Wikipedia defines efficiency as the ability to avoid wasting materials, energy, efforts, money and time in doing something or in producing a desired result.
The casino operators are no different from other businessmen when it comes to efficiency—they seek it wherever they can, and when discovered, try to maintain it as long as possible, especially in marketplaces that are becoming increasingly competitive and bottom-line oriented. Fortunately, there are a number of products and practices that can help casino operators generate greater efficiency, as the case studies provided below show.
EFFICIENCY CASE STUDY 1
Mille Lacs Grand Casinos goes paperless with the help of Minokaw Technologies and Laserfiche products
BY TIM WACKER, NBN COMMUNICATIONS
Somewhere around 2014 it became clear that the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe’s human resources department needed help processing paperwork.
Trucking folders full of new employee on-boarding, health benefits and tax forms from the tribe’s Grand Casino Mille Lacs and Grand Casino Hinckley to corporate headquarters, a 55-mile trip, was becoming too costly for the tribe’s fast-growing business arm Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures. And not every document that went on the truck found its way to the proper location.
Faxing wasn’t much better—sometimes documents had to go back and forth, and around the fourth time through the fax machine they became unreadable. The records that were not too faint to read or lost in transition would often sit awaiting approval from administrators buried in paperwork and unaware of the pending workload.
“When someone who needed to approve a contract was out of the office, it would just sit there on his/her desk,” said Lance Dutcher, the business solutions architect for Minokaw Technologies, a subsidiary of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. “Sometimes it took three months or more to get a contract approved. And then there were often multiple copies of those contracts for the different departments working on them. Legal didn’t know what corporate had and corporate didn’t know what legal had. One hand did not know what the other was doing. We were spending too much time keeping track of paperwork.”
Time was not the only thing lost. Contracts that were not approved on time often carried with them a 10 to 15 percent penalty, which cost the tribe untold sums of money. Dutcher said the cost was incalculable due to the different provisions in the contracts for entertainers and vendors.
The casinos were growing rapidly, and the growth brought more HR forms and contracts. So Dutcher looked for a way to eliminate the paper as well as all of the issues associated with it so Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures could effectively scale the business.
The first step was the purchase of a Laserfiche enterprise content management system, which enabled Dutcher to store digital images of HR documents from both of the casinos as well as headquarters in a single electronic repository. The conversion provided immediate and tangible benefits.
Lost documents were a thing of the past as was the time consuming process of shipping records back and forth. Employees no longer had to deal with faded and lost paperwork. Now the staff quickly locates any files by searching key terms and phrases, rather than digging through file cabinets and transporting files between locations via truck.
By using digital rather than paper documents, the casinos were able to sharply reduce the overhead costs of printing, shredding and storing more than 45,000 pages annually. Additionally, no more staff time was wasted looking for lost or misplaced documents.
The conversion to electronic files was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of savings, however. The newly digitized documents also allow for better business process management through the Laserfiche ECM system. The system allows the casinos to design electronic workflows around digital documents, automating many time-consuming manual tasks and eliminating much of the casinos’ manual data entry—a common source of human error—as well as copying, mailing and the physical routing of documents.
Dutcher began his effort in the human resources department, which had been manually moving paperwork from place to place. The department used the ECM system to automate the routing of documents to the necessary personnel as they were reviewed, approved and processed.
“Once we finished automating human resource processes, we realized that electronic content management could save us so much more than the time spent in document search and retrieval, which represented a significant savings in itself,” Dutcher said.
The next step was to automate contract review and approval, which was a very similar process to the one used for HR, according to Dutcher. One contract that had cost the tribe $100,000 annually was eliminated completely in this process. All were produced much more timely, eliminating the majority of the late charges, Dutcher said.
Dutcher designed the new processes to automatically send notifications if approvals are late, helping managers identify any bottlenecks in the approval process and take corrective action if warranted.
