Shannon Bouschor

Native American Interviews & Insights With Tribalnet

Everyday we are surrounded by people we learn from. We never, ever stop learning. Or at least we shouldn’t. And out of what we learn, we gain new skills, shift priorities, pick up new habits (good and bad) and adopt new styles of leadership. When all is said and done, even on our worst days – we improve! Every. Single. Day. And hopefully, at the end of each day, we teach and pass on knowledge to others. As readers of G&L, you are part of an industry that I KNOW is pushing the boundaries every day and learning at an insane pace. So, here’s a bit more to absorb and pass on. Four key themes from articles I’ve been on the receiving end of reviewing for TribalNet, by some notable folks in the Native American gaming and technology industry.

From varying topic focuses such as blockchain and AI to succession planning and team building, it is apparent that to be successful in this industry you must have the ability to:

  • Set a clear path for yourself and others
  • Translate information into a plan of preparation and action
  • Make a decision
  • Be OK with an uncertain future

Take a closer look with me and find out what industry representatives chose to talk about this season that ties into these four themes and success factors.

Set a Clear Path for Yourself and Others

What does an HR Director at a casino, a CIO for a tribe and a tribal board member/consultant all have in common? It’s not a joke! They all agreed on something in their articles. Each of these guys provide insight to a key theme in order to be successful – something every leader should have, the ability to set a path for yourself and others.

Dan Garrow, VPS IT consultant and board member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe talks about the need for a clear path in identifying the best leaders in his article on Succession Planning. While Chris Orozco, team member relations director at Win-River Resort & Casino goes on to talk about methods of coaching employees along the way of development in his article on Leaders as Performance Coaches. Chuck Scharnagle, CIO of the Mohegan Tribe acknowledges the need for continuous investment in employees and provides ideas that can result in higher retention rates in his article on Employee Retention in IT. Here’s more detail.

Dan Garrow, VPS IT consultant and Board Member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe

Chris Orozco, Team Member Relations Director at Win-River Resort & Casino

Chuck Scharnagle, CIO of the Mohegan Tribe

Key Summarized Points From Dan’s Article

First, we have to commit to moving away from “fill the vacancy” planning. In addition, we must develop a path through the organization that facilitates succession. The path must start at the entry points into the organization with a clearly defined roadmap to the top. Define your path, develop standards for skills and activities, create measurement standards and communicate all of this to your entire organization. You will then be able to have meaningful discussions with potential leaders about where they are on the path to leadership and what they need to do to succeed.

Key Summarized Points From Chris’ Article

Effective leadership is very much about helping employees discover their talents through a journey of growth and self-awareness. Then, we have to give our people the opportunity and flexibility to unleash their talents upon the organization. To do this, we should strive to help our team connect with a vision of the future and seek how they can align their talents with their passion and values. Many organizations have established vision statements, but we should also ensure that our organizational vision involves the future of our employees. Our people are looking for ways they can contribute to and grow with the organization they are invested in.

Key Summarized Points From Chuck’s Article

While continuous training and professional development are vital to success, they are often the first things on the cutting board when management is looking for places to tighten the budget. Unfortunately, in IT this can be deadly. Because the skills and tools that IT employees require to succeed change so rapidly, consistent training is an absolute must. Training cannot be compromised for IT employees. If budgets are small, get creative.

Whether it’s setting a path for succession, development or retention, these guys all seemed to nail identifiable points I felt were well worth a share to G&L readers. Let’s see what’s up next.

Ram Patrachari, CIO/VP of IT,
Viejas Casino & Resort

Translate Information Into a Plan of Preparation and Action

Whether it was a writer talking about the need for disaster recovery plans or the cyber security threat landscape tribes and casinos are facing, it was crystal clear that the advice across the board was: gather info, make a plan, put it into action. Fred Brown, CIO & SVP of IT of Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, focused his article on the Business Value of IT. In it, he has several statements that drive home this theme. He takes things full circle and talks about the importance of measuring those actions put in place for the next step in continuous improvement and offers best practices to lead your IT department. He says: “I would argue that the goal of forward-thinking leaders should not be to simply align IT with their business, but to ensure that it is an integrated part of the business. By seeking to truly provide organizational value through technology, measuring it objectively, and constantly improving upon it based on guest and team member feedback, we can ensure the cohesion of IT with the other parts of a company or organization. For business value drivers; guest service, differentiation via innovation and operational efficiency, it is important that you set up a means to measure and report on each, as well as contrive ways to continuously improve. Measurement reporting is a great tool for presenting progress to the board or senior management and ensures that IT maintains a seat at the table when decisions are being made.”

Andrew McElrath, PMP, a member of the corporate innovations team at Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures, titles his article Innovation for the New Generations and talks about innovation in gaming – just the word INNOVATION says gather, prep and take action! He said: “Truly, now is the time to begin innovating to ensure future success. While there are many things to consider in the process of innovation – from making slot games more relevant to younger generations to the viability of cryptocurrency – you never know what your employees might come up with that could positively transform your business. In the gaming market of the future, those that can harness the power of digital disruption through continuous innovation will lead the way.”

So, the advice from these guys is: don’t be complacent. Identify areas of improvement, gather information to help position your department or organization better and don’t just gather information. Make a plan and take action now and for the future. Next up seems to be an obvious success factor but happens to be one of my favorites.

