Harrah's takes digital video onto the network

Harrah's Corporation has signed on Cisco as a technology partner for the next 10 years as the company readies itself to deploy network video surveillance and digital consumer interaction technologies. The terms of the contract with Cisco, which is primarily a technology and service agreement, were not disclosed, but according to Cisco's Steve Collen, this was a very significant deal for Cisco. "Even in Cisco terms, this was a very large deal for the company," said Collen, who serves as director of business development for Cisco's physical security business unit. The agreement covers 31 Harrah's casino properties in the U.S. and abroad.

"We are engaging with Cisco to help us architect and enable the next generation of our innovative vision for guest offerings across our existing portfolio of worldwide resorts as well as exciting new resorts, new channels and new guest experiences that we are developing from the ground up," said Tim Stanley, CIO for Harrahs' Entertainment, explaining the agreement.

While the deal was significant financially, it also represents a step away from the norm in terms of contract length; the 10-year contract is considerably than most business agreements signed in the casino industry, added Collen.

The contact was handled through the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG), which serves partly as a consulting arm for enterprise-level projects. According to Howard Lock, director of transportation and hospitality markets for the IBSG, the project starts with video surveillance solutions as Harrah's takes its video surveillance system onto its data network.

The core of the agreement sees Cisco's Stream Manager technology (which is deployed as part of Cisco's encoders/decoders, digital storage solutions, and in NVR-like combined encoder/network storage solutions). The Stream Manager technology creates a secure, traffic managed tunnel on the corporate network, and the technology is fairly specific to the casino industry, which commonly faces gaming commission requirements that external access not be allowed to a camera system except in extremely extenuating circumstances.

Additionally, Collen said that the company was very interested in how the Stream Manager allowed Harrah's to connect other systems like the retail point-of-sale systems and the event management systems in with the video; it was something the company couldn't do when the video was locked into the camera/matrix/DVR analog format.

As the agreement moves forward, Lock, says that the technology agreement may see Cisco technologies like telepresence (the company's high-end video chat system) and custom, interactive digital signage fit into the technology needs at Harrah's. Currently, Harrah's the telepresence system is being deployed for the senior management.

According to Lock, the discussions between the two companies didn't start on the topic of property surveillance or even telepresence-enabled senior management communications.

"The conversation began around how Harrah's could create an entirely new type of customized guest experience," said Lock, who noted that the company was very interested in ideas of using telepresence for projects like virtual concierge systems, or digital signage as a way to convey additional information to guests. Lock added that the company has also recognized that its business network will need modernization to effectively deploy many of these data-intensive technologies.

While Harrah's is adopting the Stream Manager systems (which came out of the acquisition of SyPixx two years ago), the company is not currently deploying any of Cisco's recently launched IP/network cameras, though Collen said he would hope to see that in the future. Collen noted that many casinos have first adopted IP cameras in the ancillary non-gaming areas (such as food and beverage), and that might be a solution for Harrah's as well.

Collen also noted that analytics is a potential solution for Harrah's, and while he said that video analytics is still too nascent to be used for safety purposes, Collen said it had promise in the gaming and hospitality markets for issues like reception desk queue management. "If the system detects too many people, it could send an alert to request another staff member for the reception desk," suggested Collen.