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IT Leader Interviews

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Health Q&A with CAC, Amy Coapman

Amy Coapman

Amy Coapman

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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IT Leader Q&A with CIO, Renita Distefano

Renita Distefano

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Executive Q&A with General Manager, John Dinius

John Dinius

John Dinius

Sycuan Casino General Manager

What can you tell us about your background with Sycuan?

Iíve 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.

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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. Itís 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 ďON AIRĒ signs at the exit of our back of house into the front of house that reminds our employees to bring their ďA gameĒ to our customers every single time they walk through those doors. Gaming is a demanding 24-7 environment to be in and itís important to remember that itís 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.

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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. Itís not just about making decisions off the data, itís seeing if we made the RIGHT decisions by evaluating again after weíve 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 canít remember the last time I stood in line for more than two minutes and didnít take out my phone to connect to something. Our guests expect a rich multi-media experience and itís a devastating impact on their experience when technology isnít 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 ďRapid ReserveĒ 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 canít think of many areas that technology doesnít come into play at our gaming facility.

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

I canít say for others, but for me itís 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. Itís important for us all to remember that we arenít 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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IT Leader Q&A with MIS Director, Jocelyn Young

Jocelyn YOung

Jocelyn YOung

Gila River Indian Community MIS Director

What can you tell us about your IT team?

Our team, made up of 41 positions, provides support and service to all areas of the community, including areas such as tribal government, land management, judicial branch, public works, housing, education, back of house functions, enrollment, public safety and beyond. We are currently setup with different sections for each area of focus with IT; Network, Security/Data Center, Administration, Database (including In-House Database Development) and Technical Support. We also are kicking off a new data center project for the community. I report directly to the Community Manager. The community employs over 2,100 individuals and offers many membership services. Our infrastructure is the backbone that allows some of those services that use technology to be deployed.

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What can you tell us about the technology you have in place?

We are a Cisco shop when it comes to infrastructure and a Dell, Panasonic and Apple shop when it comes to our desktops. We are in the midst of moving to a more virtual environment as well as replacing end of life hardware to help in power consumption. We are still making this transition but already are starting to notice some differences and improvements in efficiency.

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What are the top projects your team is focusing on currently?

We are just getting started with a large capital project for our new datacenter. That will be a major focus of resources for us this year but will be a big improvement for us in the end. We have some new installs and upgrades coming up but the one we are probably spending the most time evaluating is the move to Windows 10 and Office 2013.

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What advice would you have for your peers in the industry?

My experience in the IT department at the tribe started in the database section as the manager for nine database coordinators. As an IT Manager for eight years I moved on to the IT Director. To anyone new to the position of IT Director for any organization, I would say to be prepared to wear many hats at a moments notice!

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2015 TribalNet Industry Award Recipients

Mark Treat, Director of IT accepted the award on behalf of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC)

What are your secrets to success in getting the most out of the resources and tools you have?

First, it starts with what we work on. We work with the business leaders to ensure that we are working on the right projects that align with the strategic priorities of the enterprises. We do this through an IT portfolio management process that prioritizes the list of active and requested projects and allows us to communicate that to the business. This ensures alignment. It also ensures that we not only focus on the right projects, but communicates what we explicitly are not going to work on. Second, is how we do our work. We have implemented a rigorous project management process to ensure the project outcomes that benefit the business are met and done so in a timely and cost-effective manner. Third, and most important, is the IT team who does the actual work. We ensure the IT staff have the appropriate level of leadership guidance and mentoring, training, and tools to increase the likelihood of successful project delivery.

How does the diversity of systems and pace of the industry impact your existing and long-term vision for your department?

One of the primary aspects of the vision for our department is to not only continue to meet the on-going operational the needs of the businesses we support in the timeframe they demand, but also to enable them to grow and transform. As we strive to meet the speed-to-market needs of the varied businesses throughout the enterprise, weíve structured our department so that certain resources are focused primarily on the government entities and others are focused on the gaming/hospitality entities. This improves the ability for these resources to align with and more fully understand the respective business lines and technology needs. We also have organized other resources whose skills apply universally to be leveraged across the entire enterprise. To ensure that the speed of IT matches the pace required by the business, weíve develop standard, repeatable processes which improve our time of delivery. This includes mature project management tools and processes, standardized technology platforms, streamlined vendor/solution evaluation processes, and others. Even contract reviews have become standardized with certain required language incorporated depending on the type of application configuration. We continually look for internal process improvements. This initiative is an on-going means of delivering more effectively. In terms of supporting the growth and transformation of the enterprisesí businesses, our vision includes being partners with the key business leaders throughout the enterprise. This helps us identify and deliver solutions that more closely match the businessesí strategic plans and enables us to do so more efficiently. Finally, the longer-term vision for IT includes doing more in the way of cloud-based solutions to leverage greater economies-of-scale and speed, improved collaboration with our peers in the tribal-IT world to learn from their best practices, and developing closer relationships with local colleges to meet the increasing challenges of recruiting qualified talent.

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Chuck Scharnagle, CIO of the Mohegan Tribe accepted their award on behalf of his team

What do you think are the most important things to consider when taking a concept/idea to a reality and executing?

If you are trying something new, something different for either you or the organization, youíll need the following traits/characteristics. Perseverance because there will be many times when you hit a dead end, financial crisis or times when you question the validity of your project. You need to be able to continue on realizing this is but a bump in a very long road. Keep goals based in reality. As mentioned above, there will be days when you think nothing will work and there will be others where your ego has you believing your idea/ product will be a smash hit. One needs to keep their emotions in check with reality. Very few ideas become instant hits and keep the negative thoughts at bay by listening to your advisors, etc. Finally, enjoy the moment. Youíre doing something that most donít do. You have a new idea and you are pushing it to fruition. Enjoy and learn from the experience.

What does the word innovation mean to you?

We went for this award because we really felt we were creating something entirely new for users. Innovation to me means creating something brand new or even taking an existing idea to another level. Ultimately you are providing a new experience/ service/product for the user in a manner theyíve never seen before.

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Ram Patrachari, CIO of Viejas Enterprises accepted the award on behalf of his team

What are your best tools for measuring the success and impact of your departments technology initiatives on the business?


We track both quantitative and qualitative measures using ITSM methodologies and tools. The primary goal of the measures are to gauge how technology initiatives impact business objectives of the enterprise. For qualitative measures, on the operational side, we track internal feedback from our users on the level of service provided. We focus on availability, capacity, incident management and problem management to ensure stated QOS levels are met per our SLAís. On the project side we measure ROI for each individual project and follow the SCRUM methodology for project execution.

Where do you see technologyís role falling in the casino and hospitality industry 10 years from now?

I feel in 10 years it would be very difficult to discern the difference between business and technology. Here are some of my thoughts; technologies role will increase exponentially in supporting and driving every business process within the enterprise and beyond, extreme data mining and big data analysis will drive every decision in either an automated or manual fashion, smart agents within the enterprise will manage most of the digital interactions within the enterprise and security will continue to be a primary concern. Behavioral and cognitive science theories will form the underpinning of the interactions.

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Displaying results 1-5 of 58