Standing at the doorstep of 2018, a huge year for sports betting with the FIFA World Cup and the Winter Olympics, we’re taking some time out to look back at the industry in 2017. That’s why we sat down with Finbarr Joy, Group CTO at Superbet, and Stuart Whitfield, CEO at Erlang Solutions.
SBC: In terms of developments in digital betting, what has been the highlight from 2017 for you?
Finbarr Joy (FJ): Across the industry we’re seeing continued growth and expansion, but we haven’t seen anything really significant emerge in terms of sector technical capability, yet. We believe that a part of our opportunity at Superbet going forward is to work more with digital investment and digital opportunities.
2017 has essentially been a year to make what we do better. For Superbet, it’s been a year of international expansion and seeing our Group brands mature, generating some real traction in terms of relative scale. This gives us confidence in our multi-brand strategy going forward.
Stuart Whitfield (SW): There are new entrants joining the marketplace everyday who we’re seeing mimic the market leaders’ technology choices. Competition is really heating up in the industry, especially as online has clearly become the main focus of most, if not all, betting operators.
Beyond that, a lot of the established industry players are technologically conservative relatively. Because of this, we’ve not seen huge disruptions in the industry this year beyond steady growth and rising competition.
SBC: How has Superbet innovated its digital platform in 2017?
FJ: The main innovation has been around the establishment of the digital platform team and setting the roadmap for digital operations around the organisation. We’re taking on platform ownership for ourselves when many in the industry tend to defer to the off-the-shelf package vendors. We believe this gives us the foundation for innovation.
2017 was the year that we put together the core dot com team, which is the context behind working with Erlang. Since we already had a strong team driving our Retail and Romania online growth, we’re now getting ‘compound’ benefit from the both together.
Our main platform technology considerations are related to the need to handle scale and handle frequent change. We know that there are many opportunities for us in digital. We know that customers are increasingly led by the consumer internet. They’re getting more and more sophisticated. We’re working towards having a core platform capability, which means that we can change pretty much on demand.
Whether it be Samsung, Facebook, Google, Apple, the reality is that we’re dependent on an ecosystem that we don’t control for our product to be successful. That ecosystem is going to move forward, and none of us really know how that’s going to pan out over the next three to five years. We need the flexibility to change on demand across pretty much any point of the customer experience. Our ability to ‘lock step’ with the best of the consumer internet is therefore what will keep our products ahead of the rest.
It’s also worth calling out that in terms of digital, we believe it requires a different operating model to a traditional, or so-called corporate, business. We are looking at that right across the organisation, not just in technology teams. For instance, our customer services team is up and running with agile working now. They’re targeting short-term initiatives that deliver value a lot sooner and taking on a level of autonomy for tackling their own targets.
That’s been really significant as we turn the orientation of the company towards a digital operating model. It’s interesting that one of the first examples we’ve seen is actually in one of the business operations teams rather in technology!
SBC: How has Erlang and Elixir contributed to the betting industry in 2017?
SW: Erlang in particular provides a core part of the tech stack for a number of key players in the industry. It was built to solve the very challenges that online gambling & betting operators face everyday; reliability, scalability, and concurrency. You need look no further than bet365, online betting’s biggest player, which employs Erlang and Elixir at scale to help it service its 20 million users and made £525m profit from a record £47bn of bets last year.
Ambitious newer entrants to the market, such as Superbet and Derivco are also seeking to exploit the strengths of the Erlang ecosystem.
FJ: There are more than just a handful of operators now considering the BEAM’s Erlang and Elixir as technology choices. Across the industry, there’s serious consideration based off the big examples of the likes of bet365.
Erlang and Elixir are a solution to the challenge of dealing with concurrency and scale. Erlang has classically had that capability for quite a significant period, though it’s been only fairly recently that the sector has recognised that. I’m thinking of many organisations who’ve spent a lot of time wrestling with middleware stacks of various flavours to try and get them to scale when actually it’s a part of the core capability of the BEAM platform.
The BEAM is interesting when it comes to the problem of dealing with surges in demand, dealing with the need to scale out, especially horizontally. You don’t have to engineer all of that for yourselves, whereas in other middleware environments, you typically do. That’s been, by far and away, the biggest benefit of adopting Erlang and Elixir for us. There’s a lot of work we would have done we didn’t have to do because we’re using the BEAM. There’s also a lot of reassurance from having confidence in the ability to scale based on its proven model.
SBC: How do you see the BEAM VM (Erlang, Elixir, etc) playing into Superbet’s digital offering in 2018?
FJ: For our .com platform, the BEAM VM is the glue for our architecture going forward. It underpins all of our different services across sports and gaming. It’s the common mechanism across both, holding the whole thing together. As such, it is the common model which we find is useful for integrating our teams but also solving some of our challenges with scalability and concurrency.
We are running with the benefits of BEAM, with Erlang across the whole back-end. We’re also seeing progress with teams in working with Elixir. The fact that you can use the common model between those different groups, back-end and front-end, offers us cohesion. They might be completely different groups of engineers but we can align on that core model.
SW: Superbet is in a rare position of building an online betting stack from the ground up. They’re not having to grapple with legacy software, and I suspect that’s how they’ve managed to attract some of the industry’s top talent. It’s really a green field opportunity where Superbet is able to build their ideal tech stack with fewer compromises and legacy-imposed constraints. This is exactly what we’re seeing them doing, it’s very exciting.
SBC: What are your hopes and expectations for the online betting industry in 2018?
FJ: My hope would be that the industry could take a lead in demonstrating that even in highly regulated industries, very innovative things can emerge. There tends to be too much of a contrast in proposition and customer experience between those who classify as the “consumer internet” – the big four or five of Silicon Valley – and the regulated industries. Banking always gets called out, but certainly the gaming industry to a certain extent as well, does not benchmark as well.
It’s very often that people will highlight that the reason for that is because the regulatory barriers are so much higher. My hopes would be we can demonstrate that it’s by leading with highly regulated customer care that we can be highly innovative. I’d like to think that the industry starts to develop propositions that do genuinely compete with the best of the consumer internet.
My expectation is that we’ll continue to see growth. It’s very interesting how much dialogue there is now especially about potential licensing in the US. It would be a very big market! I have every reason to believe that we’ll see continued growth throughout the industry.
Then there’s eGaming. It’s very early days for that yet. The fact that there’s high participant levels and high spectator levels in eGaming is a huge draw. I think there’s still the question mark around genuine levels of betting interest. But inevitably eGaming is one of the things that we’re obviously going to be considering. It’s in the mix.
SW: I expect to see further growth in esports and peer to peer (or social) gaming. I also don’t think it’s long before there’s a game-changing (excuse the pun) integration between an operator and a significant social media player, once the regulatory buoys can be navigated. We’ve already seen some of the big consumer internet players file patents for betting-related innovations.
bet365’s open-sourcing of their main database platform, Riak, may well lead to its adoption by a number of operators in the sector – it’s early days yet but the technology is rock-solid and well-supported.
In terms of hopes for 2018, I would also like to see technology used in more innovative ways to encourage responsible gambling, particularly as regulatory pressures are likely to increase in this respect.
Erlang Solutions is a trusted partner to some of the world’s leading and most innovative online gambling and betting operators. Learn more about Erlang Solutions and download our eBook: A Guide to Handling Massive Spikes and Loads.