William Hill bets on new technology - Tuesday 12th of April 2005

Bookies' IT boss gives it to us straight from the horse's mouth If you've ever fancied a flutter, either online or down at the bookies, the chances are that you did it with William Hill. The FTSE-100 listed company's gambling interests range from its licensed betting offices to online betting, casino and poker sites, interactive TV and greyhound stadiums. In 1998, the company took its first bet over the internet, and earlier this month on Grand National day it smashed its record for the number of bets taken in a single day via internet and telephone, accepting more than 300,000 individual bets and signing up 30,000 new online account registrations. And it continues to expand its offerings, with technology playing a central part in its plans for new products to entertain those of us who like to gamble - earlier this week it launched an online game allowing punters to bet on virtual football matches of their choice. The interest surrounding gambling technology at the moment is similar to the buzz around the City in the run up to the 'Big Bang', explains William Hill IT director Victor Kemeny. "This is the most exciting industry I've ever worked in. Two years ago I joined William Hill and I thought here's a business that has so much potential," he told silicon.com. "Each channel has a unique customer base with different spending patterns and preferences so we have to offer as many channels as possible. Our view is we are trying to promote anytime anywhere betting. We want to make it easier for the punter to bet with us - and it's my job to provide the technology," he said. The company is rolling out a new electronic point of sale system to its bookies at the rate of 50 shops per week. Before the new systems were put in managers would settle bets manually. "On the Grand National day you would have a wad of betting slips that would choke a horse. You couldn't pay the punters until you'd settled the bets," he explained. Kemeny is also masterminding the move to a new infrastructure featuring Oracle database and BEA Weblogic technologies, and Java. "We will do a managed migration to the new infrastructure. Over the next two or three years we will move the business from its legacy infrastructure to the next generation. We've already identified what we are going to do." However, Kemeny said the company is planning a gradual approach: "Rather than try to do a great big bang we are doing lots of little drops so the customer doesn't see the migration. In a year or two our central systems will be significantly ahead [of the opposition]." Using Java will give the company more flexibility because it will be able to buy components rather than develop everything from scratch. Integration will be a mixture of internal and external expertise, but Kemeny added: "One of the things we will always own is the architecture and the intellectual property in the solution." But even with so much development going on, William Hill is very careful about its project management policies. "We have very strict project management - the chief executive chairs the IS steering committee. Unless the business owns and drives a project we don't do it. The IS committee is one of the key executive boards," he said. The new IT infrastructure will give William Hill greater agility so that it can investigate new ideas in betting - such as in-game betting where punters could be offered odds on a particular brief event. "It gives the punter skin in the game and it adds to the excitement," Kemeny added. For example you could bet on whether a striker will score a penalty - these bets are too brief to be offered through the traditional bookies operation, but are much easier to operate electronically. Just try not to lose your shirt.

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