Pathfinders: Microservices for Maximum Travel Tech Agility
Taking an agile approach to technology development requires more than listening to customer feedback and having the desire to rapidly deploy new features and functionality. Without an underlying technology framework built to support rapid innovation, great ideas get stuck in a queue or lost in amongst larger platform updates.
At Corporate Travel Management (CTM) we leverage microservices to power much of our technology stack. It means we can quickly make an update to one element of one product, such as how airline amenities are displayed in Lightning, without having to rebuild our whole flight search engine.
In this episode of Pathfinders with CTM’s global technology leaders, we give you a primer on what microservices are, why they matter for travel programme managers, and how you can take advantage of them in building the perfect travel tech stack for your organisation.
What are microservices and where did they come from?
If you’ve ever played Jenga, you know something about the risks of messing around with the foundational blocks of traditional business software. Legacy applications can support the addition of new blocks on top, provided they go in the same upward direction, but if you try and change something halfway down, or worse at the very foundation of your stack, it’s time to worry.
Microservices don’t need to sit on top of each other, and you can build them in an interconnected lattice, much like the apps on your smartphone. Some share data with each other but you can add, delete, or update them as you please without worrying what the others will do.
Where did Microservices come from?
Microservices as a concept appeared in the 2000s, with professor Dr Peter Rogers using the term “Micro-Web-Services” at a cloud computing conference in 2005. Around the same time, large global technology companies and smaller start-ups began adopting elements of microservice architecture to their operations to become less reliant on large Jenga-like technology structures that were slow and difficult to update.
At its simplest, microservices are an approach to building software applications that breaks them down into a suite of smaller services, with separate processes that run independently while easily communicating with each other.
Today companies like Google, Amazon, PayPal, Tencent, Spotify and thousands of others use microservices to innovate at massive scale and speed simultaneously. Netflix is a big proponent of microservices and has dedicated groups of microservices for everything from billing your credit card to how your watch history helps recommend new content to you.
Now it’s time to quiz our own microservice architects on how they are helping change travel technology for the future.
Do microservices lend themselves to types of applications or even industries more than others?
CTM Asia’s CTO, Kenneth Wong is also positive about the benefits; “Microservices are used successfully across all industries but lend themselves best to rapidly changing industries such as travel, where tech needs to be updated and deployed monthly, especially in the current post-pandemic climate.”
“Of course, for CTM we have the opportunity to leverage a microservices architecture because we build and own our proprietary technology products. Wherever we need to integrate with one or more third-party technology products to suit a customer, we can develop a microservice to deliver ease of integration, flexibility in business rules and bespoke personalisation and configuration opportunities that make it more valuable to the client,” adds Rol.
Timmo Rol, CTM ANZ’s Chief Product Officer explains, “Every business and industry have its own challenges and opportunities and whilst it may seem insignificant, your choice of architecture can determine your success in the market. Microservices architecture can be useful in any industry, but CTM has achieved economies of scale that we need throughout our continuous growth.”
“Our architecture is particularly suitable for us because of the high amount of third-party integrations underpinning our applications – you can’t have a flight search platform like Lightning without integrations with airlines and other intermediaries. It’s provided with a flexible basis and is the backbone of our Content Factory to drive economies of scale and deliver the right content to the right customer anywhere in the world.”
What are some of the benefits of using microservices at the TMC level in travel distribution?
CTM EMEA Chief Technology Officer, Brian Sheerin sees microservices as a direct boost to customers; “The main benefits of using a microservice approach are the speed of new developments and the ease of deployment. Smaller structured services allow for easier addition and maintenance of features and rapid deployment reducing turnaround time on client requests and enhancing our ability to be agile and first to market.”
“For CTM, the benefits of using microservices are directly aligned to our company values, customer service, ROI and innovation,” says Lehi Mills, CTM’s Chief Product Officer for North America. “The use of microservices allows flexibility and surface information where it’s most suitable to the customer needs. Our CTM Portal may not be an application to make a booking, but the ability to surface fares in Fare Forecaster from the same source as Lightning, allows the user to save by planning before booking.
“We use risk alerts and notifications for travellers on the road, but other applications benefit from the same services as providing risk transparency as part of the approval process is crucial too. Lastly, microservices allow us to work with multiple teams in parallel without impacting or being dependent on each other. This speeds up our innovation and reduces breaking changes in our deployments.”
Should travel programme managers be bringing in their product and IT people into TMC conversations to get more microservices expertise in the room when evaluating TMCs, if so why?
CTM’s Chief Technology Officer, EMEA’s Brian Sheerin is adamant it’s something buyers need to be aware of, “Yes, Travel Programme Managers must understand what tech is “under the hood” to ensure rapid development to support changes in industry needs requiring new features or updates to existing functionality. We’ve all seen how quickly travel can be turned upside down, you need to know your agency can respond quickly and if necessary, get help verifying that from your colleagues. Microservices allow for this rapid development and support a truly agile methodology when done right.”
“Travel buyers have seen their influence and responsibilities grow since 2019. By understanding the microservices a TMC has and stimulating conversations with their technology teams, they not only grow their value to their company, but they can help sow the seeds for true collaboration at the technology layer, providing more valuable and personalised services to their people in their travel programme,” adds Mills.
Are microservices limited to proprietary technology a company sells to customers or can they be used in other ways to benefit travel programmes?
CTM ANZ’s Rol sees multiple opportunities for different types of benefits from microservices; “Sharing their travel data in useful ways with buyers and enabling self-service capabilities remains one of our principles. Whether the clients take raw data, we provide flexible reporting or we create features, widgets, tools and applications that leverage the data based on client requirements, it’s all possible within our client solutions.”
“Proprietary tech in travel still connects to multiple industry suppliers and partners. Their ability to interact with our microservices and we with theirs enhances the ability to deliver. The more we can do behind the scenes with technology for our travellers, the more seamless travel can be.” adds CTM EMEA’s Sheerin.
Do you expect to see more adoption of microservices in other areas of travel, such as airline fare distribution or payment?
CTM Asia’s Wong is confident we will; “Yes, global suppliers are already moving to a microservice infrastructure for the reasons outlined above which will make it easier for our proprietary tech to interact with them and help us move even faster.”
CTM’s Global Chief Technology Officer, Mike Kubasik had the last word to say on how microservices are changing travel tech; “As the travel industry moves to a service-oriented architecture (SOA) of microservices and APIs, we’re in a great position at CTM to adapt quickly to the marketplace and leverage the many APIs of third-parties and even our customers to build what they need.