A long way since the End of the Universe
I joined in Hills in 2003 when our proprietary sportsbook was running on a Universe database. The challenge then – as it still is today – is to deal with the pace of growth and delivery of innovation. It is a real shocker to think about all the change we have been through as a business and technical community since then.
Replacing our legacy platform with a new system was a real challenge. Those who know something of our corporate history know it involved a false start before the successful implementation of Openbet and the 80 other third parties which made up our solution in 2008. From there, we went onto establishing Online in Gibraltar with theirdata centre there. The race to develop trading systems to deal with the massive breadth and depth of product – for example, over 5 million price updates a day – was a good challenge!
It is fair to say that Hills’ technology team was largely in a ‘systems integrator’ mode during this time, while in the background we were building more and more capability to develop internal solutions as we recruited more talent into the organisation, and built the confidence and trust of the business owners to do more. This is all about finding ways to differentiate ourselves in the market. I would point to our Vegas platform, which was built internally pre 2008, as a great example – it’s always been an absolutely fantastic product for us and one in which we continue to invest. The amount of development spend invested internally has moved from c37% in 2010 to over c53% in 2014, and that trend will continue as we seek to utilise best-of-class third party components alongside internally developed solutions.
The mobile years were next: after a few years of saying “it’s definitely this year”, it happened, and hasn’t stopped since. It’s a fantastic product and technology challenge, and one which our teams are pushing to stay at the cutting edge of in all our key locations – whether Europe, the US or Australia. A case in point was our Apple Watch App, launched on day one and the first to market. Why is that interesting? Because from a tech perspective it shows the investment in our platform is paying off. Our suite of APIs is now in place, meaning delivery of new apps is extremely quick and certainly much easier. It’s funny in the tech game how often you hear about re-use and business cases built on the concept – it’s fantastic to see it paying off so massively for us.
Our geographical expansion firstly into the US and now Australia has frankly been a steep learning curve, but in each case we have grown the technology capabilities massively and have teams made up of existing and new talent who are nailing product development and operations. The appetite to work together across the globe is genuine, with a true willingness to learn from each other. Quite a few individuals have taken advantage of working on secondments and permanent assignments in other locations, which of course is a wonder for linking the teams up.
What’s next? Well, Trafalgar – our new front-end platform – is rolling out this year. It will give our customers a great experience and enables our teams to learn way quicker about what works by rapidly deploying new solutions and evaluating them. ‘Data’ is clearly huge – many will have seen or heard of our recommendation engine demonstrations that have been done at recent events. And there are many other innovative products we’re showcasing at the Digital Shoreditch events.
William Hill is not a technology company – yet. But it is a betting and gaming company that is fundamentally underpinned by technology, and it is brilliant to be part of the team that drives that.