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Sooraj Shah

Contributing Editor

Sooraj Shah is Contributing Editor of New Statesman Tech with a focus on C-level IT leader interviews. He is also a freelance technology journalist.

Travelex’s Dan Phelps on how AWS has helped speed up digital transformation

Daniel Phelps was hired three years ago as a principal architect in the digital arm of the more than 40-year-old brick and mortar financial services company Travelex.

“The one thing that attracted me, which architects don’t often get, is the role was a greenfield opportunity; affecting people, processes and technology,” Phelps, who is now chief architect of Travelex, explains.

Phelps was tasked with building out the organisation’s International Money Transfer product, focusing on international and domestic payments.

The organisation developed a digital strategy on the back of this project which involved shifting the culture of the business from a transactional focus to a customer focus, as well as becoming more agile, and lowering the cost of the IT estate.

The IT environment was all on-premise at the time and with this traditional architecture there were issues around duplication, communication and a lack of standards. Part of Phelps’ brief was to implement new ways of working and processes at Travelex to eradicate these issues.

Phelps and his team looked at Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) as an option and wanted to put that on the public cloud.

“It was a no brainer at the time to go for Amazon Web Services (AWS) because of their story around using microservices,” he explains.

But while using new technology was a huge shift, Phelps says the biggest transformation was around the culture of the organisation. This included the application of agile, DevOps and DevSecOps.

“Our approach to DevOps was starting off small and building the products and customer experience,” he says, adding that the company learned a lot from AWS on how to innovate and how to organise beta teams.

“When it comes to Amazon, it’s the automation piece and the collaboration piece [that has been helpful]. We have a DevOps team and those guys have used a lot of the AWS tools and ways of working to be able to create our PaaS, and we’ve used Docker for microservices and containers. AWS has helped us scale that journey and provide open source too,” he says.

“We’ve been able to build a Docker framework before the rest of the industry was able to turn that into a commodity; we’ve seen that with [AWS tool] FarGate – and we put a lot of work into that two years ago because that didn’t exist on the market then,” he adds.

Because of this combination of cloud, microservices, containers, DevOps and new ways of working, the organisation has been able to re-architect its Travelex Wire service from a consumer-focused (B2C) service to a business-to-business (B2B) service in just 100 days, about half the time it would have taken without AWS.

At the end of that project, Phelps was promoted to chief architect, working under the organisation’s COO. In his current role, he is looking at the overall strategy for the company’s existing technology, and how it can bring in newer technology and processes to its existing business.

“We’re looking at transforming the legacy tech that we’ve got. The part that excites me is that two years ago microservices was the right answer for us and we had a lot of quick wins with LANless and serverless options with AWS thanks to the speed the public cloud provided.

“We needed an architecture department that could leverage those things as soon as possible and we understand that tech gives us a competitive advantage whether its AI, machine learning or IoT,” he says.

But it’s not just a case of implementing new technologies. The organisation needs the right people available to make the most of the new tech, and there are some areas which are notoriously difficult to recruit for.

“The areas where it’s slightly harder for developers is with machine learning skills. It’s a fast moving world and people are struggling to keep up with the skill set,” Phelps says.

“A lot of managers are saying ‘I want people who are ready, precanned and can deliver immediately’. We understand that skills are hard to get so we invest a lot in people and look at how we can develop people so they are fit for the skills of the future,” he states.