CIO100 2017 #31-100: Philip Ball, Serko
Serko is constantly trying to evolve the way it does things, but this can sometimes be challenging with a product that was originally built 14 years ago says company CIO/chief technical officer Philip Ball.
Serko provides web and mobile-based travel and expense management products .
“The company has been looking at new ways that we can break things up to continue to develop in the newer technologies, which in turn allows teams to research new and exciting things. It also gives us the added benefit of having them excited about turning up to work each day,” he says.
“In the past year, we have had some requirements that we couldn't achieve with our current architecture. This was because we didn't always have control of the consuming applications.
“We didn't want to create just one API surface for our software, we wanted to create it in such a way that it was all broken down into the smallest functional areas possible.
“To achieve this, we created a Micro Service architecture that enables all of our services to communicate with each other and have their own separate concerns. This was no mean feat, as we had to make it perform as well as being secure. But we have achieved that."
It has been so successful that his team are now able to create APIs within a day in many cases, he states. To achieve this, the team has created a number of templating applications that build all the foundation code for the API.
“Part of our desire was to build these APIs with as little intervention as possible, which also includes the build, test and deployment pipelines. We are currently in the process of completing an automated process from creating the API to deploying it to production. With this we will be able to think of an idea in the morning and have it deployed to production by the afternoon.”
He says Serko has completed multiple technology-driven transformational activities.
The company has taken the build time of deployments from 40 minutes to under 10 minutes, allowing faster upgrading of the cloud infrastructure in production. As well, up to 20 hours per week is saved for internal test deployments where builds are deployed much faster across all the teams, says Ball.
Ball says that performance of systems has created focused teams, which have increased the overall product performance.
Within the company’s cloud infrastructure, server builds are almost completely built using automation script.
“This means we can be sure what our servers are going to look like and that all of our environments look exactly the same,” he says.
Serko has a core focus on R&D, which takes around 65 per cent of the total resources of the company. Hardware and operational costs are controlled through the correct financial sign-off and budget processes.
“We also assess the scalability and usage of the system in real time, so the decisions around operational spend can be balanced. We run real time analytics that take real transactions against server and loadings in the cloud systems, so we can monitor trends.
“The automated build and deployment has saved over 20 hours of time per week that was wasted in downtime waiting for builds to be completed, as well as time for engineers to execute and complete the production deployments.
“These changes have improved the speed in which we can release technology to market. Today Serko can release a build on any given day to production. We build code that is delivered to production every day and reduce the overall test time by making sure the code being tested is in small size packets, which reduces the overall risk of critical errors being deployed.”
He says there are fortnightly meetings with the senior leadership team and a monthly prioritisation meeting takes place where the scope and sizing is measured and allocated to the pipeline work stack.
Technology and architecture play a key part in these decisions. “My role is to make sure the correct amount of effort and technology is considered, along with the security aspects of running a PCI compliant cloud operational that contains personal data," Ball says.
“Business leaders influence the decisions made through the revenue targets and speed/agility needed to meet the customer demands. Sales plays a key role in enabling growth - along with the research teams who are bringing out new revenue opportunities.
“It is critical all aspects of technology are considered, so timely and technology efficient decisions are made for the business. Which in turn gives the best result to our customers and stakeholders of Serko.”
Ball meets monthly with his team and working papers are produced that are reviewed by the executive and wider senior leadership - around suggestions in cost savings, time savings and future platforms that will enable the business to grow globally.
“I attend security cyber risk seminars and review Microsoft and other industry papers that monitor trends occurring in our industry. The team write blogs for the intranet that are available to all staff. Every six weeks at the company meeting teams present where they are and what they have achieved, so every staff member understands what is going on.
“Success is measured from not only the satisfaction of our customers, but also through the quarterly surveys that are run by HR that pick up on satisfaction around how technology is impacting the teams.
“One of the key area I have established is focus groups that enable staff to work on special interest ideas, which can further stretch their knowledge and benefit themselves and the company long term.”
The company has a strong diversity with staff coming from a range of nationalities/cultures.
“Serko probably has one of the most diverse working environments with more than 30 countries represented, with more than 54 per cent of the workforce female.
“I have trained a person who can now step in when I'm absent. Steven Dove is my second in command and he now splits the role with me, to make sure we can deliver the best possible result to the team.
“This was achieved by trusting the person and mentoring them into the role, creating respect amongst the team that enable the person to be successful as a leader amongst his peers,” says Ball.