Integrating Singapore's Resorts World with IT

Resorts World Sentosa CIO shares challenges of pioneering and putting in place a world-class IT infrastructure befitting of Singapore's first integrated resort.

How does one plan, build and deliver an IT infrastructure for a S$6.59 billion (US$4.93 billion) integrated resort without any precedent examples in Asia, and all in under three short years?

Resorts World Sentosa's (RWS) senior vice president and CIO, Yap Chee Yuen, did just that. Singapore's first of two integrated resorts, RWS spans 49 hectares and encompasses a casino, four hotels, Universal Studios theme park, retail outlets, restaurants and various MICE facilities. It is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Genting Singapore.

ZDNet Asia sat down for a chat with Yap to uncover the challenges he faced putting together the turnkey solutions and service partners in time for the resort's soft launch on Jan. 20. He also explains why the resort has not gone all out to adopt cloud computing, yet, and discusses future plans for the country's first of two integrated resorts.

What were the initial challenges you faced when you started work to build an IT infrastructure?
Yap: Getting people with the necessary skills to come in was one of the biggest challenges. We have six business units: theme park, F&B (food and beverage), retail, hotels including MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Events), shows and entertainment, and a casino.

For most of the business units, the manpower and skill set could be found within Singapore's hospitality industry. But when it came to the casino, we lacked the talent and skills here. So we took in people without any experience in casino industry IT, such as myself. I didn't have any gaming experience. We learned based on our competencies and IT experiences from our previous industries. We also went to our sister company in Genting, Malaysia, for familiarization trips to understand the processes. That's where we garnered all the requirements to build some of the systems we have in place now.

For a few of us, this is a mega project, and building an IT infrastructure of this scale is a challenge in itself. At the same time, we were in a green field project so the complexities of planning, organizing, executing, resources and budgeting all came into play.

The other challenge was that at the start of the project, the business leaders for operations of the business units were not onboard yet. They came in later phases. So, when we started to build in the IT infrastructure and applications, we had to talk to business people, vendors and partners to learn what options were available in the market. From there, we crafted out the requirements. And when the business people came in, they then validated the requirements. It was a phase approach.

Our strategy was to buy applications if these were available in the market, after reviewing, validating and comparing the differences, and to develop only the applications that were core to us.

The other challenge was in the integration efforts. Each of the six business units has its own ERP (enterprise resource planning). For example, the hotel would focus on room systems; F&B on its point of sale; and retail on its merchandise inventory.

All these are separate vertical systems, but all their financial information has to flow back centrally to the financial system which uses Oracle's PeopleSoft Financials. And it's not just the financial flow. The materials flow also needs to converge into our procurement system, and the people information needs to flow into HR, which uses PeopleSoft Human Capital Management.

So, there's a lot of integration to be done. It's a myth to say there is one system that can do everything by itself. This is an integrated resort so there's bound to be an integration of systems.

Another challenge we faced was in contract negotiation, especially with U.S. multinational companies. Because of SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley Act), this makes it tough for us as there are more contract and legal issues involved during the negotiations.

So how did you pick your solutions, given that all the disparate parts have to be seamlessly integrated at the end?
There were two steps we needed to do: first was to select the product; second was to pick the systems integrator.

For the first step, we evaluated the product features and tried to understand who would be using it, who the customers are, what their future plans would be, and R&D (research and development) efforts for the product.

For the systems integrators, we also looked at their capabilities, the solutions they handled, customer references to understand how satisfied their clients were. But at the end of the day, we looked for the X factor. That's because all the capabilities I've listed above are a given--if the providers don't have all those, I wouldn't even talk to them.

The X factor would be the management commitment and chemistry between us and them in terms of striking a partnership and having a collaborative mindset.

The second would be the people, the team they are bringing into the project and how stable they are. We don't want to end up with a partner that has a high staff turnover. We also look intensively at the resumes of the key people, the project manager and the solutions architect to see what experiences they have had.

Apart from the people, the financials of the company is also important. If they're having trouble with their finances, this would mean somebody is eying them for a buyover. That would mean trouble for us.

Having a good customer base is good, too, as it means their products are sustainable. With a bigger customer base, it also means their presence in this part of the world is sizable and they have critical mass for support.

Imagine if I'm the only customer of the supplier or vendor. It's just not sustainable. I wouldn't be able to provide enough business for the supplier or vendor to invest in resources or local support. After awhile, they might pack up and leave.

So there are all these considerations behind the thinking process of who we want to work with. It's not just about choosing A or B, it's about what's behind the numbers and the implications that is important in the selection process.

At the end of the day, I want the vendor to do well. If it does well, that means the vendor will have a bigger customer base and become more profitable. With the profits, it can then invest in R&D to improve the functionality and features of its product.

In a sense, when I start a partnership and have chemistry with the vendors, it also makes me willing to act as a customer reference for them.

Has Resorts World Sentosa considered putting everything on the cloud?
We already have some applications on the cloud but it's not very extensive and is still in the infancy stage.

Will we consider having everything on the cloud? It depends. The platform has to be first certified by vendors. If they have not certified the platform and you put your applications in, it will waive your maintenance agreement. When something goes wrong, they can say it's not their problem because you are bringing it onto an environment that is not certified.

So those are the contractual and support issues that may hinder the amount of application you can put on the cloud.

However, apart from cloud applications, we also have virtualization of servers and storage. This reduces the footprint of the physical servers we have, and will translate to less cooling energy, less space used and less carbon emission.

What are RWS' IT plans for the future?
The next stage would be to enhance the value of the IT systems we have in place. The first step here would be to implement the operational IT.

In retail, we sell a lot of gifts and souvenirs at Universal Studios. We have to go through the process of designing and making the products, the procurement of the products and the logistics such as moving the products into the warehouse and replenishing when the stock is low. Then there is also the payment part.

Behind all these business processes, there is a computer system that does the work. The same goes for the other business units such as the hotel booking system and so on. So the next stage is to enhance these systems. We're not 100 percent done yet. There's still room for improvement.

So would you be able to hit that 100 percent mark?
No. Business is always changing and there's always room for improvement. For instance, today, you have five steps in place for your business process. Tomorrow, you cut it down to three steps.

We also need to think about how to improve customer service. Maybe we could open up our processes to be self-serviced. We also have membership programs where members can earn and redeem points. I think there's still a quantum of improvements to be made. As we move along, there will be smaller improvements.

And, of course, we are also looking at data warehousing and analytics, so that as we move along, we will have better customer insight to understand our customers and our operations better.