Interviews with Tribal Leaders

Herb Kraft, MIS Manager

Herb Kraft

Prairie Knights Casino & Resort,
A Gaming Enterprise of the
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
MIS Manager

 

Can you give us a snapshot of IT support for your department and the enterprise you oversee? Also, What are some of the projects your team has been working on over the last year?

We have four people in our IT department including myself. With a smaller staff, we have to all know a lot about everything! We support all technology for the gaming/ hospitality operations at Prairie Knights Casino & Resort. The tribe and their other gaming enterprise are overseen by separate IT departments. Our site has 725 slots, a hotel with 200-rooms, a gas station, a marina on the Missouri River with 32 RV sites, and is located in rural North Dakota. We have had some business as usual upgrades and updates this year, mainly dealing with our network, gaming and hospitality systems. For back office, we have replaced our HR/payroll solution with the focus of that project to improve reporting and integration of HR and payroll systems. We have also been focusing on end-user security training after we had a full security assessment done that covered in-depth penetration testing, physical security tests and covert phishing attempts. We didn’t do too bad but certainly identified room for improvement. The most critical and hardest factor to control in a solid security plan is the human factor. As we put more information in the hands of end users, their awareness is critical to improve the protection of the overall organization. It’s a continuous focus for us.

The casino is owned by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, I have to ask, how did the protest of the Dakota Pipeline impact your department?

We were dealing with challenges never seen before and likely will never see again which is what made it even more challenging. We needed to address the problems at hand but they weren’t things we could invest a large amount of money in because those challenges aren’t part of what we will deal with in our everyday business. Like our wifi, which in light of what was going on, was highlighted as needing a refresh and upgrade. With limited cell service in our area something like a benefit concert that people were text messaging donations for, was a problem. We had to increase bandwidth for our guests tremendously with the volume of people and things like reporters streaming video. Our hotel was at what some would say was over 100% occupancy. Our department was called on to run dedicated hard lines and patch and re-patch cables for dedicated connections. We had to quickly put policies in place that didn’t exist before and think about things like limitations on toners in our business center due to guests printing thousands of pages of legal and other documents. Not your standard boarding pass printing. Physically the main protest was about eight miles away but we were the closest hotel. Our gas station was overflowing and you couldn’t walk through the hotel lobby without tripping over someone basically camped out on the floor. It was a sight to see.

You’ve been coming to TribalNet for many years and through multiple positions! What do you enjoy about being a part of the network and attending the conference?

I like that it’s tribally centric. Most people don’t understand sovereignty so it’s nice to have a network of people to call on that do. I can connect with my peers to discuss challenges and discover what other casinos are using and what’s working and not. It has helped me and saved me time in researching software and other tools. I also enjoy the camaraderie and feel confident I will get a straight answer instead of pre-screened one. I look forward to attending each year I can.

F. Scott Cannaday, Chief Financial Officer

F. Scott Cannaday

Isleta Resort & Casino
Chief Financial Officer

 

What can you tell us about your role and areas of oversight at Isleta Resort & Casino and the resort and casino itself?

As the CFO; I oversee Finance, the Casino Bank (Cage), Purchasing & Receiving, Casino Compliance, IT, and all development projects. Reporting to and directly supporting the CEO, our structure allows me to function more as an operational CFO than you might typically see in this position. My focus is business operations, profitability, expansion, and process and procedure improvement which, while keeping a tight handle on cost control, lets us spend “smart” money. Having IT report to me creates an environment that promotes solid investment choices in technology. As an executive, if you don’t understand how important technology is for your business, then you are missing the boat. If you do it right, it’s worth the investment and if you don’t maintain it and reinvest in it, it can be costly. We have nearly 1100 employees. The property itself is an 80,000 sq. ft. tribal casino, with 1783 slots, 22 tables, a poker room, and bingo making up our gaming offerings. The resort side supports a 201 room resort hotel, spa, indoor/outdoor pool, retail, and 65,000 sq. ft. of convention and meeting space. We also have a separate bowling and arcade facility, a 27-hole PGA golf course, an RV park, and fishing lakes. Recently, we launched a 40 million dollar expansion and renovation project. By taking the lead on this project and several other initiatives I am committed to helping make Isleta Resort & Casino the entertainment & hospitality destination of choice in our area.

What is your take on IT reporting to Finance?

I think it’s a very logical reporting structure. As CFO, I focus on the overall aspects of IT investments and make sure the IT operations support the direction and vision of the property. I leave the details to the Director of IT and his staff, but stay involved enough to understand what IT activity makes the entire property more effective and efficient and that our end user needs are met. While not an IT expert, I like to say I know enough about IT to ask the appropriate questions and determine if the answer I am getting makes sense.

What is your viewpoint of IT’s place in the organization?

Information Technology is NOT just an expensive cost center—it is a critical support operation—if run and supported properly. IT budgets are one of the most important operational budgets in a casino. IT is mission critical, so their budget is also mission critical. Unfortunately, many executives look at IT as just an expensive cost center. I view it as an expensive (smile) opportunity. I believe the IT budget should include a 5-7 year average refresh of the entire system or it falls behind. Our IT budget gained a new focus last year when I came on board and is now second only to slots for our operational CapEx. And yes, we are playing catch-up.

What would be your advice to executives and leaders relating to technology as a topic?

Non-IT leaders need to do two things when addressing technology—(1) understand the technology—don’t just look at IT as an expensive requirement but really understand the technology and how it benefits them, and (2) don’t think that technology will solve operational problems—processes and procedures must work with or without the technology. Technology automates processes, reduces time, eliminates error, and aids in compliance.

Amy Coapman, CAC

Amy Coapma

Karuk Tribe
CAC

 

What can you tell us about the health services program and technology in place at the Karuk Tribe?

