SAS launches a successful digital transformation during the global pandemic

Company Size

6,500

Year Founded

1946

Headquarters

Frösundavik, Sweden

100×

more releases per month

18

months to transform entire legacy system

1200+

more releases per year
Plan Type
Enterprise
Partners
Valtech
Share Case Study
Main Challenges
  • Needed a digital content platform that supported their strategic shift from waterfall to continuous delivery

  • Needed a headless, API-centric CMS for flexibility and scalability

  • Content creators needed constant help from developers to publish and modify content

  • Wanted the ability to seamlessly integrate analytics and AB testing for continuous improvement

  • Wanted to ability to automate the export and import processes for transferring existing content to the new content platform

Solutions
  • Digital team improved pace of deployment from one release per month to 100 releases per month, in just 18 months

  • API-based architecture enables easy addition of extensions and integrations

  • Content teams are free to create and modify content quickly without help from developers 

  • Integration with analytics and AB testing tools enables continuous learning and improvement

Project Story

SAS, one of Europe’s longest-established airline companies, launched a complete digital transformation in 2020. The company knew it needed deeper engagement with its customers, and needed more collaboration and engagement between its technology department and other areas of the company — marketing, for example.

The transformation was planned to address a number of issues, but at core, the company needed to move from primarily outsourced development to owning development itself. This meant creating — almost from scratch — a digital engineering department. At the same time, SAS needed to transition from a project-based culture to one focused on product. The path to this change would rely on establishing processes for continuous development and continuous improvement.

SAS’s transformation is ongoing, but has already produced measurable success. Just 18 months after launch, SAS’s digital team had accelerated its deployment cadence from one release per month to 100 releases per month. SAS’s achievement is even more impressive considering that much of the transformation took place in the midst of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic caused massive challenges for the travel industry worldwide. 

Contentful is a key piece of SAS’s digital transformation. “We had our eye on a headless CMS for quite a while,” says Daniel Calà, a consultant with Valtech who has worked with SAS during the transformation. After a pilot project to evaluate Contentful, SAS chose it as the CMS for the company’s entire digital estate.

There were a number of reasons for choosing Contentful, but its architecture is one of the most important. With Contentful, the SAS team anticipated it would be much easier to move from the company’s old monolithic CMS to a new microservices-oriented platform.  

“Contentful is an API-centric CMS platform, and the API part is crucial for us,” says Daniel. “We need to be able to script and automate our entire export process for moving all our content to the new platform, and Contentful is a great tool for this.”

Beyond the migration process, Contentful is also the right platform for scaling SAS’s transformation beyond its initial stages to cover the company’s entire digital landscape, and move into new channels, Daniel adds. “Contentful’s API is both powerful and easy to use. We’ll be able to script all our content models as we expand.” 

Shifting SAS’s legacy culture to one of ownership and team autonomy

SAS knew it needed to shift its culture from large projects delivered in the waterfall style to continuous delivery of small changes. This shift is enabling SAS to try ideas out, see how they succeed, learn and improve. 

The digital leadership team also felt it was important to empower each team to choose the tech stack that would best suit its needs. Because Contentful enables decoupling of content from front-end delivery, all teams involved with SAS’s digital properties can work independently at their own pace, enabling both autonomy and better collaboration. All work is connected via APIs, lessening dependencies between different applications and systems. 

“I have worked with traditional single-stack platforms, and they’re so tightly coupled that scaling is often a problem,” says Daniel. “Performance isn’t the best either. Once your solution starts to grow — and it will — so does complexity, as well as the risk of nasty failures. Imagine launching a campaign and ending up with a broken website. It’s a nightmare.”

“It used to be hard to put code out to production and collaborate on the front-end applications,” says David Fuchslin, a technical consultant at Valtech who, like Daniel, has worked with the SAS digital team through its transformation process. “Now each team has more autonomy. They can get products out into production separately without affecting other teams.”  

The path to continuous improvement

Being able to create and deploy independently — or in the case of content creators, create and publish independently — has given SAS’s digital teams more time and energy to be creative, to experiment and innovate. 

Contentful’s powerful API enables experimentation by making it easy to integrate testing tools. SAS’s content team can now perform AB tests as frequently as it likes, leading to iterative improvements.

SAS has planned out a testing program as it shifts from its legacy digital platform to its new one. “We can segment our users in the old platform versus the new platform,” says Daniel. “This is really powerful. We can compare KPIs such as conversion rate, average order value or bounce rate, to mention just a few. And of course, we can compare my favorite metrics — speed metrics such as loading times — between our old and new platform.”   

Faster time to production means more innovation

The digital team’s ability to launch new features quickly has affected the entire company, showing departments across SAS that change is not just possible, but can happen fast.

“The fact we can put code in production much faster enables us to stop thinking about how to put code in production,” says David. “That means somebody who has an idea — a developer, or another stakeholder — can say, ‘Hey, can we do this?’ And we can put it into production quickly.”

One example: a colleague in sales recently asked David for help with some changes to widgets on the website. She knew she could make the changes manually, but it would have taken hours. 

“What was needed was to combine data from different places in a way we hadn’t before,” David explains. “With Contentful, we were able to pull in the data from different sources, and within a couple of hours we had made the change. Our sales colleague was so happy because of the improved customer experience, of course, but also because she didn’t have to put in hours of manual work.”

With the new approach in place — continuous delivery, continuous improvement and a total focus on customer value — SAS’s digital team is positioned to take off and grow as soon as the travel industry picks up again.

“We’re doing the right things, and we’re doing things right,” Maria says.

add-circle arrow-right remove style-two-pin-marker subtract-circle