Digital Transformation: Technology

July 12, 2022

The travel industry is susceptible to constant change, but the past few years have completely altered how we travel. 

Now more than ever, we’re all concerned about safety in terms of viral issues, cleanliness, traveling to geopolitical hot spots, personal safety, and ethical responsibility.  

The corporate travel managers and travelers who use Etta rely on it to navigate everyday issues, even when those issues — especially travel policies implemented by government and airlines — are still in flux. While keeping up with the pace of change these days may feel chaotic, booking and managing your business travel shouldn’t be.

That’s just one of the driving forces behind the iterations and improvements we’re making with Etta; we’re aiming to anticipate and exceed expectations around every need our users have. This requires relentlessly transforming Etta, and to do relentless transformation requires a balance of people, process, and technology. 

In recent blog posts, I covered the importance of the people building the technology, and the processes in place to connect them with the technology. Here, we’ll dive into the technology itself.

Graphic explaining digital transformation that includes center circle labeled Transformation, and 3 smaller circles around the edges labeled People, Processes, and Technology

What defines digital transformation

Digital transformation is the integration of technology into all areas of business. At Deem, it fundamentally changes how we operate and deliver value to our travelers and travel managers. For instance, if a traveler or travel manager is interested in sustainability, our platform enables the ability to see their carbon emissions footprint within Etta. It’s also a cultural change that requires us to challenge the status quo and initiate changes and enhancements quickly based on the needs of our users.

Those projects are driven by a sense of urgency, are broad in scope and impact, and are typically done in parallel with ongoing operations. Transformations don’t just focus on a few discrete, well-defined initiatives, but rather on a portfolio of initiatives, all of which are interdependent or intersecting. 

For a digital transformation to be successful, the strategic vision, execution, effective solutions, and satisfaction of customer expectations and demands must all be in play. Best practices must be in place, communicated to all team members, and agreed upon. A strong culture (ownership and empowerment), the right people (knowledge and mindset), clear objectives (improved client experience and time to market), and success factors (answering your “why” and going all in) are the key ingredients to digital transformation.

Technology has entered the chat

You have the right “who” (people) in place. Your “how” (processes) are sailing along. Now it’s time for the “what”—the tools that your people can use to implement the process. Ideally, the latest and fastest technology creates the most impact for users, but it’s important that the latest and fastest fit into your organization. There’s always the urge to chase after the shiny new tool like a dog after a squirrel, but oftentimes those shiny new tools don’t align with your North Star. 

And it’s important to remember your North Star. For us at Deem, it’s Etta’s unparalleled user experience

Think of our software, Etta, sitting atop a pyramid. Under Etta are cogs and sprockets humming away as one unified juggernaut. My engineering team sees this technology, but our travelers don’t. If we’re doing our jobs right, the technology disappears so our travelers just have one efficient piece of software at their fingertips.

Those cogs and sprockets are a  complex system of stacks and layers and processes including audits, integrations, architect reviews, GitLab, security, environments, repositories, rounds of hiring, and migrations. All those cogs of technology are in constant motion doing the heavy lifting. 

Part of my job is understanding and recognizing the orchestration of all those different layers working in congress to make Etta fast, efficient, and critical. We’re constantly widening the foundation of the pyramid and adding support pieces so the structural integrity is secure, modern, and scalable. ​​

Etta’s technology allows our travel managers and travelers to do things faster, more effectively, more conveniently, often more affordably, and with greater accuracy than ever before. 

And those layers make continual improvement possible

Our travelers are able to realize that efficiency, convenience, and savings because Etta is built with an agile development methodology. We can develop and release features and enhancements very quickly.  

In order to support this even further, our engineering team is moving from a monolith platform to Google Cloud Platform (GCP). What does that mean? In simple terms, it means we’re taking the old Ford engine out of the truck and replacing it with a lithium battery so it relies on fewer resources, needs less maintenance, and provides a much better driving experience.

The old engine – a monolith – is a block of thousands of lines of operating code. In order to be an agile team and install the lithium battery, we separated and reorganized the block of code into individual lines of code called microservices. They make the code easier to access and repair should it malfunction or need improvement. 

Within a microservices architecture, each microservice is a single service built to accommodate an application feature and handle discrete tasks. Each microservice communicates with other services through simple interfaces to solve business problems.

Microservices allow a large application to be separated into smaller, independent parts, with each part having its own realm of responsibility. To serve a single user request, a microservices-based application can call on many internal microservices to compose its response.

Containers are a well-suited microservices architecture example, since they let our engineering team focus on developing the services without worrying about the dependencies. Modern cloud-native applications are usually built as microservices using containers.

What does this all really mean? Microservices architecture enables us to evolve our technology stack, which lets us move quickly for our users. It also improves resiliency, increases our scalability, and expedites our time to market. It utilizes our cross-functional team culture at Deem. When developers, operations, and testing teams work simultaneously on a single service, testing and debugging becomes easy and instant. With this approach of incremental development, code is continuously developed, tested and deployed, and we can use code from existing libraries instead of reinventing the wheel.

Using the PPT Framework to map to our North Star

Too often, companies make huge investments in technology to gain strategic advantages. The people and processes are a second thought. Then they try to fit the people and process into their new technology. This won’t bring out the best outcome. 

Technology is nothing without the right people following the right process to support it. Technology should always be the final consideration after the problem is clearly understood, the talent is recruited and trained, and the process requirements have been defined. If the people don’t know how to use it or the process doesn’t utilize it well, then the technology will not bring the best return on investment.

Technology alone will not solve problems. Businesses need to articulate the objectives, define the process, and train the people to leverage technology to its fullest.

Learn more about what digital transformation means for travel managers: https://www.deem.com/webinars/the-power-of-digital-transformation

Author

Steven Lopez
VP, Engineering

Since 2019, Steven has been leading teams around the world through Deem’s modernization and transformation operations. Prior to joining Deem, he helped companies in technology, retail and other industries use their human resources in a changing technological world. Steven enjoys physical challenges, including completing a full Ironman triathlon, and is always looking for another marathon to run.

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