websites, the data travels into the current iSeries customer database,” O’Dell said. Those websites also feature blogs, e-mail promotions, RSS feeds, and a special site for locals.
“We plan to do more expansion on the iSeries,” Martin said. “We want to use that captured data and do more and more offers in that social media space.”
With an established presence on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, O’Dell said the future could include things like using a cell phone to enter credits and apply offers. Instead of printing tickets at the kiosks, those credits would register on the player’s phone. Alerting patrons of concert events that fit their tastes is another example of how Station Casinos hopes to use social media to gather more information on their customers and communicate back to those customers with messages specific to them.
“When we really start into social media, we will run down that path very quickly,” O’Dell said. “Knowing the way we operate, it will be a closed loop on all our systems. Meaning it will make it to the warehouse on the i.”