profile Information Technology isn't generally an art, but Aristocrat chief information officer Angelo Grasso likened his greatest achievement this year to a "graceful beautiful swan".
The company has gradually been moving its premises both here and overseas to modern offices with all the IT trim. January this year saw the company move its headquarters into new North Ryde offices, while mid this year, the US office was relocated.
Grasso, who has been with the gaming company for two years, said that that move was the task he thinks of most proudly. He led the preparation for employees to move in, installing VoIP, video, smartboards, but also everything they needed just to get on with their status quo.
"So think of a swan, swimming across a lake, a graceful beautiful swan. I don't care how much peddling was underneath, I said it's got to be able to go off one day, come in the next day start and we're all ok," he said.
The move was, however, by no means the only achievement Grasso has completed in recent times.
In 2007 he implemented Avaya VoIP using Microsoft Communicator 2005 in four major offices in Australia and the US. Now he is looking to extend that to other parts of the world such as India and to upgrade to Microsoft Communicator 2007.
It hasn't been a walk in the park. "We did have a number of challenges. This technology, a lot of people say 'it's fantastic. It works out of the box'. I can tell you it was not out of the box," he said.
Yet the benefits have outweighed the initial teething problems, according to Grasso, who said that the company got everything it intended out of the roll-out and probably more. Employees have free mobile calls into the office. Anyone using a BlackBerry can pick up their voice mails anywhere in the world free of charge.
Grasso has plans to implement Microsoft RoundTable to create virtual team rooms which will compliment the desktop video at workstations and smartboards in meeting rooms.
"It's got to be set up right. There are some interesting challenges there, because it comes down to also training. Not only do we have to set up the room accordingly we've to train the people to make sure they make the most of it."
August saw Grasso go live with a new human resources management system by PeopleSoft (the old one was an ADP system), which was rolled out to 2200 employees as well as persons of interest. Australian vendor Tripoint helped with the integration.
In another area — distribution requirements planning — Aristocrat has rolled out a system by Infor which enables vendor managed inventory.
"[Suppliers] can see what are the demands are coming through, they can see what inventory is sitting in the various centres because they own that inventory until we consume it. Therefore we are also able to make sure we don't run out," Grasso said.
The project saves freight costs by pooling transport between suppliers and helps keep inventory down.
"This particular project had a very good return on investment — hard numbers where the owners are now looking to make those savings accordingly and demonstrate those savings," he said. The return on investment was less than 18 months.
Grasso is a stickler for hard numbers. He doesn't believe in doing a project unless it will bring real benefits — either savings or business enablement, and, true to his role as a "business enabler" also won't do a project unless he has someone in the business who is willing to be accountable for it.
Unless there's someone who's prepared to work to work in a partnership with us in IT to actually own the benefits up front, we'd rather not do it because we know there's a very high statistic of projects not working
"Even though you've got all these investments that people would like you to make, unless there's someone who's prepared to work to work in a partnership with us in IT to actually own the benefits up front, we'd rather not do it because we know there's a very high statistic of projects not working," Grasso said.
His logic is just as clear when he's deciding whether to take up new technology. Software-as-a-service has been the subject of his critical eye.
"At the moment you look at your total cost of ownership over five years and you get burned at about year three or four if you look at Salesforce.com and others," he said. "When you compare apple to apple, then over the years you find that year three starts to cost a bit more. Year four, year five it's more expensive. Then at the end of five years — the professional divorce. What do you do? Who owns the data? How do you get the data in a form which you can go put in a new system? There's a whole heap of other complexities, I think the market is still maturing."
He'd used the concept where it made sense in commodity areas such as spam filtering or small accounts payable products. "It's quick and easy to implement and the cost of ownership is really a no brainer," he said.
Yet for the larger scale, there are still stumbling blocks such as the US's Patriot Act which allows the government access to data within its borders.
One new trend which has received is approval is virtualisation, something he's ramped up considerably since he started with the company. It just makes sense, he said, as it brings a reduction in power, total cost of ownership, service time and allows inbuilt disaster recovery.
He implemented VMWare's lab manager to allow R&D engineers and employees in the casino system management space to self provision.
"I come from a commercial background running companies and learned IT on the hop. I keep saying well why do we have to have so many bodies, arms and legs doing this stuff? What VMWare Lab Manager does is give us the ability to give a set of systems to our casino management systems people and they can create new virtualised environments without having to come to the technology team to set things up," he said.
Provisioning time has been reduced from weeks to hours.
Yet, infrastructure, (including implementation and software costs) is not a large part of IT costs, Grasso said. He said that outsourcing can address the largest proportion of total cost of ownership, and he has driven outsourcing hard since moving in. Applications maintenance, infrastructure and managed services, service desk and desktop is all outsourced. Aristocrat uses Patni computer systems for application support and projects, Tripoint for managed services and infrastructure, NTT for Japan and smaller organisations for NZ, Macao, Sweden and the UK.
However, he cautioned that outsourcing only worked with the right IT service delivery model. The key was to outsource the right things. Where core competencies of internal staff were enhanced by the knowledge of the service, Aristocrat provided it. Where that was not the case, and equivalent or better services were available externally at commercially attractive rates, outsourcing was considered.
As an example of where this tenet has not been followed, Grasso chose the Commonwealth Bank. "They outsourced the entire lot. They outsourced the crown jewels. They didn't have any retention of business knowledge or business process knowledge. Therefore, the outsourcer is able to really take huge advantage and you have an unbalanced relationship then."
Following his own advice, Grasso has kept some services in house. "We chose core skills. So we have architecture in house, we have business analysis in house, we have account management in terms of relationship management within internal stakeholders. We have project management in house. We have contract management in house."
Like many of his other operating tenets, such as his philosophy of business ownership of IT projects, Grasso's service delivery model helps him to steer Aristocrat clear of the tech disasters many firms face. Under the surface, his feet are peddling away under the water keeping the IT running, but all the business sees is the graceful swan.