Based in the United Kingdom (U.K.), Hogg Robinson provides corporate travel booking services to customers worldwide. The company began as a travel office in 1945, but now provides its transport, accommodation, and other core services through the web or a telephone call centre. More transactions are moving towards its booking tools—HRG Online, HRG i-Suite mobile, and HRG PoS.
The company connects to dozens of third-party suppliers through its platform to offer its customers high-quality, cost-effective travel services with the best value pricing for airfares, hotel rooms, train tickets, and other travel requirements.
To deliver its services, Hogg Robinson integrates systems and data from third-party suppliers, customer business systems, and in-house software, using Microsoft BizTalk Server 2010 Enterprise. The software creates a connection layer between the web, mobile, and desktop applications that comprise its core platform. Customer data is always protected behind either the company or customer firewalls.
With the increasing popularity of smartphones and tablet PCs, it was important for Hogg Robinson to extend its platform to mobile devices. Paul Saggar, Director of Technology and Product Development, Hogg Robinson, says: “Most customers need to access booking services while they’re travelling, so we wanted to develop a mobile version of our solution.” But to deliver its services on mobile devices, Hogg Robinson needed to address scalability, performance, and security challenges.
Saggar and his team created the HRG i-Suite mobile application incorporating a mobile gateway based on Windows Azure. No personally identifiable information is stored on the device. The gateway uses Cloud Services, Service Bus, and SQL Database to create a hybrid solution comprising cloud and on-premises services. Some functionality is delivered directly from the cloud, while a reliable and secure message and relay infrastructure connects information from the on-premises booking platform to Cloud Services.
Service Bus is a managed service that supports multiple messaging protocols and patterns. Saggar says: “With Service Bus, we route messages containing personally identifiable information to BizTalk Server and Microsoft .NET–based on-premises services. In this way, information is protected in line with our customers’ security protocols. Tables are used to maintain active and authenticated user information permitting a fast, secure mechanism for connecting to the HRG on-premises services.”
The highly available and scalable SQL Database has built-in fault tolerance and manages transactional data that forms part of the booking process. Data that’s accessed frequently on the HRG i-Suite mobile application, such as airport locations, is also stored on SQL Database. With Cloud Services, servers are automatically provisioned to support the appropriate messaging model and best performance for the location of device and type of transaction.
Jon Simpson, Technical Architect, Hogg Robinson, says: “Using Cloud Services and delegating frequently accessed data to SQL Database helps us deliver excellent performance through the HRG i-Suite mobile application, regardless of user location.”
Several corporate customers are currently piloting the HRG i-Suite mobile solution, and the development team is taking advantage of the scalability and flexibility of Cloud Services to reduce the time and complexity of development. “We can deploy production servers and make them live at the click of a button,” says Simpson.
The scalable, highly available mobile gateway built on Windows Azure has helped Hogg Robinson increase application performance. It is also maintaining the high level of security provided through its on-premises offering for customers that access services remotely. At the same time, the company has cut much of the potential capital expenditure (CAPEX) associated with developing and deploying solutions.
Development lead time is 25 per cent faster. Saggar says: “The team has increased productivity by about 25 per cent for projects that use or are hosted on Windows Azure, and we’re already starting on phase two of our mobile strategy. This is testimony to how quickly we can develop and extend services with the cloud platform.”
CAPEX is reduced by up to 80 per cent. The company’s CAPEX is considerably lower than if Hogg Robinson had to purchase and provision its own physical servers and then connect many on and off-premises applications. Saggar says: “With Windows Azure, we’ve spent around 20 per cent of the budget we’d usually dedicate to developing and piloting a new solution. There’s also less financial risk for us because we don’t have to predict what servers and licences we need to buy, but we can scale up easily if we need to.”
Remote performance and security are increased. Hogg Robinson customers usually access services while travelling, and the mobile solution offers them convenience and security without compromising performance. Saggar says: “By using Windows Azure, services are provisioned as close to the user’s device as possible, making transactions fast, seamless, and secure.”
Service innovation is enhanced. Hogg Robinson provides customers with a choice of booking travel by phone, on the web, or by using their mobile devices. Although its travel booking services require complex technology configurations between in-house and third-party applications, the team can now create new services quickly.