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To learn how a culture of IT innovation is helping to establish a single wholly nationally-owned company to operate gaming and gambling in Finland, we're joined by Harri Räsänen, Information and Communications Technology Architect at Veikkaus in Helsinki. The discussion is moderated by BriefingsDirect's Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Why has Veikkaus reinvented its data infrastructure technology?
Räsänen: Our data warehouse solution was a traditional data warehouse, and had been around for 10 years. Different things had gone wrong. One of the key issues we faced was that our data wasn’t real-time. It was far from real time -- it was data that was one or two days old.
We decided that we need to get data quicker and in more detail because we now had aggregate data.
Gardner: What were some of your top requirements technically in order to accomplish that?
Räsänen: As I said, we had quite a old-fashioned data warehouse. Initially, we needed our game-service provider to feed us data more in real-time. They needed to build up a mechanism to complete data, and we needed to build out capabilities to gather it. We needed to rethink the information structure -- totally from scratch.
Räsänen: I'll talk about our current-situation records, for the new combined company we are starting up in 2017.
We have a big company from a customer point of view. We have 1.8 million consumers. Finland has a population of 5.5 million. So, we have a quite a lot of Finnish consumers. When it comes to transactions, we get one to three million transactions per day. So it’s quite large, if you think about the transactional data.
In addition to that, we gather different kinds of information about our web store; it’s one of the biggest retail web stores in Finland.
Gardner: It’s one thing to put in a new platform, but it’s another to then change the culture and the organization -- and transform into a digital business. How is the implementation of your new data environment aiding in your cultural shift?
Räsänen: Luckily, Veikkaus has a background of doing things quite analytically. If you think about a web store, there is a culture that we need to be able to monitor what we're doing if we're running some changes in our web store -- whether it works or not. That’s a good thing.
But, we are redoing our whole data technology. We added the Apache Kafka integration point and then, Cloudera, the Hadoop system. Then, we added a new ETL tool for us, Pentaho, and last but not least, HPE Vertica. It's been really challenging for us, with lots of different things to consider and learn.
Luckily, we've been able to use good external consultants to help us out, but as you said, we can always make the technology work better. In transforming the culture of doing things, we're still definitely in the middle of our journey.
Gardner: I imagine you'll want to better analyze what takes place within your organization so it’s not just serving the data and managing the transactions. There's an opportunity to have a secondary benefit, which is more control of your data. The more insight you have allows you to adapt and improve your customer experience and customer service. Have you been able to start down that path of that secondary analysis of what goes on internally?
New level of data
Räsänen: Some of our key data was even out of our hands in our service-provider environments. We wanted to get all the relevant data with us, and now we've been working on that new level of data access. We have analysts working on that, both IT and business people, browsing the data. They already have some findings on things that previously they could have asked or even thought about. So, we have been getting our information up-to-date.
Gardner: Can you give us more specific examples of how you've been able to benefit from this new digital environment?
Räsänen: Yeah, consumer communication on CRM is one of the key successes, things we needed to have in place. We've been able to constantly improve on that. Before, we had data that was too old, but now, we have near real-time data. We get one-minute-old data, so we can communicate with the consumers better. We know whether they've been playing their lotteries or betting on football matches.
We can say, "It’s time for football today, and you haven’t yet placed a bet." We can communicate, and on the other hand, we can avoid disturbing customers by sending out e-mails or SMS messages about things they've already done.
Gardner: Yes, less spam, but more help. It’s important, of course, with any organization like this in a government environment, for trust and safety to be involved. I should think that there's some analysis to help keep people from overdoing it and managing the gaming for a positive outcome.
Räsänen: Definitely. That’s one of the key metrics we're measuring with our consumer so that gaming is responsible. We need to see that all things they do can be thought of as good, because as you said, we're a national company, it’s a very regulated market, and that kind of thing.
Gardner: But a great deal of good comes from this. I understand that more than 1 billion euros a year go to the common good of people living in Finland. So, there are a lot of benefits when this is done properly.
Now that you've gone quite a ways into this, and you're going to need to be going to the new form and new organization the first of 2017, what advice would you be able to give to someone who is beginning a big data consolidation and modernization journey? What lessons have you learned that you might share?
Out of the box
Räsänen: If you're experimenting, you need to start to think a little bit out of the box. Integration is one of crucial part, and avoid all direct integration as much as possible.
We're utilizing Apache Kafka as an integration point, and that’s one of the crucial things, because then you can "appify" everything. You're going to provide an application interface for integrating systems and that will help those of us in gaming companies.
Gardner: A lot a services-orientation?
Räsänen: That’s one of the components of our data architecture. We have been using our Cloudera Hadoop system for archiving and we are building our capabilities on top of that. In addition, of course, we have HPE Vertica. It’s one of our most crucial things in our data ecosystem because it’s a traditional enterprise data warehousing in that sense it is a SQL database. Users can take a benefit out of that, and it’s lightning-fast. You need to design all the components and make those work on that role that they are based at.
Gardner: And of course SQL is very commonly understood as the query language. There's no great change there, but it's really putting it into the hands of more people.
Räsänen: I've been writing or talking in SQL since the beginning of the ’90s, and it’s actually a pretty easy language to communicate, even between business and IT, because at least, at some level, it’s self-explanatory. That’s where the communication matters.
Gardner: Just a much better engine under the hood, right?
Räsänen: Yeah, exactly.
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