AsiaOne, 22 Dec 2010
RESORTS World Sentosa’s (RWS) slogan ‘one card, one customer, one resort’ is catchy, but it’s also a tall order for an IT system which has to enable information flow across the $6.59 billion integrated resort.
The scale and customisation required by such an envisioned system called for its IT team to build one from the ground up, said Yap Chee Yuen, RWS senior vice-president and head of innovation and technology and operation services.
There was simply nothing of its kind in the marketplace that was so specialised, he told BizIT in an interview.
Parts of the set-up such as the ticketing and hotel management system could be bought off the shelf, but integration between all the systems’ parts was the main challenge, he explained.
As such, he embarked on a plan to build RWS’s Customer, Membership and Services (CMS) with a team of about 50 people.
The team started with a group of 10 people back in 2007, when the resort’s physical construction was beginning.
Twenty-one months later, Mr Yap was ready with what he felt was a ‘pioneering system’ which tied together the infrastructure and all the peripheral systems.
To uphold the resort’s slogan, visitors would be able to access their privileges across the resort’s six business areas of four hotels, F&B (food and beverages), retail outlets, the region’s Universal Studios theme park, shows and entertainment functions, and a casino.
RWS has plans to open next year two more hotels, a marine life park as well as a maritime museum.
The aim of the CMS was also to offer frontline staff a more complete view of a customer’s profile and history across the different business operations, Mr Yap said.
The system stores details of customers down to their family members and preferences such as their choice cuisine or hotel within the resort.
A number of customisations were built in as well, such as the levy collection system required by the Casino Regulatory Authority.
Failover provisions are a must, said Mr Yap.
For example, should the levy collection system go down, it would cause the casino admissions process to grind to a halt.
The network is able to switch over to a handheld system in the event of such downtime, he said.
Another redundancy measure put in place is a mirror data centre outside the resort, backing up the one onsite. The RWS CMS runs on a pool of about 800 to 1,000 servers, with 35 per cent of them virtualised, said Mr Yap.
‘Continuity is very important, the systems run non-stop 24 by seven,’ he said.
Based on Microsoft’s Windows and SQL platform, the system also runs atop a service-oriented architecture (SOA).
This common delivery channel is the lifeblood of the CMS, upon which all its backend systems can be integrated.
RWS’s team is also able to plug in various access modules to the system via the SOA, in order to allow Web, mobile and kiosk access, Mr Yap explained.
This also allows for upgrading done to the system in phases, he added: ‘Business keeps changing and the architecture allows us to shorten the time taken to enhance the system.’
For the team’s efforts, the RWS CMS system won this year’s Infocomm Development Authority’s (IDA) National Infocomm Award (NIA), under the category of Most Innovative Use of Infocomm Technology in the Private Sector (General).
Mr Yap is not new to the Awards. In 2004, as the CIO of JTC Corporation, he won the NIA for a mission critical system built for the company.
‘I enjoy building (systems),’ he said, noting that one common factor across his experiences were employers which were able to see IT strategically.
These companies were embarking on ‘transformations’ in their business models and were thus able to position IT in a key way, he pointed out.
Another factor enabling success in such projects is talent, he said.
‘People are the key success factors. You need to choose the leaders to manage the project, as well as those managing the technology architecture.
‘Also, you need to choose those who have good domain knowledge of the business processes, as well as how to make the system easy to use and implement,’ he said.
But RWS’s IT team cannot rest on its laurels, said Mr Yap.
Further plans for the CMS include pulling in third-party retail tenants into the privilege programme, a process that will take some heavy lifting in terms of data integration.
Mr Yap said it is the next step towards a fuller experience at the integrated resort. Customers will be able to earn points and use them at tenants’ outlets, in addition to the resort’s own.
Another target in RWS’s cross hairs is business intelligence (BI).
‘Our priority was to keep operations up and running, but having gone through about six months of operations now, our next (step) is to develop a BI system,’ Mr Yap said, adding that for now, the team will need to build its knowledge of BI technology before embarking on an implementation proper.
Beyond that, RWS is also working on plugging in mobile apps to its system. If successful, this will allow updated information to be delivered to smartphones, as well as the provision of e-vouchers and mobile e-payment to be done, he said.
Maintaining the massive IT system takes about 60 to 70 per cent of IT budget, with the rest spent on innovation – an amount Mr Yap is comfortable with.
‘You should spend about two-thirds maintaining and making sure you are doing well. A third of resources should be directed to new development and ideas,’ he said.
This article was first published in The Business Times.