Nickel solutions for $1 problems

May 2, 2006 1:02 AM

Casinos, like parents, face many decisions on how they are going to spend their limited resources. With parents the decision is between new skates or a new washer and dryer. With casinos the choice may be between purchasing new slot machines or updating the database system.

New skates and new slot machines are the sexier choice, but are these choices of instant gratifications, these fulfillments of the privatization of desire the most practical and in the best interest of the respective household and casino.

The concept of nickel solutions to dollar problems in the casino environment is a relatively simple one. Databases get old, period. The wear and tear of operating an active casino monitoring and recording system is significant. Data purity and hygiene are inevitably compromised. Every so often databases, the monitoring system and home of casino players’ records, need a tune-up.

This data tune-up is no different from taking one’s car into the shop every 25,000 miles or so for the appropriate adjustments and part replacements necessary to make the automobile operate at its peak efficiency. Ask any poor sap waiting nervously for the return of his car from the mechanic and the encounter with the garage’s cashier after having his $2,400 engine replaced because he thought better than to change the timing belt at 70,000 miles, as suggested by the dealer, for a few hundred bucks. (I’m so sorry my 1984 Honda Civic, I will never treat another car so cruelly).

Colorado casinos, as casino in other markets, must grasp the reality that operating a full fledged casino with all the bells and whistles, including an active, usable, and even profit assisting database is similar to being in a functioning relationship like one has with a car.

Colorado casinos are especially in danger of having database issues because many casinos have been bought and sold numerous times. In other words, a lot of the casinos are like used cars, and new owners bought old owner’s old problems. In the casino marketing database world this is called buying a legacy system. Even if a new database tracking system is brought in, legacy data still needs to be transferred, and this alone holds a whole set of issues and challenges.

The primary challenge is that unless a company "grafts" talent that knows all the "quirks" of a particular database, new owners that do not have the old timers to help them run the system are often at a significant disadvantage. The best parallel to remain true to the analogy is when somebody buys a car from an original owner and the owner shares a tidbit such as the best way to get fuel efficiency is not to use the factory manual recommended 91 octane gas, but that the 89 works not just fine but better (the information has been grafted).

There is the routine maintenance. For cars it is the habitual 3,000 mile oil change, for databases it is quarterly data hygiene processes such as basic National Change of Address (NCOA). Then, there are the periodic recommended tune-ups. The factory authorized dealer, through experience and intimate knowledge of how the car is, can, and should perform, has established when these preventative measures should be completed.

If the Honda manufacturer and dealer suggests getting X,Y, and Z checked and a,b, and c replaced at 50,000 miles, they are providing guidance from years of professional experience. In the case of a casino database, this periodic tune-up involves a data-scrub where data is exported, really cleaned-up (e.g., NCOA, COA, LACS, NIXIE, CASS, gender, phone, e-mail appending, et cetera, normalized, and re-imported).

Yes, these tune-ups are relatively expensive, but they are nickel expenditures compared to the dollar alternative of a catastrophic database and subsequent marketing program breakdown. Casinos need to trust either their internal database "owners" (e.g., the database manager or IT department) or external vendors to provide the professional guidance that ensures optimal performance. When nickel advice is offered in the spirit of assistance and is legitimately provided for the benefit of the casino, the refusal to heed said advice or follow the subscribed program more often than not ends up costing a non-observant casino even more than a dollar down the road; often at a fiscal juncture when the property can barely afford a nickel.

(Founded in 1996, Yarborough Planning, LLC partners with select clientele to better understand and address business process issues. Core competencies include providing reliable and valid research, strategic/analytic marketing, and accountable Customer Relationship Management (CRM) development and implementation. Yarborough Planning, LLC is accepting new clients and Mr. Paster may be reached at (702) 813-5062 or [email protected])