Sky Betting & Gaming Q&A – Putting tech in the picture

It’s rare for the betting and gaming industry to be viewed from the outside as existing at the cutting edge of online technology; hence, the effort being undertaken by Sky Betting & Gaming (SB&G) to open up to the wider technology community is a development worthy of note. The outreach conducted to date includes hosting an event early in September open to agile practitioners working near the company’s Leeds, Yorkshire headquarters to talk about how to deliver enhanced products that can impact the bottom line. SB&G is one of the leading UK operators and it says it sees a clear benefit in sharing best practice and giving a platform for its own tech team to promote the company’s efforts to the wider tech community. GamCrowd took the opportunity to talk to Andy Burton, chief technology officer, and Andy Walton, head of data, about the company’s philosophy when it comes to technology and how it succeeds in turning non-gambling techies into gamtech professionals.

GamCrowd: Sky Betting & Gaming seems to have embraced the tech scene ethos of collaboration where the industry as a whole still works behind closed doors. What have you learnt from doing this?
Andy Burton/Andy Walton: Being open, sharing what we do and learning from each other are all key parts of our culture as a tech-led business and indeed most of the best online businesses around the world. It’s part of our internal culture and we extend that as much as possible to others outside the business. For example, we hold regular Tech Talks where our people and external speakers share their learnings on a whole range of subjects. The main thing I’ve learnt is only good things come from it – this benefits our people (who enjoy sharing and learning), it benefits the local tech community, and it helps raise awareness of Sky Bet as a forward looking, tech-led business.

GamCrowd: What are the benefits from bringing in tech knowledge in from other sectors?
Andy Burton/Andy Walton: The main benefit is that we have a much more diverse team than we would have if we only hired from the betting and gaming sector. This is a huge advantage because we have people with experience in almost every type of online business who bring real-world experience of problems they’ve solved in other sectors. For example, we recently hired a product head with 10 years’ experience of mobile payments, who is now leading the way in what is a key area of focus over the coming years. We’ve also hired a lot of techies who’ve built and operated sophisticated data and personalisation platforms, another key area for the industry as a whole. Great techies like variety and diversity but they also generally enjoy the big tech challenges we have, for example scaling the platforms to keep up with business growth, developing sophisticated data platforms to enable much more relevant customer experiences.

GamCrowd: What have been the challenges of taking non-gambling techies into your team?
Andy Burton/Andy Walton: The obvious challenge is that we’ve hired hundreds of techies who didn’t understand the business we are in when they joined us. However, this isn’t a problem because we hire for attitude and general tech ability rather than specific knowledge. The pace of tech and business change in companies like Sky Bet is so great that the skills someone has when they join are likely to be less useful just a few years later. We hire people with a thirst for learning and developing – this type of person quickly picks up the intricacies of online betting and gaming. Of course, we also have a huge wealth of industry experience within the business and we use that to teach new starters the basics, e.g. how to run a sportsbook.

GamCrowd: How are you staying in front of the curve in terms of tech trends?
Andy Burton/Andy Walton: It comes back to hiring great techies from diverse backgrounds, who have a passion for technology and love learning new things. The most important thing we can do as leaders is hire great people, give them a first class environment and then get out of the way.

GamCrowd: What are you looking at in terms of how you use big data?
Andy Burton/Andy Walton: SB&G has invested in a cutting ]-edge in-house Hadoop cluster, which has now completely replaced our legacy data warehouse. We use the cluster for numerous purposes with four examples being:

• Our data science team design and build machine learning models into the cluster; these are currently being used to move to predictive and personalised customer experience. One example being in CRM, where key campaigns such as cross sell, churn etc. are powered by propensity scores;

• We have a product development team using Spark, Kafka and Scala technology to process real-time data at high volume and low latency; this platform is being used to underpin new promotions that will react in real-time to customer behavior;

• Our analytics teams use the massive parallel processing capacity to run more complex queries across huge data sets; this allows this business to uncover new insights, and build better forecasting models. These ultimately help us to better understand and manage the business;

• Our tech teams have used the storage and processing capabilities to interpret the massive datasets from machine logs to help them better manage platform stability, performance bottlenecks, efficiencies etc.

GamCrowd: With more ideas and product aimed at the millennials coming to market how do you integrate these into your existing offering without alienating your core players?
Andy Burton/Andy Walton: We don’t generally target age groups or other demographic mixes in our products, but aim to create simple, easy-to-use customer experiences that apply to all groups of people. Our brand and the association with Sky Sports attracts a large number of younger customers who enjoy the mobile and social aspects of our products so we naturally focus on their needs anyway.

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