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Gambling giant faces IT skills shortage in Austria

4/30/10 - The IT publication Computer Weekly has published an interesting interview with Thomas Kiessling, chief technical officer of the Vienna-listed online gambling giant Bwin Interactive.
In the interview, Kiessling reveals that the group is importing IT skills due to the shortage of  skilled personnel in Austria as it gears up to expand around the world.
The company benchmarks itself against UK-based Betfair, the world's largest online betting exchange, Computer Weekly claims, adding that Bwin has established development operations in Poland, Romania and Slovenia and is looking into possible partnerships in Asia 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 Kiessling. "Access to talent is key for us, so we will need to expand to additional offshoring centres."
Kiessling commented that new gambling regulations in France, Italy and other countries are expected to allow online gambling in the near future, which means IT demands will increase and more staff will be needed.
"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 revealed.
“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,” he said.
"Our approach is that those guys are part of a team and wear the same company colours. Even if they are not Bwin's own employees, they are fully managed and empowered by us."
The technical exec opined that Austria's IT skills gap is not getting much attention from the [Austrian] government 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 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, said Kiessling, who stressed that in doing so the company had to be very transparent.
"You need to be very transparent and tell [staff] exactly what you are doing, but our IT will be global and distributed," he said.
"It is also very important to be willing to try different things and have a bit of budget available for experimentation."
The numbers:
Kiessling presented some interesting facts and figures in the interview, saying that the IT budget at Bwin was currently around Euro 80 million, half of which is invested in innovation. The company employed 750 in-house IT staff – half its total workforce – including 320 software developers with Java and Net expertise.
Kiessling’s division manages some 2 000 servers with a mix of equipment provided by large suppliers. Bwin claims it has 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.
Bwin handles some 70 000 transactions with banks and credit card companies each day, using high-availability systems usually employed by financial services companies, such as geo clustering and database mirroring.
Among the current major projects are core system updates to handle regulatory changes in France and Italy; the development of a platform based on social media principles, where users will be empowered to comment on their bets and challenge other players to bet via Facebook and Twitter; and preparation to launch a range of mobile-based games.

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