Renita Distefano

Seneca Resorts and Casinos


What can you tell us about your IT department and the gaming areas of oversight?
The IT department is comprised of approximately 60 IT professionals and is organized in what I would consider to be a fairly traditional way, by discipline: Operations, Support, Systems & Engineering, Programming, Information Security & Assurance, Application Services, Network Engineering & Telecom and Project & Program Management. Applications Services spans the dynamic of support as well as software development, programming, SharePoint site development and workflows. Our Support Services Model includes classic help desk, desktop services, asset management and user provisioning. Our department supports roughly 150 unique systems and over 5,000 endpoints. Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino, Seneca Allegany Resort and Casino, and Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino; the total install base of slot machines at the three sites my team oversees IT for is about 6,280. This number will grow to 6,660 with the Buffalo Creek expansion. The Niagara and Allegany sites have hotel towers with 604 and 413 world-class rooms/suites at each property, respectively.
What is your leadership style or management philosophy?
Our organization has a branded leadership model or a “way of thinking” based on the Iroquois Great Law. It embraces concepts of Peace, Power, and Righteousness. It is steeped in tradition and culture and deep-rooted. It is ancient and ageless. I aim to be a leader that upholds that way of thinking. My philosophy is that if you make sure that your people are successful, the department will be successful, and therefore the business will be successful. It’s my job to bring the right resources to the table, make sure that our people have the right capabilities, tools and time to achieve greatness. As CIO, my objective is to define the culture of the department, a culture that is built on trust, inclusion and consensus, one that embrace change and continues learning. I hope to create a shared vision for the direction that we are headed…and then tear down any barriers to success.
What can you tell us about some accomplishments your team is proud of?
The reamarkable thing about our department is that we have been able to support an organization marked by extraordinary growth. When I first came to the company in 2006, the Niagara property was erecting its first hotel tower. In rapid succession since then, there has been the build out of the permanent facility at Allegany, the opening of a property at Buffalo Creek, the building of a second hotel tower and expansion of the Allegany property, the expansion and permanent facility at Buffalo Creek, opening Hickory Stick Golf Course and many renovations, and expansions at all of the properties. Along the way, the team has stood shoulder -to -shoulder with the business integrating complex systems that transform the way our business operates. The ability to keep up the pace with this kind of growth is facilitated by a strong IT governance structure. This framework has been, and will continue to be, extremely important to us. It is something that we continuously refine and improve on. We are proud of the methodologies we follow and the model we have in place for managing projects and the alignment with the business that it brings both now and for the future.
What can you share with us about your path to becoming a CIO?
I’ve been with Seneca Gaming for almost 11 years working my way through roles in support services, information security and assurance IT roles. My educational background is in both Business and Information Systems. I’ve been in the CIO role now for about five months and when I was first promoted to this position, I got a call from a colleague to congratulate me on the accomplishment. It was during that conversation that he mentioned that he thought I was the first Native woman to become CIO. It really hit me and the question started to come up in my mind of “how many other women are CIO’s”. Then to take it a step further, how many Native American women have become CIO’s? I can honestly say that I don’t know the answer to that and I am not sure the statistic even exists, but what I do know is that it made me think of this opportunity as a call to action. How can we change the underrepresentation of women at the executive level? Sharon Florentine, reports in her January 2015 rticel in that “women represent on 20 percent of CIO’s at Fortune 250 companies. I’m taken back by this. By for me, personally the statement brought something else to light: if women are underrepresented, Native American women are an even smaller minority of that group. I don’t have an answer to how I would affect the change necessary to improve that statistic, yet; but I know that for me it’s a call to action!