Tech dynamics

Speaking at a recent Brightstar Cloud Computing Summit in Auckland, Svetcov said companies should do a risk assessment before they consider changing their datacentre infrastructure.

"Most organisations in the world do a lousy job of understanding their IT risks. And without understanding their IT risks, you can't put solutions in place to mitigate those except in an ad hoc manner."

Svetcov outlined the advantages of moving to a virtual datacentre.

"If it's your physical hardware you pull out the network drive. With a virtual datacentre, you don't have to. You may get notified, but someone else is taking care of that."

Once companies know the risk, they can start deciding if it makes sense for the business to virtualise the datacentre, he says.

"One of the risks of outsourcing the datacentre is if the company goes bust. So you need an alternative vendor or to bring it back in-house."

He cautions that he is not an advocate for getting rid of the entire IT physical infrastructure.

"There is no good reason [to virtualise] if something is running currently and it's doing the job it's designed to do. The reality is this is going to be one of the IT person's blades in your Swiss Army knife. It may not be one that you choose to use and that's OK."

If a company does decide to go to a virtual datacentre, having a backup is crucial, says Svetcov. The options are to retain physical infrastructure for back up, or have a second virtual datacentre from another vendor.

Svetcov also discussed running an entire business environment using cloud computing.

"There are enterprise applications and CRM applications, all of which have software as a service availability. All of these can potentially be outsourced and run in a virtual environment."

But there may be no advantage yet for the business environment, he says.

"Everyone is thinking about outsourcing, the question is whether it's the right thing to do.

"If you're not doing these IT risk assessments, then, how well do you know if IT is supporting the business and vice versa? If there is no alignment there, you're not going to be doing what the business wants."

Svetcov urges companies to have water-tight service level agreements when it comes to cloud computing. He says the business needs to own the risk, not the IT department.

SkyCity's BI journey

CIO Mike Clarke says the different parts of SkyCity create specific data insight needs.

"One of the challenges we have is that we don't have a single trading day, we have four trading days because you don't want to stop trading at midnight on a gaming floor.

We stop the floor at seven am, the hotels at 2, the restaurant at 4 and the car parks at 5."

This makes the comparison of the trading day a little challenging, but all of that is handled by the data warehouse.

"We were getting multiple versions of the truth so we moved in 2001 to a SQL data warehouse. We now don't spend hours arguing over the reports."

Clarke says the yield that it makes from hotel room and room management is critical.

"Selling that room at a certain price point may actually take that room into a loss. It's somewhat predictive analytics."

The same logic applies to the casino's restaurants.

"We're talking about demand-based provisioning so we count visitation and temperature. We count temperature because what happens outside affects what happens inside."

SkyCity has BI models that plot incoming events such as cruise ships.

"Earlier this year a ship broke down and stayed for awhile. It was great for our business, but it threw some of the analytics out as we hadn't budgeted for it."

Clarke adds that everything the casino does is underpinned by a loyalty programme, which creates enormous amounts of data and transaction challenges.

"You can buy and redeem points at any outlet doing anything."

The casino uses BI in different ways.

"We had a bank of gaming machines that performed really badly in a spot that you think would be good. But we discovered it was right under an air conditioning duct. It's that kind of insight we're looking for to improve the property."

Restaurant bookings are done through a system of 'triggers'.

"You will only see signs on restaurants that have vacancies for the night. That's a trigger-based response to some information. We're now going to the next stage of that and starting to send SMS offers of restaurants that are free tonight. It's all about immediacy."

At that time in 2001, Clarke says the SQL move was a huge step for SkyCity. "There were 10 subject areas with five years of data so it was relatively sparse. If you get the platform right, it makes BI a lot easier."

Plan for a cloudy future

Software as a service (SaaS) is a catalyst for business change and the alignment of IT and business, but will place greater demands on IT, local cloud providers say.

A panel comprised of SV Technology managing director Eric Svetcov, Diversity director Ben Kepes, OneNet CEO Michael Snowden and country manager Aden Forrest, discussed the implications of the technology at a recent Cloud Computing Summit in Auckland.

"We're looking at massive change for business," says Kepes. "The ability to react quickly is going to place different demands on IT. I think IT is going to become more aligned with the business itself."

&Forrest agrees cloud computing will be a key driver for business change. "It's the realisation that we can't wait as we did in the late 1990s to roll these large technology programmes out, we have to deliver today because tomorrow could be completely different."

Forrest says after heavy investment in building out cloud technologies in recent years, an "end to end process" is becoming a reality.

"We have a dozen organisations that are looking at using the platform as a gateway into cloud-based services. What we're seeing in the traditional enterprise resource planning space is that the front-end access point is becoming more cloud-based.

"People have invested heavily over the past six years in building out processes that have been supported by the various technologies. What we've seen in the past six months is the end to end process becoming a reality, in bringing both on-premise and cloud-based solutions together to support the business."

Forrest adds SaaS should find its way into larger organisations. "From a web service perspective, a lot of organisations are running reasonably old and trusted ERP systems. Getting data from one system to another can be challenging. The new SaaS offerings create great flexibility."