Enterprise Software

Not your ordinary job: IT at the track

Jay Rollins, Senior Director of Information Technology at Churchill Downs, premier Thoroughbred racetrack and home of the Kentucky Derby, talks about the technological innovations that have brought the racing giant into the 21st century.

Career got you down? Do you love IT but think there has to be more to your work life than fighting spam and spyware? Just to give you a peek into what else is out there in your chosen profession, from time to time TechRepublic will feature interviews with IT folks who work in some not-so-common industries, and whose IT innovations creatively and directly affect the customer. If you think you fall into that category or work for an industry "off the beaten path," drop us a line.

Speaking of the beaten path (and obviously, I'm not at all above the corny segue), our first interview is with Senior Director of Information Technology at Churchill Downs, Jay Rollins. , Churchill Downs is a premier thoroughbred racetrack and home of the Kentucky Derby. The horse racing industry has historically been slow to embrace technology but with increased competition from other sports, gaming, and entertainment options, it has begun to take advantage of digital-age innovations. Here's what Jay Rollins had to say to us about the technological innovations he's overseen at Churchill.

TechRepublic: What is the average day like for you?

Rollins: Most days start with project status meetings involving the IT or CRM staff. We have a lot of projects running simultaneously, so we try to stay on top of all the challenges and opportunities that come out of those meetings. There are the occasional fires associated with rollout of projects that take some time out of the day, but most of my time is spent working closely with the CRM team, as their projects are starting to come online.

TechRepublic: What new technologies have you implemented in the last year as part of the track renovation and how do you see them impacting your customer relationship management?

Rollins: We recently implemented several new technologies at Churchill Downs that directly impact how we communicate with our customers. The most visible technology to our track patrons is our new BetPro service. With the help of our partners OperaGlass Networks and United Tote, we were able to bring this integrated wagering experience to our new $121 million facility. This Web portal-like device allows our customers to wager on account, order food and beverage service, watch multiple video feeds, order items from our online store, and handicap races with advanced tools from the Daily Racing Form, Equibase and PostTime Technologies. All this and much more is available to our patrons right from their seats. No more waiting in lines at betting windows or concession stands! What helped make this possible was the implementation of a Cisco Managed Network that allows our various CRM, wagering, concession stand and gift shop systems to exchange data in a high-speed and secure manner. This allows the various integrations required to enable our BetPro units to work. The infrastructure change also allows us to offer wireless Internet access and Suite Internet access, similar to that of many mainstream hotels, for the first time.

TechRepublic: What problems did you encounter when rolling out the new technologies?

Rollins: The main issues revolved around infrastructure. We had a number of new initiatives we wanted to roll out, but had limitations placed on us by the older and non-standard infrastructure that we were dealing with. We addressed those challenges quickly by outsourcing some of our infrastructure and by upgrading our network and computing infrastructures. We're still lagging a bit behind where the business wants to go versus what we can deliver and support, but the gap is much smaller than it was and is closing quickly.

TechRepublic: What's next on the list for new technological innovations at Churchill Downs?

Rollins: In the next few weeks, we will be deploying a wireless wagering device and expanding our wireless Internet access at the Churchill facility. Long-term, we are standardizing our computing, network and telecommunications infrastructure at all of our properties so we may offer similar services to our patrons there. The CRM team will also be deploying new tools for our tracks to take advantage of, including data analytics and campaign management from Epiphany, a new centralized data warehouse, and several other technologies focused on growing our business.

About Toni Bowers

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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