CLMS: A Look Behind Closed Doors

13/06/2018

In the small town of Gainsborough, once a thriving manufacturing hub of agricultural machinery – you can find CLMS housed behind a plain façade. A passer-by might wonder what kind of business goes on inside, as no clues are given, but this is the way Colm Taylor has always liked to keep things – under the radar!

I have encountered Colm’s name and face many times over the years, however, I have never interviewed, or even spoken to him before. The invitation to visit was too unexpected to resist, especially as I am also about to meet two new characters, namely Chris and OLGA. Chris Canning Jones is the MD of CLMS, increasingly taking a pivotal role in the business.

I am ushered up to the first-floor office with a view of the River Trent – Colm was joint owner of the pub group Trent Taverns for six years and despite being Irish and having spent a great deal of time living in London is firmly settled in the area. He is refreshingly open – so much so that I wonder how much of our conversation is going to be ‘off the record’!

Colm Taylor

“I am not much liked in some quarters,” he admits right away but it’s nothing personal – just the fact that CLMS has shone some light into areas of the industry that – while not necessarily murky – had just survived on doing things the way they had always been done. Colm also started out as a retailer and worked as Commercial Director at Whitbread Inns where he was given the task of looking after the machines.

“I couldn’t believe that supplier returns were only done once a month and then the retailer was just given a percentage of what the operator said was taken. I introduced a system where we logged the take on every machine in every pub. People thought I was mad, but I have to be able to work with reliable data,” he says.

After leaving Whitbread, he set up CLMS to manage and develop systems for maximising profits from machines for retailers. Using his machine expertise and the data from the retail  pub sector on machine performance, CLMS is able to provide an accurate picture of where AWPs are within a league table that is not only used by many retailers but also by every manufacturer. With more than half of the Primary and Secondary test machines in an extensive database, CLMS provides essential information to reflect the on-site performance of newly released models. CLMS also provides its own approval to certain titles, in the same way as the leading retail pub chains – something that manufacturers aspire to obtain – in order to maximise sales.

“I have had manufacturers come to this office over the years to try to press me to approve certain machines,” he admits. But this position is not something that CLMS takes lightly. “Our business is primarily about developing systems and collecting the best data we can but it is also about developing and maintaining relationships,” he adds. “I often do business on the back of a handshake and I have had contracts with the same companies for decades. This is because we will bend over backwards for our clients. It’s also because we are good at what we do.”

Chris Canning Jones

Indeed, CLMS believes that it can increase the machine revenue for a retail pub group by good machine management using their cMore management reporting system. And as the pub sector has shrunk in recent years, CLMS has also stepped in to manage machines for a number of new clients some of whom previously employed their own teams to do the work.

In addition to CLMS, Colm and Chris are directors of BeTree, which is where OLGA comes in. OLGA (an acronym of On-Line Gaming Assistant ) takes data analysis to new levels. She is a small connected device, that can be retrofitted to any gaming machine and will send live data on just about every aspect of the machine’s performance, from whether it is switched on, hopper and note recycler levels, to which games are being played (in the case of digital menus) and even if the machine is being tampered with.

This latter feature was what first put OLGA on the map, so to speak. More than once, OLGA has managed to catch thieves defrauding machines, red-handed. It’s down to audit traps – or alerts – developed by Colm and Chris based on what they know to be the normal behaviour of machines and indeed players.

“If OLGA records that someone has put several £20 notes into a machine, one after the other, without any play, then the chances are that the note acceptor is being manipulated in some way,” says Colm. “That will raise an alarm with us right away and we can alert the pub in question and ask the manager to step in and switch off the machine, or make sure we have CCTV images.”

It’s often possible to track the criminals as they move from one pub or area to another and then – if there is good cooperation – pubs can warn one another to look out for the thieves before they even arrive. Remaining one step ahead of fraudsters is a constant challenge. “These days, it’s not about strimming mechs anymore, it’s all about attacking the CCtalk in order to fool the note mechanism to give free credits. If they manage to create a device that works, they will sell it to other criminals. OLGA is the industry’s best defence against this,” adds Chris.

OLGA also has other uses – the BeTree team noticed that player activity increases when the machine’s float is topped up. There is no justifiable reason for this beyond the fact that many players believe that a machine with a full float is more likely to pay out. Therefore, Colm advised his customers to refill the machines more often in order to take advantage of the ensuing upturn in player activity. However, despite the benefits, some pub managers didn’t do as requested, or said the machines had been filled when in fact they had not. But with OLGA on board, the retailers were informed if the refills had not taken place and this soon focused the minds of staff on site!

Another deterrent is the fact that machines’ location can be tracked in real time – a fact that thieves who had stolen several cabinets from a motorway services soon came to appreciate when the police came and found them, and the machines, shortly afterwards. “It’s got to the stage now where we know that thieves are actively avoiding locations where OLGA is fitted. We don’t know how they know it’s there but they do – and that’s the best advertisement for its efficacy,” adds Colm.

OLGA is also opening a new window on the way in which players play and it’s not in the way that many of us think. “Over the years, I have heard so many theories on why players do one thing or another, or why takings are down in one site or another. With all the data analysis we do – we can say with authority that most of those theories are absolute rubbish. People love to think that machine takings are down in that pub that week because there wasn’t a market, or some such reason – it’s almost never the case. It’s much more random than that.”

However, there are a few secrets that Colm and Chris can share – the theory that machines get most plays late at night after the pub has closed? Bunkum. No – machines get most plays after lunch and then there is another increase between 6 and 9pm.

With 35% of the UK pub market now digital, Colm has a recommendation – “it’s all about the price per play and the return to player,” he says. “Analogue is ultimately in decline and I would suggest that the best course of action would be to increase the return to player and set the minimum price per play at 50p.”

What about the random slots that are becoming increasingly popular on digital menus – are they attracting new players? “I suspect not particularly,” says Colm. “It’s very important that the balance is right when it comes to menus on digital machines – retailers don’t like income to jump up and down from week to week. The income needs to be steady. As for the number of games on the menu – I really couldn’t say whether having 4, 8 or 16 makes a great deal of difference. It usually comes down to one or two titles that the players play over anything else!”

Talking to Colm and Chris is somewhat refreshing, I find, as their take on machine performance and player activity is not biased by the necessity of selling games. Instead of opinion and gut feeling, they have the data to tell the story for them. Of course, with many manufacturers auditing their own machine performance online, there are those in the industry who would rather not have a third party looking too closely – but CLMS is used to not being popular with everyone – so rest assured, they will keep on shining that light!

 

 

 

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