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Last year Travelex found itself with the enviable problem of too much user interest when its registration servers failed during the trial of its global cash-card service, the ‘Supercard’. Product director Dave Wascha tells Computerworld UK why AWS was the right solution to the problem.

The Supercard is a Travelex cash card and accompanying app that works in ATMs around the world, to remove bank fees and charges when making transactions abroad.

When its systems fell over, leaving thousands of customers in the lurch, the currency company realised it needed something more reliable – and chose Amazon Web Services (AWS) to deliver the registration system, 'Superqueue', which "basically creates an infinitely scalable buffer" on the customers on the frontend, and was tested to over 400,000 transactions an hour.

According to global director of products at Travelex, Dave Wascha, not only was AWS way ahead of the competition, but it was also the most reassuring choice for the trade and financial regulators.

“Of the big global technology companies, Amazon is one of the few that isn’t under investigation,” says Wascha. “It’s absolutely a consideration that it’s a trusted brand for regulators. You see a lot more financial institutions moving workloads into the cloud, but a year ago it was harder – we needed to go with something that was really trusted.”

“We knew that we needed a technology stack and a supplier that allowed us to address opportunities like this,” says Wascha. “There's probably going to be a short spike in traffic, and we don't need to do a massive capital outlay to stack up the data centre, to account for traffic that might last a week or two and then die down, leaving idle hardware sitting in a data centre somewhere.”

See also: Travelex muscles in on the fintech market with the launch of its foreign-exchange-fee-avoiding Supercard

Travelex has been operating for about four decades – a bricks-and-mortar retailer that has woken up to the necessity of not just doing digital, but becoming a digital company. That's no simple task for a business that's got over 1,800 stores in 30 countries.

“We’re undergoing a digital transformation – as much as I hate that phrase, it’s actually what’s happening,” says Wascha. “It’s a company that sells paper: it happens to be kings and queens that are on that paper, but they sell paper. So we’re undergoing a digital transformation and moving from being a bricks and mortar retailer to being a technology company.”

Because of this relatively recent shift towards digital, Travelex was able to explore all the options and with a clean slate. It looked at the various cloud providers, as well as the merits of on-premises versus the cloud to support the registration system.

Ultimately, it went for AWS. Wascha says that as little as a year ago, it was clearly ahead of the pack for doing business – in technological maturity and reputation, plus the in-house developers liked it too.

“We were looking for something that gave us flexibility, gave us speed to market, the economics were favourable,” says Wascha.

In fact, it has cost Travelex less than £1,000 to operate since launch because the business only pays for what it uses.

“It’s not a whole business, it’s a solution to a problem,” Wascha explains. “It’s a point-in-time problem, we came up with the solution, we built it, it was inexpensive, we’ve used it, and at some point we won’t need it anymore – and we’ll turn it off and put it on the shelf.”

The company’s using AWS for more products down the line, but Wascha views it as an easy and inexpensive way to build out specific solutions for new business, and quickly.

“Having the luxury of a Greenfield approach, we have implemented a continuous delivery pipeline,” Wascha says. “We have the ability to release at the component level, from committed code through to releasing into production. Depending on how big the service is we can do it from minutes to hours and we can do that whenever we want. So we’ve got that down to a pretty short timeframe.”

What’s next for Travelex and AWS? According to Wascha, there’s plenty to keep the team occupied.

“We just launched Supercard and that’s been going really well – and then in the coming months we’re going to launch a product in the area of international money transfer,” Wascha says. “We haven’t spoken about it yet, but we’re excited because that will be the second new product from Travelex emerging from this digital transformation.”

“Beyond that, we’re going to constantly experiment with new ways we can serve our customers for developing a customer platform on AWS that is going to allow us to connect our stores – we have 1,800 stores in 30 countries, we’ve got thousands of ATMs we own and run in airports.

“We’ve got all these new products coming out, we’ve got our online travel money business – a single platform that’s going to allow customers to log in with a single account across our entire offering – and we’re building our data science and analytics platform using AWS. So once we start to connect all that customer behaviour, we can start to learn from it.”

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