Sportsbet credits tech changes and agile approach for soaring business growth

The chief information officer of the country’s largest online bookmaker, Sportsbet, has credited a changed approach to technology development with a big part in it recording 52 per cent operating profit growth for the first six months of the year.

The local subsidiary of Dublin-based Paddy Power Betfair has become a dominant figure in the local gambling sector and transformed its technical operations in the past three years to shift from having a department managing its IT infrastructure to one which operates as a dynamic software engineering house.

CIO Simon Noonan says it has adopted so-called agile practices and that its fast-moving approach to tech has rubbed off on the rest of the company, with it now demonstrating more progressive thinking and willingness to take risks.

“It’s fair to say I’ve wiped the pre-agile era from my memory bank,” Mr Noonan tells The Australian Financial Review.

“The reality is we weren’t focused. We had multiple competing priorities which meant we weren’t meeting expectations of Sportsbet or our customers.

“The leadership team, including me … are now all aligned on what our priorities are quarter by quarter … and agile has let us have greater transparency and linkages between the goals … and we check in on a fortnightly basis.”

Sportsbet has doubled the size of its technology team, growing it to almost 300 people, or just under 50 per cent of its total workforce.

In the past year the company has launched a “juiced-up” mobile app for Android and added in same-game multi-bets. In the last week it has also rolled out a new “fold” feature for horse racing bets, in which punters can cancel their bet during the first 600 metres of a race and get back their money with no strings attached.

Its redesigned offering for the National Basketball Association also delivered a 193 per cent increase in pre-match bets.

For the six months to June, Sportsbet increased its revenue by 15 per cent to $286.2 million (£173 million) and its underlying operating profit jumped 52 per cent to $76.1 million (£46 million).

“Three years ago Sportsbet was an IT infrastructure and operations house and we had third-party vendors providing us with software,” Mr Noonan said.

“Since then we’ve taken a lot of the software development back in-house, and we had aspirations to be a software engineering house.” 

This shift to agile has also transformed the way the company approaches major events like the Melbourne Cup or AFL grand final.

Previously it would have spent six months preparing for the increase in traffic, but Mr Noonan says that every time Sportsbet releases a product now it has to act as though it’s Melbourne Cup day. It can also scale up its capacity using Amazon Web Services cloud infrastructure and IBM services.

AWS training academy

Having brought its software development needs back inside the company, Sportsbet has begun implementing tech training academies.

The first two the company rolled out were focused on agile methodology and React, the technical language for front-end development used by companies such as Airbnb and Facebook.

Now Sportsbet is working with AWS over the next three months to launch an “AWS academy” within the company.

The academy will give staff the chance to learn how to use and experiment with cloud technology. 

Mr Noonan said the decision to partner with AWS to create the academy was driven by a desire to be on the leading edge and formed a critical part of its 2020 technology strategy.

“We could have created our own academy, but by partnering with AWS we’re at the bleeding edge of technology and we can also learn about what they’re doing in the future,” he said.

“We want to develop our people with the skills of the future. I’ve learned that many people in the Sportsbet organisation, even if they work in the marketing department, would be comfortable working in technology for another organisation.”

The company’s 2020 technology strategy has four key pillars which will shape its future investments: Using platforms to its advantage, having the best customer experiences, evolving processes and investing in the tools of the trade.

It also set out a vision to invest in intellectual property relevant to products and customer experiences, but partnering with other organisations for HR and legal software.

Wagering, gaming and Keno operator Tabcorp has also stepped up its technology game in the past few years, growing its tech team to more than 750 people. In the last eight months it has rolled out two digital solutions to tackle the loss of customers towards online gambling players like Sportsbet.

Looking forward, Sportsbet is focused on increasing the personalisation of its services for users.

“We’re the number one online bookmaker from a turnover point of view. That also gives us the hunger to lift that bar,” Mr Noonan said.

“We want our customers to have a set of products that challenges the normal thinking … rather than the same vanilla offering.”

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