Jockey Club Round Table 1999; Substance on the Table

First, it was an investment that amounts to more than $100 million by media giant TV Guide Inc. Now, it's a partnership with IBM Global Services, dubbed the world's leading provider of information technology solutions.

Details on the latest venture, announced at the 47th Jockey Club Round Table held in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Aug. 15, are sketchy at best. And though the monetary value of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's partnership with IBM Global Services isn't yet known, its ramifications are immense.

The presentation by IBM Global Services manager Mark Elliott was last, but certainly not least, on the Round Table agenda. The conference included the introduction of James Gallagher, head of the NTRA's Task Force on Racing Integrity and Drug Testing Standards, and a presentation by Peter Boylan III, president and chief operating officer of TV Guide, parent company of the TV Games Network.

In addition, Equibase Co. chairman Alan Marzelli announced plans to relaunch the company's Web site and offer many more services to consumers. The traditional welcome and closing was given by Jockey Club chairman Ogden Mills Phipps.

Elliott said IBM has spent "six to eight weeks trying to build up know-ledge of how the industry operates." Early observations produced what he called a "problem statement" -- competition for the gambling dollar, a need to control costs, and creation of new revenue streams.

IBM Global Services has four areas in which it intends to assist the NTRA. They are creation of a "broadband national network," support for the TVG, launch of Internet-based businesses, and implementation of database marketing programs. Elliott also said the company is "interested in creating financing packages," which would provide a huge incentive for industry participation.

A broadband network employs fiber optic technology, which allows for much more capacity and cost savings once in place. The effect such a national system would have on simulcasting alone -- should most signal providers participate -- is mind-boggling.

Elliott didn't offer a timeline for implementation of the programs, but he used phrases such as "standard enterprise infrastructure," "virtual enterprise," and "common vision and goals" to describe the venture. Given that, it seems the plans will involve the industry at large, and the very basis of how it operates in regard to the transmission of information.

"Any look at the future these days -- by an industry -- necessarily involves the implications of an increasingly digital, networked world," NTRA commissioner Tim Smith said in a prepared statement. "If this is generally so for all industries, it is arguably even more compelling for a business like ours that -- at its core -- so directly involves information management."

In a follow-up interview, Smith, one of the key speakers at the Round Table, said a partnership with IBM Global Services is "significant and encouraging. They're willing to tackle this on an expedited basis, and they know the right technology."

Smith acknowleged that, like the NTRA's group-purchasing endeavor, the more, the merrier. "To make it work, there have to be incentives (for both parties)," he said. "It'll be our job to get people behind the system."

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