Introducing new games and complying with new legislation simply wasn’t possible on the old system. Changing to a best-of-breed landscape was necessary, but not without challenges.
Rebuilding a multiple stakeholder, vertically integrated infrastructure with no downtime
Due to changes in legislation the Dutch market for online betting and gaming was open to new competitors and that changed the landscape considerably for the Nederlandse Loterij (the national lottery and sports betting operator in the Netherlands). The Nederlandse Loterij (NLO) now needed to be competitive. The most effective way to do this was by offering a better user experience than its competitors, something that wasn’t possible with its ageing IT system.
Something else that couldn’t be done with the old system was introducing new games that complied with the new legislation. That’s why, in 2017, NLO decided to change from a primarily single-vendor software solution to a best-of-breed landscape in which the different aspects of their business are supported by systems from multiple vendors. This resulted in more flexibility and enabled the organization to adapt more rapidly to the changing requirements and future possibilities in the Dutch market for online betting and gaming.
This decision, however, presents a challenge in terms of integrating these different back-end systems and NLO’s various clients (game-specific websites and mobile apps, customer services, in-lane solutions, et cetera) in a way that ensures the overall platform is robust, scalable and resilient to changes in individual systems.
NLO was looking for a technology partner that would meet the new challenges in a manner that is also future-proof. It needed a company that would provide a gateway that integrates the various systems while offering consistent APIs, domain abstractions and orchestration between services. After some consideration, NLO selected Utilus to build the gateway as partners. Instead of choosing an off-the-shelf integration product, why did NLO go with Utilus? What did we provide that the alternatives didn’t?
Utilus has a proven track record in designing and delivering working software for mission-critical systems that often feature extensive integrations with third-party systems to exchange data.
These integrations must be robust when facing temporary unavailability of external systems and provide alerting as well as throttling to prevent overloading systems with requests and lenient handling of various data exchange formats.
At Utilus, we strongly believe that an IT project needs to make sense for all stakeholders as soon as possible. To achieve this, we started with a small prototype that proves both the solution and the architecture work. Based on learnings provided by that exercise, we designed a plan. During the project, Utilus and NLO were in close collaboration and although we used agile methodologies, we think it’s vitally important to provide frequent updates about budget, solution and schedule.
Together with our Java development partner Trifork, we built a gateway that is based on a cloud-native architecture. A suite of microservices is deployed to Amazon Web Services (AWS) using AWS’s Docker orchestration support. This infrastructure is completely configured through software. As a result, new environments can be set up and updated reliably without manual steps. Newly established pipelines ensure that deploying a new release to every environment can be performed with a single click.
Services responsible for different parts of the domain are completely independent. This means a problem with a game specific back-end will never affect other services. What’s more, changes in back-end systems only require updates of the adaptor services that expose them to the rest of the gateway without causing a ripple effect. This ensures that clients are decoupled from back-end implementation details through an NLO-specific rather than vendor-specific domain model.
In addition, centralized logging, tracing, metrics and alerting provide insight into system operations. Thanks to the gateway’s nature, this makes it possible to observe the gateway itself, the downstream systems it exposes and the clients that interact with it. These insights provide NLO with valuable information on usage, availability, performance and error rates and how these factors affect their bottom line with respect to selling their products to customers.
In 2019 we started a second project for the NLO: to build a new subscriptions backend responsible for collections, billing and provisioning of tickets for subscription-based players. This project is based on the same principles and was started when NLO realized their requirements for a new subscriptions system couldn’t be met by off-the-shelf solutions.
The new NLO project is now fully in production and we handle operation for a system with peak loads of multiple millions of transactions per hour.
These insights provide NLO with valuable information on usage, performance, error rates and how these factors affect their bottom line with respect to satisfying their customers.
Over the last three years, the Gateway has helped migrate to the new central lottery system by providing its own APIs which mostly remained unchanged while the new system was rolled out for each game. In this process, the Gateway assumed many new responsibilities, like orchestrating calls between the player account management system and the central system and exposing all player-related operations. This way, clients-like websites, mobile apps and in-lane solutions were able to use the new back ends with minimum effort, leaving all the implementation details to the Gateway.
In 2020 the new subscription system that we built was put into production for the first games ensuring business continuity as games were brought onto the new platform. In the first half of 2021, the final game, the Staatsloterij (State Lottery), by far the biggest and most complex game, was brought live on the platform, completing the original project.
Meanwhile, new legislation will allow the NLO to offer new forms of sports betting and casino games under strict regulations in the second half of 2021. These regulations require all sorts of responsible gaming checks during signup, when making wallet deposits and while playing, like checking for politically exposed people, performing device checks, checking government registries, et cetera.
The Gateway is ideally positioned to integrate all these different systems for these new business flows, ensuring that NLO will be fully ready to acquire its license once the new legislation takes effect. The gateway has thus become the heart of NLO’s IT platform.
With annual revenues of €1.3 billion, NLO is the largest lottery and gaming organization in the Netherlands with a significant impact on Dutch society. NLO offers traditional lottery games, sports betting and instant games. It offers attractive, regulated games of chance to Dutch players.
Every year, NLO gives almost all of its profits to the Dutch sporting community via the organization NOC*NSF. These funds support 18 good causes in the field of health, exercise and welfare. In addition, proceeds are also given to the larger Dutch society via the Ministry of Finance.