Home-made solution shoots Star City to the top

Home-made solution shoots Star City to the top

Operating a casino is a complex business. Along with myriad security and financial issues, management of personnel can be a nightmare. An Australian developer has devised a solution that has international buyers knocking on the door. Naomi Jackson spoke with him about hitting the jackpotJohn Mizzi is a man of action. Working as a contractor at Melbourne's Crown Casino in 1994, he couldn't understand why so many rostering systems came and went with none seemingly capable of handling the complexities of a casino environment.

The most challenging requirement appeared to be the execution of worldwide gaming standards which dictate each staff member must have a 15 minute break from the tables hourly. The systems trialled lacked sufficient functionality to administer the rotation of staff according to those standards, especially in the volumes required by Crown.

So Mizzi took it upon himself to try and build a system that would fix the problem. A self-confessed programming zealot, Mizzi would arrive home from working on other Crown projects at about 10pm, grab a bite to eat, then, in his own time, search for the elusive answer to the gaming question.

Finally, Mizzi felt he had cracked it. His solution comprised three modules written in Progress 4GL - a rostering module, incorporating a technology that emulates the floor plan of a casino gaming room; a time and attendance module; and a training database module.

However, when Mizzi took his product to the management of Crown and offered it to them, they were not interested in buying. That could have been a frustrating end to Mizzi's quest. But fortunately for him, one of his colleagues at Crown was poached by the fledgling Star City Casino (then known as Sydney Harbour Casino) and he referred Mizzi's product to the casino's US owners.

That man, Ricky D'Costa, is still Star City's scheduling manager. "Having started at Burswood and moved to Crown I had looked for a product to handle rostering on the gaming side of things and there was nothing," D'Costa said. "But having seen what [Mizzi] had developed, I was very confident it could handle the peculiarities of the casino environment at Star City."

But getting Mizzi an audience with the casino's US owners by no means guaranteed his product was a shoe-in for the project.

According to Mizzi, persistence was the key as he battled the sceptical and, at times, arrogant attitudes of the Americans.

"They were very sceptical because there were a lot of people trying to crack the casino site," Mizzi said. "They basically said to me: 'We've invested $US1 million to find a solution. What makes you think you've got the answer?'. But I kept ringing and telling them I was happy to do some demonstrations for them."

Pilot site

Eventually, he was given that opportunity. Once they saw the product at work, the US owners were convinced and Star City became the pilot site for Mizzi's start-up company, Mizzisoft. At the time, Mizzi was still a one-man-band operation, so he handled the implementation himself with the assistance of D'Costa and several other Star City project managers.

The rollout only took 10 weeks, and when the casino opened in 1995, Mizzi's package helped ensure it had a triumphant opening. "Star City was the smoothest opening of any casino of that size anywhere in the southern hemisphere, because everyone was at the right place at the right time with the correct skills," according to Jodie English, a former casino employee who is now Mizzisoft's sales and marketing manager.

From then on, the success of Mizzi's solution was assured. "It was more or less like a domino effect," English said. "As soon as Star City had it up and running, Crown was in Sydney within a week evaluating it."

And that was just the start. Within 12 months, Auckland's Star City Casino, Perth's Burswood Casino, Melbourne's Crown Casino and Malaysia's Genting Highlands Casino had also implemented the Mizzisoft solution.

D'Costa, the product's initial champion, is not surprised. "Its ability to handle all the skills each of our employees have and quickly manipulate what they do has been vital for the efficient operation of our business," he said.

And how did Mizzisoft itself benefit from the Star City experience?

Obviously, it gained a key reference site, but English says it was also a big learning curve. "Through Star City and all of the other casinos we've worked in, we've learnt that even though it is the same industry, everyone needs a tailored service and a small percentage of customisation - you can't just get a piece of software and say 'here it is'," she said. "It's a matter of working very closely with the project team to establish what their business requirements are, then identifying if there is something that needs to be changed in the software or if we need to give them ideas in how they should set up their business processes."

So what is the future for Mizzisoft?

Already, the company has moved beyond the gaming industry into manufacturing companies and airlines. And courtesy of Progress Software's application partner program, Mizzisoft may soon also branch into other vertical markets like transport.

The company also plans to leverage its existing relationships with payroll and personnel solution providers like Peoplesoft, and hardware vendors like IBM and Compaq, to gain a foothold in overseas markets, according to English.

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