When building an IT environment for a large casino and hotel that weaves together traditional mainframe applications with forward-looking Web-based software, rolling the dice on critical database decisions isnt a wise gamble.
Despite the dependence of many casino-oriented applications on IBM infrastructure and “green screen” technology, casinos such as the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa are embracing Microsoft Corp.s .Net development tools and SQL Server DBMS to bridge the gap between disparate platforms and to enrich the customer experience.
On the eve of its first anniversary next month, the Borgata, of West Atlantic City, N.J., is reaping the rewards of its bet on SQL Server 2000, according to John Forelli, director of administrative systems. The Borgata is using the DBMS to power its back-end systems and integrate them with popular hospitality industry applications that are tethered to IBMs DB2 database running on iSeries servers.
Forrelli said he is particularly excited about SQL Servers integrated business intelligence features.
“Thats the home run. The developers that work in my group, if they develop a Web page for a customer kiosk, they can use [Visual Basic .Net], whereas if we had another BI tool, theyd have to learn all of their applications,” Forelli said. “From a [total cost of ownership] point of view, you are saving money on the application side, and you dont have to staff up and throw all this money at training. [The database] absolutely has to be integrated and tie in all these pieces.”
The use of the Web has exploded in the casino realm. Gaming companies are driving customers to their Web sites to perform a multitude of tasks: making online reservations, purchasing tickets for entertainment and tracking points earned at slot machines and tables in real time.
By using SQL Server as its primary database, said Forelli, the Borgata was able to circumvent interface woes with its Windows infrastructure and avoid training headaches and extra cost.
“One of the themes on the DB2 side and, to a degree, on the Oracle [Corp. database] side, its a lot less friendly to use,” said Forelli. “Wed have to [hire more database administrators] in a lot of places where we put applications on top of [DB2, and] we dont do back-end developing on the DB2 database.”
Through the Reporting Services capability in SQL Server, which allowed the Borgata to view the database as a data warehousing alternative, the casino was able to overcome a significant reporting blind spot within its heavily transaction-oriented system.
In addition, a BI project uses SQL Servers DTS (Data Transformation Services) tool to create an OLAP (online analytical processing) database to reach out to disparate systems that contain transactional information about customer spending on lodging, food, beverages and gambling. It then presents historical analysis, forecasting and trending reports.
The Borgata is running DB2 applications at the front desk and the gaming pit to keep track of customers credit totals and hotel account. By having the flexibility to accurately forecast hotel occupancy and customer visits, the Borgata can properly plan staffing, drum up food specials and casino events, and correlate demographic factors.
Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., is investing heavily to ensure BI is enhanced in “Yukon,” its version of SQL Server due early next year. The update will feature more data mining algorithms and a rewrite of DTS to integrate it into the Visual Studio shell, Microsoft officials said.
Before opening last summer, the Borgata used SQL Server-stored procedures and triggers to stretch its enterprise and human resources applications from PeopleSoft Inc., of Pleasanton, Calif.
The Borgatajobs.com Web site and portal accepted more than 40,000 applications and enabled selected applicants to book interview times. SQL Server made the employment applicant evaluation, offer and acceptance process a completely paperless operation, Forrelli said.
“It helped us hire the best 5,000 people. From a concurrent user perspective, we proved the worth of our choice of applications and database” early on, Forelli said.