Microsoft and HP Canada have partnered with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation to develop a new data analytics tool to enable the province’s lottery to quickly trudge though the data generated from 1.2 billion annual transactions, helping it identify and combat lottery fraud.
The OLG has collected data on its nearly 12 billion lottery transactions since 1999. This data includes the location and time of the sale as well as characteristics of the ticket such as the numbers picked. The collection and storage of this data from the province’s 11,000 lottery terminals is a feat in itself (the top eight banks in Ontario, after all, only have 7,359 ATM machines). Making use of this vast warehouse of this information poses yet another challenge.
Consequently, the OLG created the Data Analysis and Retrieval Technology system or “DART” to enable staff to make data searches that used to take months take mere seconds.
“DART has been in the making for at least five years,” OLG communications and public relations executive director Rula Sharkawi said. “It is only in the last couple of years that we have had access to affordable technology. Prior to that, it was basically extracting data, and dealing with issues one at a time.”
Sharkawi said that by using HP hardware, and software and services from Microsoft, OLG was able to create a system that is capable of giving its staff information at their fingertips like never before.
As an investigative tool, DART’s now used to protect players and the OLG from lottery fraud because it provides investigators greater insight into the purchase of the ticket. “It used to take us months to do complex investigations; now, in some cases, [DART] will allow us to get that same information in minutes.”
It also gives the OLG “an enormous amount of business agility,” Sharkawi said. “Large corporations always want to know what’s happening in retail, and they want to move quickly and respond to customers.”
In fact, it’s not only investigators that are benefiting from the data. OLG launched a microsite Wednesday that provides information on unclaimed tickets, as well as statistics such as the most popular numbers picked (the “LOTTO MAX” combination 1 2 3 4 5 6 7, for instance, was played 33,196 times over the past month).
The key to being able to make use of the data generated from the billions of transactions are the data warehousing capabilities of Microsoft SQL Server, which was rewritten in 2005 and continues to add features to better store data in a way that lets managers and other staff access it for investigation, analysis, market research and to make more informed decisions.
Chris Brakel, who heads Microsoft Canada’s public sector and healthcare solution sales division, said that OLG’s DART system is an excellent example of how a business can customize existing software and hardware tools to create a solution that gives them greater business agility. He said that this technology is applicable to other organizations so long as they understand their own business and their business model, and what data is important to it. “Data warehousing technology allows you to take in all that data from the business model and glean business intelligence - to be able to make decisions based on trends in the system.”
Earlier this year, HP and Microsoft announced a $250 million collaborative to deliver new solutions built on a next-generation infrastructure-to-application model, to make application implementation faster, and to eliminate the overall complexity of IT management.
Rob Adley, vice president of HP Canada’s enterprise server business, said that one of the products of this collaboration has been the development of a variety of collaborative template solutions, or reference architectures, that make implementation easier. “The simpler we can make it to implement with well-understood expectations as to how the system is going to perform, the better off the customer is,” he said. “It’s not one-size-fits all, it comes in different sizes and variants so that it can be tailored to provide the best solution for any given environment.”
Brakel cited a recent survey conducted by market research firm The Strategic Council for Microsoft, which found that 55 per cent of Canadian businesses polled said turning business data into meaningful insights is a key driver for growth. “Here’s the catch,” he said, “32 per cent of Canadian businesses are using business intelligence software to turn that data into insight - that’s only 32 per cent.”
He said that the reason that so few organizations were using business intelligence was because of its prohibitive cost. The argument that the cost hurdle has been set much lower in recent years can be made no clearer than using the example of OLG’s budget for DART.
“We did an analysis about a year and a half ago,” Sharkawi said. “We had originally budgeted $3 million; We actually spent 1.7 million and that includes services, hardware, [and] software.”