In an exclusive interview, Gaming Eminence sits down with Boris Chaikin, the first CEO of Soft2bet, who previously served as the General Manager of Offsidegaming. Our conversation centered on the crucial role of technology in enhancing gambling products and services, as well as the imperative to leverage technological advancements and address the obstacles posed by outdated systems. Boris emphasized the significance of collaboration between executive management and technical teams in aligning technology initiatives with the overall business strategy. Touching upon a popular subject, Boris recognised the vast potential of AI and machine learning but urged caution in their implementation until they have reached a more mature stage.
GE) You have been involved in various aspects of the industry, including operations and strategic management. Could you share a specific example of a time when you leveraged technology to optimise the performance of a gambling product or service? And were there any specific challenges that had to be overcome during that time?
BC) Technology is what defines most of our industry and definitely needs to be used as a leverage at most times possible. Companies I have worked in have always sat on their own large tech stacks and as such I have been very close to tech teams. In such environments, technological advancements and innovations come natural. What teams and executives need to be careful of, though, are legacy systems – they form quite a challenge in online gambling companies and unfortunately often put a glass ceiling to good ideas, new technological trends and advancements.
My approach to such entangled cases is to try and outsource a certain function to an external provider, or a separate internally-developed tool which is not a part of the legacy (usually monolith) codebase.
This comes, though, with a set of challenges on its own. If outsourced externally, one would face the natural resistance of internal tech teams towards the adoption and integration of 3rd party tools which in general should be done in-house. If “outsourced” internally, one risks to spread his existing resource thinly, hence putting the general roadmap and deadlines at risk. My personal approach to such situations would start with a comprehensive internal discussion, in order to choose the best approach, as well as manage expectations.
The expected outcomes and drawbacks also need to be considered. If outsourced externally, you may be looking at getting some fresh new approach in resolving the issue, something you could then step on in your further product development. The approach, though, may turn out to be a bit too remote (not to say radical) for your company’s taste, hence an internal stakeholder needs to manage the process thoroughly. “Internal outsourcing” on the other hand will quite often deliver “a bit more of the same”, hence again it needs to be closely and tightly managed, to make sure you squeeze the positives and advantages of getting work done by people familiar enough with both the challenges and all the legacy platform’s hoops and hurdles.
GE) In your previous leadership roles how did you foster a collaborative relationship with the technical teams and CTOs to drive innovation and align technology initiatives with the overall business strategy? Can you share an example of a specific project or initiative where close collaboration between the business and technical teams resulted in a successful outcome and what issues had to be resolved for that to happen?
BC) Close relationship between executive management and tech teams is key! And when I say key – I rather mean “critical”. My experience shows that lack of close collaboration (to be distinguished from subordination) can be detrimental to the progress of the company and be the grounds for spending significant effort and resources with little success. Typically, most companies share the same pain-points which lead to misunderstandings, lack of a unified and mutually agreed roadmap, which in turn result in major delivery delays, the disappointment of business teams, as well as low morale of tech teams. It does take daily grooming, relationship fostering and systematic effort to overcome these but the results are very satisfactory across the board.
The main pillars of successful collaboration with tech teams are:
- Mutual respect and understanding – as cliché as it may sound, this is indeed important, especially in heated up discussions.
- A well-balanced CTO – someone who can equally well see the business and the technical side. Many CTOs are promoted senior developers and unfortunately tech skills are not enough for the role.
- A unified business roadmap with clear priorities – yeah, it sounds like a no-brainer but you would be surprised how many people in the business try to influence the daily and weekly roadmaps with their ideas, requests, last-minute half-baked requirements, etc. It is key to have a solid funnel which provides for a clear and solid roadmap that cannot be influenced without the consent of the same people who approved it.
- The SSD approach (I don’t mean here a solid-state-drive but Signed-sealed-delivered, as the tune goes) – once again, I want re-iterate the importance of delivery plans, priorities and roadmaps. Once it has been agreed upon (and often this takes laborious efforts), nobody (neither the CEO, nor the owner, nor anyone) should be able to intervene with it, unless he has a very solid reason for this, and unless all originally involved key members have been persuaded.
GE) Throughout your experience as a CEO in the gambling industry, how have you observed the impact of technology innovation and differentiation in establishing companies as key players in the market? Can you share examples of specific technological advancements or initiatives that have significantly enhanced the overall customer experience and propelled the industry forward?
BC) For over 22 years, I work in an industry where success is driven by 2 main factor – technology and human psychology. While the 2nd factor is still to be more rigorously addressed by most companies, in my opinion, the technology bit is what most seem to be putting their bets on. Looking at technological factors in isolation, the successful mix usually boils down to instantaneous and intuitive user interface, convenient payments, pro-active and reactive customer management which is on time, and on the spot. Many companies have advanced in these areas, some have over-run a bit too 😊.
What I have personally experienced is a positive differentiation when companies I managed successfully deployed innovative tools for customer engagement, player segmentation, KYC and payments. In other words – tools which address 2 of the main customer “issues”. One is to make them feel special and unique, giving them a personalised approach, custom content and private offers. The second is to save clients time and effort, diverting them as little as possible from the main reason they’re on the website – to have fun!
GE) Customer service, marketing, and CRM management are crucial components of any successful gambling operation. With advancements in AI and machine learning, how do you see these technologies' presenting opportunities and also challenges towards the customer experience in the iGaming sector?
BC) AI is here and it seems it’s here to stay! We all need to adapt to it, as well as adapt AI to our needs. My current experience is limited but growing and I definitely do see (and use) the potential of AI in some areas. Tasks which used to take tons of efforts and time some 10 (even 5) years ago are now a breeze and that’s good! This is the logical progression of technology which does not start with machine learning and AI but in fact started more than a hundred years ago with the “previous” technological revolution.
A few years back, launching a proper CRM campaign demanded data miners, business analysts, copywriters, designers, etc, etc. Nowadays, it usually take 1-2 skilled individuals and a well-rounded tech tool. Same goes to some areas of CS, marketing and other aspects of the business. All this shows is that the way technology advances, we (the humans) need to advance as well. We need to adopt new skills, learn how to collaborate with new and more advanced technologies, upgrade ourselves.
Still, although AI advances at a rapid pace, I would be cautious in deploying it across customer-facing areas without close human scrutiny. As I see things, AI is (and will be) in its steep learning curve for the next 9-12 months before we can more safely and independently rely on it for customer service, CRM or more complex case solutions. As usage is still quite limited, practice shows that AI is a bit of a Russian roulette for now and while it may deliver great and rapid results in 8/10 cases, it still stumbles from time to time and then you get hilarious, or even risky results in terms of response accuracy and adequacy. My advice is – treat AI as a small child – with caution, patience and love – until it learns and until you feel safe and confident to let it out alone.
About our Contributor:
Boris Chaikin is an accomplished online/digital business executive with over 22 years of experience, specialising in the iGaming industry. He has held prominent B2B and B2C executive roles within the iGaming sector. Boris possesses a deep understanding of the unique dynamics and intricacies of the iGaming market.
Throughout his career, Boris has demonstrated his expertise in both operational and strategic management, specifically tailored to the iGaming industry. He has successfully built and led teams, developed innovative products, and established market-leading services. Boris's extensive experience in the iGaming field has equipped him with valuable insights into customer behaviour, regulatory frameworks, and industry trends.