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Optus Stadium

Trusted secure cloud sets the stage for VenuesWest digital transformation

Whether it’s Perth Glory sinking a ball into the back of the net, Eminem strutting the stage or the Wallabies taking on the All Blacks in the Bledisloe Cup, VenuesWest plays a key role.

VenuesWest is the Perth based organisation that owns 13 venues and manages seven of these on behalf of the State Government, including RAC Arena and Optus Stadium. Hosting close to 2,500 events and welcoming over five million patrons last financial year, VenuesWest focusses on ensuring world class experiences for customers, partners, athletes and performers.

As such, the demand for our services increasingly requires world class technology solutions to match patron expectations, to meet employee needs, deliver operational efficiencies as well as value for money, and support the rapid innovation required to remain competitive.

The man at the helm of VenuesWest’s technology operations is Chief Information Officer, Richard Bean. As chief architect of VenuesWest’s IT strategy and its three-year digital transformation roadmap, he has a clear view of what needs to be achieved to ensure VenuesWest can continue to deliver world class sporting and entertainment experiences.

Key to this ambition is getting the right foundations in place, which can support deep digital transformation, while ensuring security of operations and establishing a trusted environment meeting the expectations and needs of executives, employees, partners and patrons.

Mr Bean believes that transitioning from on-premise infrastructure to the Microsoft Azure cloud and embracing a secure mobile-first approach to technology is establishing those foundations – and stripping friction from VenuesWest’s IT team.

“We need to be able to support the business so that we can enable them, technically, and not be a drag. We want to move to the cloud. We want VenuesWest to be able to move as fast or faster than everyone else” said Mr Bean.

Competitive response

“Securing world class sporting and entertainment events is challenging in a competitive marketplace and even more so for the world’s most isolated capital city which needs to overcome the cost of touring and presenting live productions. More than ever before, venues that are unable to meet rapidly shifting consumer expectations find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.”

VenuesWest is inoculating itself against that with its three-year digital transformation designed to improve user and customer experience; underpin better decision making through accurate data; enhance the security of the organisation; and ensure engagement with VenuesWest audiences.

Embracing leading edge cloud and security technologies keeps VenuesWest on the front line in a fiercely competitive sector.

By transitioning workloads out of its on-premise data centre to Microsoft Azure it can rely on a high performing, resilient, secure and trusted infrastructure that can be accessed anytime anywhere. Windows 10 devices and Microsoft 365, with its in-built security, provides flexibility without operational compromise to executives and employees, while Azure Active Directory manages access, to ensure integrity.

Bean says; “We really upped the game in the security space. We’re looking at everything that Advanced Threat Protection offers,” along with “self service” password reset through Azure Active Directory. We’ve got multifactor authentication through Azure Active Directory, which also manages access to other cloud-based applications ensuring group-wide security while reducing operational friction,” said Mr Bean.

The focus on world class security has seen Mr Bean deploy Windows Defender on servers and roll out Windows 10. VenuesWest has reset passwords in line with NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) recommendations for 16 characters, and has deployed Azure Key Vault.

Bean tracks VenuesWest’s security progress using Office 365 Secure Score and Azure Security Centre. “I think the last time we looked at it we were at 372 or something, so that’s many times the average of a government agency.”

The organisation has also achieved a Windows security score of 450 and Identity security score of 110 – both of which are also multiple times the average for government tenants and reflect the high priority Bean places on security.

“We’ve deployed EMS and then Office 365, Microsoft 365, E5 (licences) across all of the executive and senior leaders in the organisation. Everyone else has E3, but we’ve added Advanced Threat Protection on top of it. So, we’re running things like Advanced Threat analytics and we’re starting to see some of the stuff that comes up out of that. That really helps us focus on what’s going on and what’s important,” says Bean.

The dashboards and alerts available through Advanced Threat Protection provides daily insights and recommendations allowing VenuesWest to optimise controls.

