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Keeping core systems online is vital when you're processing transactions for one of Australia's largest sporting events

Tabcorp CIO Kim Wenn

Tabcorp CIO Kim Wenn

When you’re helping to run a multi-billion dollar enterprise and close to 10 per cent of revenue comes in on one day of the year, then you know there are serious pressures to keep the lights on. That day is Melbourne Cup day, and the enterprise is Tabcorp.

Kim Wenn, Tabcorp’s CIO, says Melbourne Cup day is decidedly the biggest betting day of the year for the company, with punters betting more than $180 million on the day of the “race that stops a nation.” This means 50 million transactions are processed all day, and up to 2000 bets per second at peak times.

“Our systems just have to work seamlessly,” says Wenn.

Appropriately for a position with that sort of pressure, Wenn reports directly to the CEO and attends all board meetings, as well as working with all of her peers within the company.

“If you think about Tabcorp for a minute, not only are we a leading gambling and entertainment company – we are a very large technology company,” Wenn says.

“Other than interest in the bank, all of our customer interactions are through technology. This means my team and I work side by side with each of the businesses to ensure that the technology solution we provide underpins and delivers the business strategy.”

This includes working closely with the company’s executive general manager of the marketing division to deliver CRM solutions, and with the EGM of distribution to deliver the next generation of terminals.

Wenn and her team work with the CFO to provide deliver real time data analysis to help the organisation understand industry trends; and the chief operating officer of Tabcorp's Media and International division to establish data pooling capabilities with countries such as Hong Kong.

They also work with the managing director of its Fixed Odds business to automate the creation, pricing and closure of markets in the US.

“We work closely with the business to ensure that everything we do ultimately contributes to shareholder value. It’s all about adding business value,” Wenn says.

Wenn typically shares governance roles with her business counterpart to ensure that any initiative is delivered collaboratively, all regulatory and legal risks are mitigated and managed, and the solution has the customer at its heart.

“Things will go wrong and when it does you want to make very sure that you have someone at your side to help,” Wenn says.

This means that leadership and business skills are most important – even more than technical qualifications.

“Attributes such as high levels of empathy and emotional intelligence, the ability to communicate brilliantly and the ability to motivate and engage employees are the real skills that are needed to be successful in the role,” Wenn says.

But IT technical qualifications she does have, and from an early age, Wenn had a strong interest in computing, which she describes as a “family habit”.

From developer to CIO

Wenn obtained a graduate IT position at Rosella Lipton and then proceeded to complete her formal education at night school over a number of years.

Her qualifications include a Bachelor of Computer Science, and a Masters in Management and Technology. She traversed what she says is the typical software developer career path, starting in coding, progressing through to project management, development management and then to CIO.

She’s worked in a mix of environments that she says gave her a “great foundation”. These include a period overseas working for Scottish Widows and in Australia with ISV Quest Software, and large corporate organisations.

“It gives away my age I guess, but I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy 30 fabulous years in an industry I love, and one that changes so rapidly I don’t have time to get bored.”

Managing those changes requires careful planning, and Tabcorp is developing a three-year strategy to deliver on financial objectives. This year part of that strategy is rolling out new products across a number of channels, expanding content and enhancing digital channels.

The competitive landscape in Australia has changed vastly in the last five to seven years with international bookmakers entering the marketplace.

“They can only compete online, so we have to be the best in digital to grow market share. We are also focused on digital convergence into our retail offering to deliver greater customer experience in our retail stores,” Wenn says.

Tabcorp’s customers increasingly interact with the company using mobile devices. In FY12, 11 per cent of digital transactions were through a mobile device; that’s now grown to more than 50 per cent. Those 2000 bets per second on Melbourne Cup day therefore bring great significance to the IT operation.

“We’ve created a new digital technology team who embrace agile development practices and are releasing new content and new functionality to our customers regularly. Fortunately, we invested in a service bus and APIs that have enabled us to quickly respond to new devices and new opportunities,” says Wenn.

Connecting with the community

Wenn takes her relationships beyond the confines of Tabcorp itself. She runs an international CIO community for totalisator operators.

Almost every participant faces the problem of ageing backend totalisator software – although it does have 15 years of performance tuning and defect fixes, says Wenn. She adds that there isn’t an off-the-shelf offering that can meet the processing demands of big events such as the Melbourne Cup.

“I’ve been working with other CIOs to see if a joint venture arrangement where we use the same totalisator software could work. We don’t see the core dividend calculation as a competitive differentiator and as such can be viewed as commodity.

“It is a very real opportunity for Tabcorp. This would see the IT department having a modest contribution to revenue for the organisation. However, I do believe we should focus on our core competency, and that is to deliver new product that grows revenue and market share, rather than diluting our efforts and getting distracted on minor revenue share models.”

She admits, though, that more and more of the technology budget will move to the CMO.

“Technology is moving so quickly, and the creation of new and exciting cloud offerings enables key business executives to do things cost effectively and without engaging the traditional IT department,” she says.

“What used to work in the past just isn’t going to cut it into the future. The CIO needs to embrace and understand that we are business enablers and relinquish the control model of the past. Our role is to influence that roadmap to ensure that what gets implemented is robust and secure long term and to traverse that very complex web of technology trends.”

Interestingly, CIOs can often be seen as the ‘glue’ and are in unique positions to be able to see opportunities across the whole business, Wenn says. Glue or not, a sticking point for Wenn is the lack of females in the IT side of business.

“Across all facets of technology, we’re struggling to attract women, which is a crying shame. IT can be a terrific career for women, providing flexible work options. I think ‘blokey’ components such as networking and coding need to be optional in project management streams,” she says.

But regardless of gender, she stresses that the CIO needs to be a peer at the executive table.

“You need to have the full support of the CEO to be strategic and influence direction. This is instead of the traditional role CIOs tended to play, where they focused on operational stability and pretty much took orders.”

And her advice on being a future state CIO? “Work collaboratively with your peers. Have passion for what you do ... or find something else to do. We are a long time working and if you don’t love it, change.”

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