“We eliminated the paperwork-waiting-on-administrators’ desks problem,” Dutcher said. “And we’re still working with the system to automate many more processes.”
The paper-based systems are eliminated, so they are maintained in a much timelier manner. Seeing the vast improvements in time and cost savings with HR and contracts, Dutcher created some 600 new workflows, providing a variety of benefits.
Marketing is benefiting from faster approval time for entertainment contracts, advertising copy and agreements with media outlets, according to Dutcher.
Additionally, Mille Lacs has been able to take advantage of a remote workforce for some of its needs. For example, rather than have all of its lawyers at its headquarters, Mille Lacs now uses the services of some attorneys in California and other locations.
“We were never able to do that before,” Dutcher said.
He adds that the ECM system will provide other advantages as he builds new workflows for other areas. The success Dutcher has had has encouraged top executives at Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures to allow Dutcher to expand Minokaw’s services to other Ojibwe ventures and to other tribes across the country.
“Laserfiche is well known throughout the Indian gaming community,” Dutcher said. “Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures will benefit greatly as Minokaw Technologies expands.”
Tim Wacker is a technical writer for NBN Communications, a market research and writing services company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Minokaw Technologiesis a tribally owned technology company that specializes in the sales and development of Enterprise content management software, specifically Laserfiche. For more information, visit www.minokaw.com.
EFFICIENCY CASE STUDY 2
When it comes to managing sustainability efforts, a dashboard system can prove a strategic and cost-savings boon
BY STEPHEN P. ASHKIN, SUSTAINABILITY DASHBOAD TOOLS
You can’t monitor what you can’t measure, and because few things in life remain constant—including your casino—what you can’t measure may be getting better . . . but it may also be getting worse.
But how would you know? If things are going downhill, such as gross intake, not only will you not know it, but you won’t be able to take steps to turn things around. Conversely, if the money is just flowing in, how will you know and, even more important, how will you know why this happy set of circumstances is happening?
With many casino operators now becoming much more focused on sustainability—if for no other reason than to enjoy the cost savings it can provide—measuring and monitoring have never been more important. To help in this endeavor, what has evolved in the past 10 years or so are web-based or computer-based “dashboard” systems designed to do the heavy lifting when it comes to calculating such things as energy use, water consumption, fuel consumption, waste and a number of other “metrics,” as they are sometimes referred to when it comes to sustainability.
We also hear these metrics termed “key performance indicators,” or KPIs. A KPI takes measuring metrics a step further. With a KPI, we are looking not only for measurable values but goals and objectives…to see how effectively a facility, company or, in this case, a casino is achieving its specific goals and objectives when it comes to sustainability. For instance, if the goal in a Las Vegas casino is to reduce water consumption in 2016 by 15 percent, but we find in July 2016 that it has reduced water consumption by only 7 percent, then we know that we have a ways to go to meet our goal.
A DASH OF HISTORY
While sustainability dashboard systems are relatively new to casino operators as well as hospitality owners and managers in general, they have actually been around in one form or another for more than 40 years. Originally they were called business intelligence (BI) systems and were known best as data delivery systems. These BI systems were developed to provide top executives, such as those in a bank or at a stock brokerage, with up-to-the-minute computer-generated facts and figures regarding sales, costs, profits, cash flow and so on.
They were considered very high tech in their day and looked very similar to the old room-sized IBM machines of the 1950s and 1960s. They were even featured in movies, most prominently in the original Thomas Crown Affair starring Steve McQueen.
The word dashboard did not come about until the 1990s. No longer were room-sized computers necessary; a desktop computer could do the job. Further, with advances in the personal computer industry, presenting information in a graphical format—instead of just numbers—was becoming more and more commonplace. Early developers likely coined the term “dashboard” because automobile dashboards were often used as a model for the software programs designed for these systems. The goal was to provide a quick and easy way to present a variety of information all on one screen.
