October 2015 saw William Hill launch its new sports betting platform ‘Trafalgar’. The in-house developed platform aims to create a joint web and mobile infrastructure for the operator as it seeks further differentiation in a saturated betting market.
SBC spoke to Stu Weston William Hill Sportsbook Director on the creation and development of Trafalgar, and why William Hill is prioritising innovation tech and innovation competencies to stay ahead of its consolidating competition.
SBC: Can you summarise for SBC readers Project Trafalgar’s journey from its initial concept, to its research and testing, its development and finally to its full lunch?
Stu Weston: The technology pillar of our strategy is all about developing the right technology stack to support our aspirations to differentiate via a superior customer experience. Trafalgar, which brings development of our website front-end in house, is a clear manifestation of that strategy.
The first step in the journey was to build a team to undertake the task. We started small with a team of nine and an agile coach, scaling the workforce to 100+ over time.
Development and testing has been iterative in line with agile principles, which means we needed an appropriate approach to releasing the site. Our business is built around our large, highly active customer base. We put the product into the hands of these customers as we went along, carrying out qualitative and quantitative testing. In 2015 we began to send increasing volumes of customer traffic to the new desktop and mobile web.
Once we were comfortable with the numbers we were seeing, we ramped up web traffic and released the new app in October. With our site and commercial KPIs remaining positive, we were then able to start using our new platform for exactly what it was originally intended – capitalising on qualitative customer feedback and making rapid adjustments to the user experience.
This meant that we exited 2015 with both a product that our customers love and lots of learnings about how best to prioritise and use our internal capabilities.
SBC: Your team has highlighted data and personalisation as the key to future growth. How does Trafalgar build these assets and dynamics for William Hill operations?
SW: The Trafalgar platform is all about facilitating rapid deployment of changes to benefit customers. When we decide that there’s a meaningful change to be made to the experience, we can make that change as soon as we see fit, rather than being in a third-party’s queue for resource with our competitors.
These changes are the result of learnings we have developed via A/B tests, and segmenting our customer traffic using the suite of Adobe tools in which we’ve invested. The powerful combination of our learning and deployment capabilities enables us to create a more relevant, personalised experience and cultivate long-term relationships with our customers.
SBC: How do you see Trafalgar developing as a platform as William Hill places a higher emphasis on bridging user omni-channel engagement?
SW: Creating the optimal omni-channel experience for our customers is indeed a key part of our strategy. One example of how technologies like the Trafalgar platform support this goal is through our development of proprietary self-service betting terminals (SSBTs). Our online customers enjoy a vast depth and range of markets, not all of which can currently be replicated over the counter in shops. While the competition are happy to remain reliant on third parties for their SSBTs, we’re forging ahead creating our own terminals that will deliver an interface consistent with the Trafalgar experience.
SBC: Building an independent betting platform, did your team take any inspiration/influence from outside industry development?
SW: We did keep an eye on some high-profile brands who were also developing responsive sites — the BBC and Guardian to name a couple.
SBC: 2015 has been a year of corporate consolidation. In your opinion has the importance of industry innovation and independent development been put to the side by this activity?
SW: Seeing competitors consolidate for UK scale is no surprise. We’re the number-one retail bookmaker by outlets and the number-one online operator by revenue, so we’re focused on different strategic goals. Therefore, the creation of a technology capability that will enable us to differentiate on customer experience was foremost for us in 2015, and building on that platform will be foremost in 2016 and beyond.
SBC: Finally with a deeper emphasis on innovation and in-house development, how do you feel that William Hill is changing as an organisation?
SW: We’ve always been an organisation that has a clear strategy and mobilises behind that. Therefore the changes that you see are necessary evolutions that support the technology strand of our strategy, in which we seek to differentiate via a superior customer experience. Things like the setup of WHLabs and the switch to an owned front-end line up with this.
The culture, profile and ways of working that we’ve introduced demonstrate our constant striving for this superior customer experience. As a result, we’ve become an exciting place to work for developers — we sponsored and sent a William Hill team to the TechCrunch Hackathon this year at their Disrupt festival for devs, we’re part of the Shoreditch developer community, and we’re making use of vanguard open-source tech in our core IT stack.
These green shoots of innovation that the market (and our customers via the new site and app, and our WHLabs beta apps) is now seeing are actually the result of years of investment and work.
Stu Weston – William Hill – Sportsbook Director