The Ability to Make a Decision

Anyone who knows me, can agree that I can be to blame for delaying my own decisions because, I love things to be near perfect! Can anyone identify?! Sometimes though, that can be crippling. I saved a quote one time that said, “Every day you are one decision away from a different life.” SERIOUSLY? No. In reality not ALL decisions are life changing. And to me, no one said this better and more clearly than Andrew Trawick, CEO of the Truvian Group. I think he hit the nail on the head with this one and readers of G&L can definitely identify with the success factor of needing to have the ability to make a solid decision. Here are a few highlights from his article: “Your decision-making process should enable you to make an intelligent decision within a reasonable amount of time. There is a simple tool that can help you determine how much effort to put into deciding. I call it the ‘R&R decision tool.’ This is how it works: when you are faced with a decision, you ask one simple question – is it revocable or irrevocable? Once you get used to identifying which decisions are revocable you will find your rhythm. This means you create a time frame for the decision-making. Giving yourself permission to be wrong is highly effective in keeping things moving along. Irrevocable decisions are those that are costly to change or have high impact. Certain decisions have such a high cost and impact that it is prudent to spend time and money to debate scenarios that may never happen. You’ll be amazed at how many times you know the right answer to irrevocable decisions if you ask yourself the right questions.”

I think there is a lot of identifiable truth to his statements!

The last of our four success factors is one that in the ever-changing technology industry and culture of our world, is something we all should have in our mindset.

Fred Brown, CIO & SVP of IT of Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment

Andrew McElrath, PMP, Member of the corporate innovations team at Mille Lacs
Corporate Ventures

Andrew Trawick, CEO of the Truvian Group

Being OK With an Uncertain Future

This theme is fun but for some can be an Achilles heel. If you were part of an industry that was stagnant with no change and no unexpected turns and nothing looming on the horizon that may change the industry forever, would you be happy? Maybe. But I think most (especially this readership) gets excited about the unknown. Two hot topics covered that not only represent the unknown but also shout “opportunity” and “possibility” are artificial intelligence and blockchain.

Ram Patrachari, CIO/VP of IT, Viejas Casino & Resort shares his thoughts in his article on Artificial Intelligence. Throughout his article he weighs pros and cons of an unknown future. “The consequences of artificial intelligence singularity is a hotly debated topic in scientific and intellectual circles. Many notable personalities consider the uncontrolled rise of AI as a matter of alarm and great concern, as we can’t predict how it will affect humanity’s future. U.S. casino operators haven’t focused on AI as an immediate threat to their businesses or lives, but many threats are looming on the horizon. A Chinese woman took away $20 million in winnings from several casinos in Macau using an AI backend. An AI experiment called Libratus from Carnegie Mellon University was able to beat four of the world’s top poker players in a 20-day marathon. Computers don’t get fatigued and can quickly learn from each hand played. Casinos can ban Google Glass and other devices that are visible, but how do we stop the Samsung’s smart contact lens when it becomes available in the next five years or sooner?”

Larry Fretz, executive advisor/gaming & hospitality practice lead at Info-Tech Research Group talks about the topic of blockchain and it’s not what you think. His article is more focused away from the mainstream topics surrounding blockchain in Capitalizing on Blockchain 2.0 in Tribal Governments. In fact, his closing challenges readers to be at the forefront of this game-changing technology. Take a look. “Around the world, blockchain technologies are already being prototyped and used by governments in a variety of ways that are directly applicable to tribal governments including identity management, asset management and protection, voting and even property title management and Electronic Health Records. By examining and piloting blockchain technologies beyond the headline-grabbing Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, tribal governments have the opportunity to address the dual challenges of trust and transparency, and to fill the need for data protection and privacy. The question now is this: What forward-thinking tribal leader will take the lead in applying this new, useful technology to drive positive and progressive tribal outcomes?”

Sometimes the unknown is scary and leaves you feeling a bit lost on how to prepare, and sometimes it presents opportunity. These two cover hot topics on the minds of many, and when these topics become old news … new ones will be around the corner. The ability to accept the unknown is a true test to one’s leadership capabilities.

Larry Fretz, Executive Advisor/Gaming & Hospitality Practice Lead at Info-Tech Research Group

So, besides that these guys rock and there’s a lot more out there to master, what I’m saying is take the time to learn from others and share it. Make connections with those around you that go beyond small talk and casual hellos. If you meet someone new don’t JUST shake a hand. Assume that the person on the other end of that hand-shake has something pretty great to tell you. Figure out a way to exchange more!

A big personal thanks to everyone who I’ve included in this article. They are a true testament to the entire point of this article: “If you get, give. If you learn, teach.” -Maya Angelou.

Shannon Bouschor has been with TribalNet since 2004 and is the current Executive Director. She is responsible for the direction and overall execution of TribalNet’s services including their; membership, conference, symposium, magazine and other divisions. Bouschor is the coordinator for TribalNet’s boards and committees and is responsible for the collaboration with strategic industry partners. She has been a contributing writer periodically for TribalNet’s media partner G&L over the last ten years. TribalNet is an industry resource for technology minded professionals at tribal organizations and enterprises along with the vendors providing products and solutions to this market. She welcomes the opportunity to make a connection with you via LinkedIn or email at: shannonb@tribalnetonline.com.