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We can talk about innovation in business terms of its impact on revenue and profit, or in productivity terms of agile releases and faster resolutions. But the most sustainable class of innovation comes from a cultural shift in the mindset of organizations.

Though culture implies warm and fuzzy elements, don’t let me make it sound easy to pull off. Any cultural innovation shift must prove itself worthy beyond the clinical business imperatives of growth, and serve many masters. It must repeatably find new ways to delight customers. It must make employees and partners desire the opportunity to work with you. It must even benefit the world outside your organization.

I attended the TIBCO Now Chicago summit last week and was struck by the recurrence of this cultural innovation shift, as I heard from technology leaders in attendance.

Expanding the empire with cultural ambassadorship at Caesars

I got to interview Les Ottolenghi, executive vice president and chief information officer at Caesars Entertainment Corp., one of the world’s largest hospitality companies with more than 50 resorts globally.

“All of the innovation happening with our infrastructure in the back end is really about evolving our business model, and delivering the customer experience of the future,” he said.

This “casino of the future” isn’t about table games and slots, though they’ll always be there. For instance, across the Las Vegas hospitality industry, the revenue percentage from gambling has dropped from 51 percent in 1998 to about 28 percent today.

Caesars is pushing to serve a new generation of “digital natives” with mobile-first gaming interaction, live talent competitions, and immersive “fan caves,” virtual experience surroundings and streaming media studios that attract partners from both real sports and the rapidly growing e-sports category.

Yet to make this transformation, Ottolenghi and his team have slogged through six major and 15 minor transformation projects on an amazingly ancient spaghetti architecture supporting millions of loyalty customers, including a 45-year-old casino management server.

They started at the service bus, gradually consuming or replacing core back-end systems with newer SaaS providers, including Salesforce Marketing Cloud for customer relationship management and offers, a new Adobe Systems Inc. content manager, new Infor Inc. hotel management system, private cloud analytics packages and even a blockchain loyalty points system developed with Microsoft Corp. TIBCO’s Cloud Mashery was employed atop the messaging layer to allow secure API interaction with outside mobile devices and virtual rooms.

“We just launched the Blackfire project in partnership with the UNLV hospitality research program,” Ottolenghi said. “It’s the first 200,000-square-foot building which is the complete digital twin of a casino: gaming, hotel, food and beverage and retail, where we can run every build/deploy of a new project before we roll it out to resorts, for instance the Kind Heaven restaurant where you can dine in simulated settings from the 1920s, or in the future, with space aliens.”

Talk about a test culture! It’s like putting a whole casino in a wind tunnel.

But this cultural shift isn’t just about creating cool visuals and buyer incentives. With ever-increasing cybersecurity threats, social media harassment and the ever-present possibility of gun violence, Ottolenghi and his team are also highly motivated to improve the data privacy and physical security of every employee and customer they interact with.

“We’re using a cognitive architecture, and facial recognition to work on building security as a platform, so customers can be safer whether in our environments or in our competitor’s environments,” he said.