‘Reactive’ software keeps business sweet for MoneySuperMarket Group

MoneySuperMarket Group is the holding company behind three of the UK’s most popular comparison shopping sites. Technological innovation is at the core of the Group’s strategy, as it is essential for the Group to remain competitive in the price comparison arena. For this reason, MoneySuperMarket Group invests some £16 million every year in building new solutions and systems.

The group engaged with Cake Solutions, a leading Typesafe partner and Big Data specialist, as it began to investigate the potential of ‘reactive’ software to boost its competitiveness. It was looking for open source technology architecture that could scale and flex to match the pace of change and growth in its industry in an agile way.

Paul Dickinson is the Head of Group Platform and Innovation at MoneySuperMarket Group. He was tasked with re-evaluating the software stack that underpins the company’s core data “price comparison” capabilities to become more agile and ‘reactive’ in order to set it up well to cope with the demands of the future.

The existing system had a number of limitations that needed to be remedied in the new system Cake was to build.

  • It needed the capability to achieve more modern patterns and approaches including non-blocking, async and bulkheading
  • It was overly tied to specific servers, meaning its ability to flex and scale in a cloud environment was very limited.
  • The cost of ownership needed to become more efficient - TravelSuperMarket's site traffic can spike significantly (sometimes by up to 400%) – at such times the platform was financially penalized for bursting its capacity ceiling.
  • It was overdue a move to Open Source in order to move away from vendor lock-ins and legacy technologies to a stack specifically designed for a modern cloud environment.

Dickinson and Cake Solutions focused first on TravelSuperMarket, the Group’s travel industry price comparison site, which helps customers “get away for less” with package holidays, city breaks, flights, hotels and auto rental. The service supports price comparisons across more than 650 airlines and 200,000 hotels in a matter of seconds.

The back-end of TravelSuperMarket is heavily reliant on "aggregation" – an example would be when a user fills out a form to fly from LHR to JFK, aggregation is the process of going out to partner APIs, pulling data back over HTTP, normalizing that data, and then pulling it back into the browser. Re-platforming meant the company could support the most common aggregation and business logic scenarios, as well as providing solid foundations upon which to develop new features on the user-facing application.

Dickinson and the Cake team focused on a few areas as they worked to re-platform elements of TravelSuperMarket. These included:

  • Increasing ‘Developer Velocity’, or the rate at which new features, partnership integrations and other code is developed and shipped
  • Achieving a “Cloud-First” Approach to maximise on the elasticity and cost effectiveness of the cloud.
  • Outpacing Startups in the Space by giving developers the best platform to maintain a higher rate of innovation than competitors can facilitate
  • Scalability to support ambitious global expansion plans to drive revenues and partnerships

A ‘proof of concept’ was built within six weeks using scalable squads of cross-functional Cake Solutions engineers, followed by a minimum viable product within three months. This included infrastructure, performance monitoring and integration with internal systems. Peter Evison of Cake Solutions explains, “By using Typesafe technologies such as Akka and Play, we were also able to use a lot of the in built reactive patterns.”

Results prove the reactive approach gained the commercial advantage in price comparison

Thanks to MoneySuperMarket Group’s commitment to innovation and decision to engage with Cake Solutions, a global leader in the field of reactive software development, the company has seen some impressive results:

  • From weeks to days on stack changes - it used to take 2-3 weeks to make engineering changes at TravelSuperMarket - today it takes just 2-3 days. This 700% productivity increase positively affects every aspect of feature creation through partner integration efforts, from starting a "story" to deployment, to live.
  • New product creation accelerated - as MoneySuperMarket creates new business "channels" the team estimates it's about twice as fast, reducing the time for channel onboarding from 6-7 months to 3-4 months (a 50% improvement).
  • No more capacity planning - where in the past, advertising campaigns and the ensuing web traffic would require a lot of capacity planning, TravelSuperMarket's new stack allows new viral campaigns to be launched with minimal concern regarding the impact of spikes in traffic.
  • Top-line revenue growth - TravelSupermarket.com’s revenues are up 28% (22.6 Million FY2014), which they attribute in large part to ongoing investment in technology

Testimonial

“The Cake Team brought a work ethic and software excellence to the table which I've not seen before in DevOps. They blew us away with their approach to the job, within three hours of our first meeting we were working through the problem".

Head of IT, Travelsupermarket.com

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