Paddy Power’s CIO bets on the mobile revolution

29 Apr 2014

A Paddy Power shop in Upper Edmonton, in the eastern part of the London borough of Enfield. Photo by Ewan Munro via Flickr

In talking to Fin Goulding, Paddy Power’s chief information officer, there are aspects of the evolving nature of the Irish betting giant that are not too far removed from that of Californian tech juggernaut Apple.

Firstly, Paddy Power has staked its future heavily on the internet and more specifically mobile devices. Sixty-nine per cent of its active customers accessed Paddy Power via mobile devices in 2013. That same year, mobile gaming accounted for 33pc of Paddy Power’s €745m net revenue.

Secondly, Paddy Power’s network of shops in Ireland, the UK and Australia are taking on aspects of Apple’s retail stores. While not quite so aesthetic, the stores feature glittering screens and employees are spending more time instructing punters on how to interact with Paddy Power via smartphones.

“Are we becoming more of a technology company than a betting company? My bosses would disagree. They are very proud of their heritage,” said Goulding. “That said, we are moving more and more towards infotainment and providing people with the fun they crave on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.”

Goulding’s job not only involves keeping the lights on technologically for Paddy Power’s 4,700-strong global workforce, he also leads 400 tech workers in Clonskeagh, Dublin, where he must ensure the company is at the forefront of innovations in digital TV, mobile apps and social media.

That appetite for all things new means Goulding and his colleagues have pretty much a direct line to innovators at Google, for example.

Goulding, who previously held CIO roles at and in banking and finance, is responsible for a multi-million euro business with technology at its core.

Prep at Paddy Power

At Paddy Power, preparing for major sports events, such as the Cheltenham or the Grand National horse races, requires sophisticated engineering to put in place an always-on experience. Goulding tests systems so no opportunity is lost, emulating every possible scenario, from screens going down to servers crashing.

“I liken it to having the ability to still be able to land a plane if all the instruments fail,” he said.

At the heart of Paddy Power’s tech operations are an army of developers and a team of statisticians, analysts and quants specialists that would rival anything a Wall Street bank would have.

“We track activity during major sports events and the actual transaction counts via mobile climb like crazy,” Goulding said. “This year was the first time that online betting via mobile overtook desktop and it was quite impressive to watch.

“Next year we’re really going to have to switch our attention to preparing for an even higher penetration of mobile.”

Goulding added that Paddy Power is on top of the performance of its website and mobile applications in terms of capacity planning and monitoring, yet its trading room is where real-time decisions are made.

“We hire the best quants guys from universities and they are doing real-time data modelling and their focus is on minimising risk,” he said.

Technology drives the business

In addition to rolling out new mobile, internet and TV services and integrating them into the Paddy Power betting machine, Goulding still has to carry out the traditional IT management work that keeps the wheels of the business turning.

Cloud computing is becoming more prominent, and most ticketing and business software is accessed via cloud services. As well as this, all Paddy Power employees are using virtual machines, which enables Goulding to get more out of the company’s hardware investment.

“I’m lucky to have a great team that helps me keep on the leading edge as well as doing traditional IT stuff, such as managing capex and getting economies of scale.”

On the ground in the betting shops, the Apple store similarities aren’t lost on Goulding.

He acknowledged Paddy Power’s loyal customers, some of whom have been customers for decades. Yet technology in retail is changing and Paddy Power has rolled out touchscreens and video walls for its customers.

“The balancing act is to maintain ‘the pub-like experience without the pub’ that customers want and not make it too sterile and clean,” Goulding said.

“The feedback is the customers are enjoying the technology and there’s a relationship between the staff that work there and the street and that is vital,” he added.

“Similar to the Apple store experience, we are offering almost Genius Bar-like services, where our staff will show customers how to use our mobile phone apps.”

Paddy Power has also added Twitter feeds directly into the shops and customers can superimpose pictures of themselves in racing silks to add to the entertainment.

“Everything is about entertainment these days,” Goulding said. “We’re only on the planet for a short time so our task is to help people enjoy themselves as much as possible and that means not being limited by our imagination.”

A version of this article appeared in The Sunday Times on 27 April

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years