“It takes all the learnings from the Microsoft cloud and it gives us that intelligence so we can focus on the things that really matter. That’s something that I thought was really great about moving that management plane to the cloud is that you get the benefit of the machine learning. Yes, the dashboards are nice and they look pretty, but their real value is that you get the actionable intelligence, so you can do things to make – to really up the quality of the ICT support,” says Bean.

That’s critical says Mr Bean for an organisation with a strong desire to move faster. “If we need to move faster, then we need to embrace automation and because we’re so small, not only do we need to embrace automation but we also need to be smart about where we spend our resources. So, having that intelligence from the machine learning really helps us to focus on what’s important.

“And I think the board and the governance committees are very cognisant now that security affects all of us and that it’s everyone’s job. It’s not just an ICT job.

“One of the other benefits is that we can see threats so that I can show that to the executive and everyone else at VenuesWest and say, ‘Okay, we’ve got all these botnets. We’ve got all these command and control servers trying to access our services.’ So, that’s a very visual thing for them so that they can understand. If our CEO talks to the board about what a botnet is, that doesn’t play as much as if they can see that in the last 30 days, we’ve had 11,000 botnets trying to access our email servers and our HR system. That really brings home the importance of cybersecurity.”

Cloud conquers

Besides shoring up its security game big time, VenuesWest’s cloud-first approach is freeing the IT team from mundane or routine tasks as server management has been moved to the cloud and Azure Automation handles upgrades and patching.

InTune has been rolled out to handle Windows 10 devices, with Azure site recovery deployed as the toolset which helps orchestrate the transition of workloads to Azure.

The transition to the cloud is proving a revelation for the IT team, says Bean; “When the team sees that they can create a virtual machine in Azure and they do it with code and it goes through a pipeline that only takes eight minutes, whereas it would take them eight hours before.”

The cloud first approach also ensures VenuesWest is poised to deploy new technologies and innovations as they emerge. For example, Bean has a watch eye on AI and chatbots for their potential application in the future, and the three-year transformation roadmap outlines plans for the use of Internet of Things solutions to collect richer data about the 13 different venues and equipment that can be used to drive efficiencies and savings based on traffic volumes, energy consumption, wear and tear, and utilisation.

Long term,the IT strategy flags the deployment of virtual and augmented reality in venues, and the potential use of blockchain to manage contracts.

Working with Microsoft partner Insight, VenuesWest has deployed what it describes as its Azure foundations which allow it to digitally transform over the next couple of years, and stand it in good technological stead for whatever the future holds.

But it’s taking a controlled and measured approach to transformation, rather than rip-and-replace. So, for example VenuesWest has deployed Azure backup and recovery on premises, it is gradually moving that to the cloud.

Besides Insight’s clear technology capability, its Agile and platform-first approach to digital transformation resonated strongly for Bean as did its willingness to work in blended teams forged from VenuesWest professionals and Insight staff that spurred knowledge transfer.

“I think key learnings are: – one, find a good partner, look at the bigger picture, look to simplify. You want to simplify. Everything nowadays is a platform play, so whether you’re looking at Azure as an overarching platform, Office 365 as a productivity platform or Microsoft 365 in that whole and entire stack, it’s all platform play. Dynamics is a great platform to build on. We’re also implementing Dynamics/Provance ITSM within ICT – again, it’s a platform play.

“Instead of looking at multiple, single point solutions, we’re looking for platforms that we can really enable a business. That’s the takeaway to me, is step back, look at the big picture, look at it as a platform play and not just individual point solutions.”

Taking an integrated platform approach then allows innovations to be rapidly exploited. VenuesWest for example has rolled out Microsoft Teams across senior management as a communication and collaboration platform that can be spun up for new teams in seconds instead of the hours and days of effort that was previously required.

The Shifts feature of Microsoft Teams will also be useful for VenuesWest’s large casual workforce. “We’ll be looking at enabling frontline workers with Shifts and Teams – getting the frontline workers engaged so they can give a better service to our customers.”

And as the crowds roll in to watch Perth Glory, Eminem and the Wallabies – that’s what really matters.