New Zealand travel management software provider Serko is poised for flight, having signed an agreement with Booking.com in 2019 to roll out its corporate travel platform. But a huge global expansion opportunity also takes a lot of preparation and even larger amounts of compute power. With ambitious growth plans enabled by Azure and access to Microsoft’s global partner network, Serko is reaching for the clouds – and set to land a whole new host of customers.
Odds are, if you’ve travelled for business anywhere (even domestically) in the past few years, Serko had something to do with it. The New Zealand-owned business is a tremendously successful solutions provider for the managed travel market. Its Zeno booking and expense management platform is used by most major New Zealand agencies such as Flight Centre and House of Travel, and around 70 per cent of the Australian market as well, representing up to five million trips per year. Whether you need a rental car, hotel or flight – you name it, Serko manages it. In fact, the company’s been so successful that to keep growing, it had to find new territory.
At the end of 2019, Serko signed an agreement with global platform Booking.com to roll out its Zeno platform to power Booking.com for Business. That spelled a huge new market opportunity. As well as its existing travel agencies channel, Serko will now be able to reach new independent customers in countries around the world, from tech start-ups in Austria to resource companies in Zambia, helping manage their bookings and online content and integrating everything into a single package for their corporate travellers. More than 90 per cent of Serko’s revenue is set to come from offshore.
If ramping up this business shortly before COVID-19 seems like a tough gig, consider this: The New Zealand corporate travel market bounced back very quickly after lockdown to around 80 per cent of its pre-COVID level, reaching 90 per cent by March 2021. When borders reopen, corporate travel is expected to – literally – take off.
“While the global business travel forecast is still cloudy, this partnership has opened up our technology to a global SME market we didn’t have access to before. And we’re still adding significant new customers in the Australasian market,” says Nick Whitehead, Serko’s Chief Marketing Officer.
But for a New Zealand-based business not built in the cloud, getting to the right global scale – in time for the post-COVID travel boom – was a challenge on a whole new level.
Corporate travel on a whole new plane
“We needed to modernise and open up our platform,” says Duanne O’Brien, Chief Technology Officer at Serko. “With the dramatic proliferation of content, our internal team won’t be enough to manage it all. We needed to open up the back end to third-party content and distribution systems, working with expert systems integrators who will allow us to expand faster without needing as much internal resource.”
Fortunately, Serko had migrated its Zeno platform to Microsoft Azure to allow for just this situation. The limitless scalability of Azure’s public cloud allows for as much and as rapid growth as Serko can handle, as well as easy integration with virtually any other platform used by potential partners and customers.
While Serko’s existing customers share its existing cloud resources, the sheer size of the Booking.com corporate platform means it needs its own dedicated servers and Azure datacenters to manage risk and remain compliant with European GDPR privacy regulations. This will also allow Serko to roll out updates to targeted markets as needed. Having Microsoft Azure datacenters across these key markets to ensure data can be stored within national borders has helped enormously in meeting international data protection and security requirements, especially as Azure has automatic security updates baked in to manage threats.
“We have a Microsoft technical account manager on site every week, helping our cloud team strengthen and open our platform and advising us on new features and technologies,” O’Brien says. “We’re now 100% Azure.”
Microsoft New Zealand SaaS Partner Lead, Kaye Harding, says helping local software innovators achieve scale through developing new capabilities is a key plank of Microsoft’s SaaS Partner programme.
“I’m always hearing from local developers that they’re challenged to find enough workers with the right skills, or to upskill their own teams and learn from others in the industry. That’s why we put real energy into helping develop our partners and ensure they’re reaching their full potential by keeping them across new technologies. With the rapid acceleration that Serko is seeing, that’s even more important than ever.”
Serko took on 50 new staff during 2020 to help manage the rollout of the Booking.com for Business corporate platform and support its growth, with more expansion planned.
Platform change for the Zeno Express
With scale and security assured, the Booking.com team and Serko set about developing a logical timeline for the migration of legacy systems from Booking.com’s existing platform to Zeno without any disruption for customers. Along the way, they conducted a lot of scale testing to ensure the setup could handle the volume of corporate bookings that flow through Booking.com in typical, non-COVID times.
When Serko’s teams are based in offices around New Zealand, Australia, China and elsewhere, and Booking.com is headquartered in Amsterdam and New York, that kind of collaboration isn’t easy. Another Microsoft tool, Teams, provided the solution.
“It’s a bit more challenging to run workshops without being in the same room, but collaborating via Teams has been embedded in our business for some time. We’re used to working together via digital tools,” explains O’Brien.
The ticket to future success
Already, Serko has been trialling the new Booking.com for Business platform in the UK, Ireland and Germany. The Zeno-powered solution has performed so well that a wider rollout is now in place. As a Microsoft SaaS Partner, Serko also hopes to work closely with Microsoft to leverage its global networks and expertise as it taps into new markets.
“Serko has been an outstanding success story in what’s been an incredibly difficult year for the travel industry and the world as a whole. We’re proud to have played a small role in that success so far and can’t wait to see how else we can help them grow across the globe through introductions or advice from our local experts and contacts,” says Harding.
Despite the current uncertainty, Serko already has its ticket to the trip of a lifetime. As CMO Whitehead says:
“With Booking.com we have a shared vision of the connected trip, of managing all the components of someone’s trip such as flights, rail and accommodation in a single booking. 2021 will see us gain global scale and we’ll be continuing to make further enhancements to make our system even better and enhance the customer experience.”