HOW DASHBOARDS WORK
Earlier we referred to dashboards as data delivery systems. This is a fairly accurate description of what dashboards are and what they do. Data is delivered into these systems using a personal computer, tablet or similar device. When measuring sustainability, the type of data entered or retrieved includes the following:
• Facility fuel and gas consumption (for HVAC systems, etc.);
• Waste removal and recycling;
• Water consumption;
• Transportation costs (e.g., fuel used by company vehicles);
• Amount of consumables used, such as paper products and ink cartridges; and
• Number of cleaning items used, such as cleaning supplies and chemicals (most specifically, non-Green cleaning products because they can have the biggest impact on the environment).
Often the initial data entered into these systems consists of items considered “low-hanging fruit”—that is, easily gathered information such as electricity use, water use, fuel consumption and the costs related to each. Gathering and entering this data are often simple because most utility companies store such information, and, in some cases, it can even be downloaded directly from the utility. When this is not possible, the data can be entered manually. While this may take a little time, some systems are designed to make this task relatively quick and easy.
When beginning the process, casino owners and managers should enter information not only for a month or two, but going back two or more years. Why? Because this information will be used to create a benchmark for future improvements. Also, it will “smooth out the data.” Often there are spikes or dips in, for instance, energy consumption. Data collected over a longer period of time will provide a more robust and accurate overall picture; data taken over only a short period of time may distort the metrics.
USING THE INFORMATION
Now that data has been inputted into the dashboard system, casino owners and managers can use these systems to compare, say, past and current electricity usage and related costs. And, for KPI purposes, also track their progress toward reducing that consumption and its expense.
Additionally, an effective dashboard system allows users to do the following:
View current data—Using dashboards, owners and managers can access the most recent stats regarding resource consumption and related data. Some web-based systems provide this information graphically, numerically, as well as in detailed printed reports. Having up-to-date information allows owners and managers to see current trends and needs and to react sooner.
Track and monitor costs—Dashboard systems allow casino and hospitality owners and managers to track many of their operating costs in great detail. If costs in a specific metric—water consumption, for instance—increases dramatically on a month-to-month basis, owners and managers now have this information and can take steps to determine why it is happening and where there might be a problem, and then take steps to address it.
Provide environmental focus for staff—Using consumption information, casino and hospitality facilities that are trying to reduce their property’s environmental footprint can focus on those areas where problems can be addressed quickly, as well as make plans to address those areas that might take more time. Never underestimate the value of your staff when it comes to sustainability. They can become your “sustainability warriors.” They often have firsthand knowledge of how the property operates and can see quickly ways in which to cut consumption.
Create a culture of sustainability—Many facilities are now using dashboard information to create what is referred to as a “culture of sustainability.” Such a culture means that all casino staff members—and even vendors servicing the property—are focused on the many ways in which they can personally reduce property consumption and costs.
Compare data—Let’s say you have two or more comparable casinos. Dashboard systems can be used to compare multiple properties of the same size and use, by means of the data collected from the dashboard data for each property (in some cases, one dashboard system can be used for multiple properties). Why is, for example, property A using so much more water and electricity than property B? With the necessary data in hand, steps can be taken to answer this question and institute corrective measures.
Interestingly, many hospitality facilities are now finding that operating their facilities in a greener and more sustainable manner not only reduces costs and consumption but also can be used as a marketing tool. This can be true of casinos as well.
Operating in an environmentally responsible way tells patrons that the facility is more efficiently operated and that it is taking steps to ensure the health and comfort of guests and to protect the environment and natural resources, all at the same time. Further, it demonstrates that casino owners and staff are taking proactive steps to protect the health and welfare of future generations as well.
Stephen P. Ashkinis CEO of Bloomington, Ind.-based Sustainability Dashboard Tools, a cloud-based dashboard that allows organizations to measure, report and improve their sustainability efforts. He is also the coauthor of TheBusiness of Green Cleaningand Green Cleaning for Dummies, and can be reached at www.green2sustainable.com.