We are a self-governing 638 tribe providing family medical services along with behavioral health and dental at three clinics stretching over 100 miles. The health division employs over 83 individuals and as the Clinical Applications Coordinator (CAC) I report to the IT Director of the tribe. We use the RPMS suite of programs in all our clinics and for billing we use Dentrix in our two dental clinics. My goal at the Karuk Tribe as the CAC is to make the systems work best for the providers. I don’t believe in making changes just because its new technology, it has to serve a better purpose for them and translate to better workflow or patient care. That motto has served me well in this role which I have been in since 2009.

What do you feel is a priority for your team this year and moving forward?

We recently received a grant from USDA/RUS for over $100,000. Funding that is providing us the opportunity to purchase video conferencing and telemedicine equipment to support the delivery of specialty, primary and behavioral heath care services from hub sites in Sacramento and Redding to our three end-user sites in Happy Camp, Orleans and Yreka. We’ve started this project to offer enhanced tele-health and will be continuing it into 2017. In July we had 50 tele-health patients. That may not seem like a lot (especially to larger tribes) but, in compariosn to 2015 where we maybe served 50 patients in an entire year, I’d say we are more than achieving our improvement goals! With our remote location and distance between sites, tele-med is a priority for us. I also think that MACRA/MIPS is a big topic on the minds of many healthcare professionals. There is such a big watershed in how care is reimbursed- it is a big ripple effect and I imagine that to be a hot topic at this year’s TribalNet conference.

What are some of the challenges that you face and solutions you implement to overcome them?

Location, as mentioned before, is a challenge. This is why the attention to our tele-med program is such a priority. Another challenge we face at times is having difficulty with recruiting and maintaining staff. As an interim solution to the issue, we utilize a temp agency to get licensed independent providers, but filling gaps in RNs and LPNs at some of our clinics remains a challenge. Our human resources department is also doing a great job marketing our area more. We have a lot of natural beauty in this region; I personally feel grateful to be here!

Do you collaborate with any other organizations that play a role in your success?

Yes, we do collaborate with and are members of several groups. Our IHS area office is a great resource and connection for us and we are also members of the California Rural Indian Health Board (CRIHB). We work closely with the Healthcare Alliance of Northern California which is made up of a dozen or so clinics in our region. Our relationship with them has been very important as we work on quality care programs. We are members of the California Telehealth Network, which has been an amazing partner to us in our tele-health project. I was asked this year to serve on TribalNet’s Health IT Committee and have welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with my peers in that role. In 21 years of being in Tribal healthcare, the changes in the industry and environment speak for themselves. Aligning ourselves with several agencies and entities keeps our perspective broad.

Renita Distefano, CIO

Renita Distefano

Seneca Resorts and Casinos
CIO

 

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 www.cio.com 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!

John Dinius, General Manager

John Dinius

Sycuan Casino
General Manager

 

What can you tell us about your background with Sycuan?

I’ve been here at Sycuan over 23 years and have appreciated the opportunity to watch this organization develop into the property we have today. Prior to becoming the General Manager in October of 2014, I spent most of my career in slots. My outlook on operations and the importance of our front-line staff is from first-hand experience. As a GM I aim to continue to be just as responsive to questions from them as I am to tribal council while fostering a culture of sincere and supportive leadership.

What can you share about the culture of your company and leadership style?

Our organization works hard to provide an environment for our employees that we want them to provide to the guest. If we provide a positive, responsive and encouraging environment, that bleeds into how our managers and department heads lead their teams and how our staff treats our patrons. It’s also important to me personally to show stability and flexibility as a leader. I make a point to be on the floor as much as possible and lead by example. What allows us to constantly rise to the challenge against our competitors is our level of customer service. We actually have “ON AIR” signs at the exit of our back of house into the front of house that reminds our employees to bring their “A game” to our customers every single time they walk through those doors. Gaming is a demanding 24-7 environment to be in and it’s important to remember that it’s the people (both employees and guests) that matter. We engage in employee satisfaction surveys to be sure we stay on point with the needs of our team members and providing the desired level of support.

How important is technology to you as a tribal gaming executive?

Technology is critical for us in several ways. In the last couple years I would consider myself to have become a more data driven leader. We can all make more informed business decisions when we are able to collect the data and ensure that it matches the intended outcome or goal. It’s not just about making decisions off the data, it’s seeing if we made the RIGHT decisions by evaluating again after we’ve done something to impact the results. Another area of importance is with the guest. Everywhere we interact with them, technology is in play. No one (including me) has patience anymore. I can’t remember the last time I stood in line for more than two minutes and didn’t take out my phone to connect to something. Our guests expect a rich multi-media experience and it’s a devastating impact on their experience when technology isn’t in play. By catering to these needs we are also allowing them to multi-task how they want but also give them more time on the gaming floor. Rather than waiting in line at the buffet, they can download our mobile app and use our “Rapid Reserve” feature to be notified when their table is ready. Win-Win. There is also the positive impact technology has on operations. We are constantly improving operational efficiencies and streamlining workflow and processes with technology, something extremely important for our bottom line. Although people will always be the heart of our organization, I can’t think of many areas that technology doesn’t come into play at our gaming facility.

What do you think tribal gaming GM's should be focused on now and in the future?

I can’t say for others, but for me it’s about a balance of solutions and relationships. I foresee a lot of tribes continuing to expand their enterprise portfolio to include more non-gaming business opportunities. It’s important for us all to remember that we aren’t just driving the bottom line of the business, but the long term self-sufficiency of the tribal government and tribal community. Sycuan also works with over 700 charities in a given year. The importance of our tribal gaming contributions to state and local communities should not be overlooked.

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