Wednesday 15 February 2017

PASS System, Round 2 …. and Has the Race Course Association Learnt the Lesson?

Dealing with racing administration makes you want to tear out your hair, and drives you to drink. Actually I don’t have any hair to tear out, and as an enthusiastic wine drinker I need little encouragement, but you get the drift. Before moving on to the frustrations of the PASS system, I noted that Cheltenham is going to tighten up its drinks policy and apparently one won’t be able to order more than four drinks at a time at the Festival. I’ll be amused to see how that policy works out in practice!

At the end of last year I wrote a couple of blogs looking at the shambles of the Weatherbys Bank upgrade, and then equally the launch of the new PASS card system for owner admission to the racecourse. Both were handled badly, and I hammered both organisations for what seemed to be a woeful lack of user testing prior to launch, which resulted in considerable frustration for many owners. This has rumbled on over the last few months, and indeed I’ve heard a number of owners say that they are going to quit the game because of the endless hassle and seeming lack of progress in simplifying, integrating and automating owner administration in a way that actually works. Amazingly on both counts we seem to have gone full circle, with Weatherbys and the RCA reintroducing important aspects of the old system that shouldn’t have been taken out in the first place, and would not have been if a half-hearted attempt had been made to ask users what was important.

I’d argue that there is a huge mind-set issue behind all of this. Weatherbys and the Race Course Association (RCA) have shown an arrogant disdain for owners. In effect there is a culture clash between young, non-owning, technology-loving types designing and implementing the systems for considerably older, technology-wary owners. All of which argues for well-planned, highly sensitive user testing and feedback to ensure that the complexities of British racing and the subtleties of the various ownership structures are properly incorporated within any administrative process and change, which definitely didn’t happen throughout 2016.

However, as we move through this year, there is a massively bigger change in the system with the proposed introduction of an online owner portal. My wife and I were involved in an early meeting to review this and made a number of recommendations for improvement, and we are heading towards another meeting with the BHA administrative team, which interestingly is being held at Dan Skelton’s yard at Alcester next week, 21st February. I suspect I will be considerably more motivated by what is going on at the Skelton yard than on the computer screen in front of me, but I have promised to be on my best behaviour and provide constructive feedback. Will this be a case of “third time lucky”, and a system is eventually launched that works?

Interestingly the BHA is doing a series of road shows across the country, with invitations being sent out recently to all stakeholders, and I am going to the one at Cheltenham on 2nd March. They have asked for questions to be submitted in advance, and I’m assembling a barrage, particularly to do with change management. It is no good whatsoever for strategic proposals to be discussed, if the execution of them is lamentable. At the last road show I raised a number of points about integrity, which were quite frankly ignored, and yet with hindsight I don’t think I had appreciated how big an issue this was, as it blew up with the Jim Best incident. A long time ago, one of my mentors in business argued that the most deadly combination of behaviours in a senior executive team is arrogance + complacency + incompetence. As readers of this blog will know, I’ve been a big supporter of a number of the changes being made by the BHA, so will be really angry if the launch of the online owner portal turns out to be another own goal. Most of my questions at the Skelton yard meeting will be to do with not just the functionality of the system, but the change management plans for implementing it.

I’ll be absolutely delighted if 2017 sees a significant improvement in owner administration and the launch of the new systems, and am really hoping that in future blogs on this subject over the year I will be able to report on successful, sensitive and user-friendly implementation. Alas, I still fear that won’t be the case. BHA, RCA and ROA, please do everything possible to prove me wrong!

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