Vienna-based internet gambling operator Bwin is "importing IT skills" as it gears up to expand around the world.
The company benchmarks itself against UK-based Betfair, the world's largest online betting exchange. It is expanding quickly but faces problems because of a shortage of skilled IT people in Austria.
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The company has established development operations in Poland, Romania and Slovenia to help find the skilled IT professionals it needs.
"If I have a big project and need 50 people, it is impossible to find them in Austria," says Bwin's chief technology officer, Thomas Kiessling. "Access to talent is key for us, so we will need to expand to additional offshoring centres."
France and other countries are expected to introduce regulations to allow online gambling in the near future, which means IT demands will increase and more staff will be needed, says Kiessling.
"To support business objectives, you need to have talent that you wouldn't be able to find locally, so you need to become a global player and have distributed development," he told Computer Weekly.
Bwin experiments with offshoring under arrangements that include subcontracting work to a small IT shop in southern Poland and a captive IT centre in the Romanian IT capital, Cluj.
Kiessling stresses that overseas teams have full responsibility for projects and do not deal exclusively with basic activities such as testing. They work in areas such as developing the firm's sports betting platform and games, as well as customer management and integration.
"Our approach is that those guys are part of a team and wear the same company colours," he adds. "Even if they are not Bwin's own employees, they are fully managed and empowered by us."
Rival Betfair also has its own captive centre in Cluj, but Bwin does not view the competition negatively. Kiessling believes it will help to create a thriving IT market in Romania, boosting the availabilit of IT skills.
According to Kiessling, Austria's IT skills gap is not getting much attention from the government - president Heinz Fischer was re-elected earlier this month - and the administration does not understand the potential of companies such as Bwin.
"We would love to build a core IT capability in Vienna, but I don't expect a lot from the government - which is unfortunate, because we could work a lot better," he says.
The shortage of IT expertise also means Bwin has to attract people from around the world to work in areas such as software development, architecture, quality assurance, project management and application engineering.
Going global makes sense for many businesses - particularly those active in the ecommerce space - but that requires a cultural change, says Kiessling.
"The way I try to sell [offshoring] to the guys here is that it will further their careers, they will understand other cultures and add that to their professional portfolio," he says. "You need to be very transparent and tell [staff] exactly what you are doing, but our IT will be global and distributed."
Kiessling says IT leaders should bear in mind that technology departments "should not decide what will be produced, but how it will be produced" and that forward-thinking leaders must "open up".
He adds, "It is also very important to be willing to try different things and have a bit of budget available for experimentation."
Bwin technology - highlights
• IT budget of about E80m, half of which is spent on innovation.
• Bwin employs 750 in-house IT staff - half of its total workforce - including 320 software developers with Java and .Net expertise.
• The firm manages about 2,000 servers, with a mix of equipment provided by large suppliers, but does not include IBM.
• Bwin claims the largest Microsoft SQL server cluster in the world in terms of transaction load.
• The company uses agile and scrum development methodologies, as well as service-oriented architecture and event-driven architecture for its systems to keep development cycles short.
• To cope with about 70,000 transactions with banks and credit card companies each day, the firm uses high-availability systems usually employed by financial services companies, such as geo clustering and database mirroring.
Upcoming IT milestones in 2010
• Bwin is undertaking significant projects to update its core systems to accommodate the additional IT demands prompted by the opening up of French markets and regulatory changes in Italy.
• Delivery of a platform based on social media principles, which includes a "shoutbox tool" for users to comment on their bets and challenge other players to bet via Facebook and Twitter.
• Launch of a range of mobile-based games.
Kiessling's five rules on outsourcing
Bwin chief technology officer Thomas Kiessling sees offshoring as a vital tool that should be used by IT departments, but he has some interesting views about how it should be applied:
• Don’t drive your IT function to a country hoping you can expand your sales into that market – these are separate business issues.
• Don’t start offshoring just to reduce cost.
• Focus on using offshoring as a tool for locating global talent – it should be about finding skills.
• Ensure that your offshore team has a particular function they can excel in and take responsibility for, especially if you are spread across a number of locations. This transfer of responsibility emphasises the previous point.
• Don’t be dogmatic about offshoring your own team or hiring a supplier – you can do both as needed, even within the same IT department.