If you’ve ever booked a flight, hotel, or any other travel online or through a travel agency, you have directly or indirectly utilized a Sabre solution. The company’s business-to-business travel marketplace, Sabre Travel Network, consists primarily of its global distribution system (GDS). The GDS powers online travel websites and airline kiosks, as well as a broad set of solutions that integrate with the system, such as reservation networks for airlines and hotels. Sabre also provides complete end-to-end solutions for the airline and hospitality industries to assist them in running their operations.
Sabre has been utilizing SAP software for its corporate back-office systems since 1995. In 2009, the business upgraded to SAP ERP 6.0, and then, in early 2016, in response to an enterprise-wide business transformation, it began a rollout of SAP S/4HANA 1503 for core finance. At that time, the company decided to move toward a cloud-based application landscape and deploy SAP S/4HANA in a managed private cloud environment. Today, 80% of Sabre’s applications are implemented in the cloud — including SAP SuccessFactors and SAP Ariba solutions. “We are taking a cloud and SAP-first approach to leverage partnerships and technologies,” says Scott Seymour, the vice president of business systems at Sabre. “SAP has some of the best software in the world, so why not partner with the best?”
In addition to its SAP landscape, the company runs a variety of existing applications that provide transaction processing, data mediation, standardized reporting, and a means for ad-hoc reporting. “Sabre’s commercial systems that are utilized for booking consumer travel process more than $120 billion of global travel spend annually,” Seymour says. “Specifically, our billing systems process around 500 million transactions per week that are fed from our commercial systems. We need to remediate that data, sort it for billing, and send it to SAP S/4HANA to invoice the customer.”
Sabre runs more than $2 billion through its internal airline billing system each year, which is more than half of the company’s annual revenue. As with all billing systems, applications like these are crucial to the success of the business and simply cannot fail. To continue to evolve its technology, Sabre decided that its internal systems should reflect the innovation and modernization delivered by its external systems. The goal with moving to SAP S/4HANA was to deliver the same efficiencies and future-ready capabilities that its internal and external stakeholders expect.
These drivers led to another decision, in early 2016, to replace the existing billing system in a migration to the enterprise edition of the SAP HANA platform. According to Seymour, Sabre wanted to address its current needs, while also laying a substantial foundation for the company’s future data warehousing strategy. “Having a system that incorporates state-of-the-art, in-memory processing and architecture; integration with non-SAP target systems; and the ability to process large amounts of data very quickly were major requirements,” he says. “Sabre believed the SAP HANA platform could handle the massive data load for billing and would be scalable enough to support higher data loads in the future.”
Defining the Right Solution
Sabre’s original plan for the SAP HANA migration called for implementing it in combination with an open-source framework. In a collaborative effort to evaluate the integration, the team participated in a three-day architecture review with SAP. “On the very first day of these discussions, the SAP resource shared that SAP HANA was never intended to work in tandem with an open-source framework as a mediation system. Because it wasn’t architected that way, the functionality wasn’t there,” says Seymour. “Once we discovered that SAP HANA would do everything we needed — store the billing data, allow us to process transactions, and perform the required analytics — we decided to eliminate the open-source solution.”
The team worked diligently to create a brand-new, simplified, future-state architecture and to ensure the data was delivered in the correct format. Sabre went live with the new environment in the second quarter of 2018, within just a few months. “Data migration work is never easy when moving from an earlier generation’s system to one that’s extremely modern, but once we had the ability to extract the data from our legacy environment, loading it into the in-memory structure of SAP HANA was very fast,” he says. “Honestly, setting up the data structures; handling how data from the mainframe would be delivered, managed, processed, and sorted; integrating with SAP S/4HANA; and creating SAP Fiori screens for the user experience — that work was rather easy, just standard coding.”
As we move more data into SAP HANA, we will have the ability to not only increase the speed at which we process information, but also to make better and smarter decisions for Sabre.
— Scott Seymour, Vice President of Business Systems, Sabre
Seymour credits the rapid implementation to three things: the team’s capabilities and perseverance, the flexibility of the solution, and SAP’s willingness to assist in designing the architecture and supporting the team during the implementation. “There were no integration partners or extra consultants,” he says. “This was all done using Sabre’s existing internal team in collaboration with SAP.”
Faster Reports, Better Analysis, and Happier People
Roughly 200 global users in the forecasting, billing, and finance business units work in the new SAP S/4HANA and SAP Fiori environment each day — all utilizing the same data. The response and positive feedback have been phenomenal, according to Seymour. “This new solution wasn’t just designed to retire a legacy environment,” he says. “It was also intended to optimize our operations with faster data processing speed and improved analytics, thereby decreasing costs, reducing risk, optimizing business processes, and increasing productivity.”
SAP HANA requires considerably less time to process data, enabling significant performance gains — in some cases, Sabre has seen a 95% gain in system performance. “Needless to say, the previous solution was not an optimal environment for users or the team supporting them,” Seymour says. “Now, the process that previously ran for 24-38 hours runs in an hour or less, and the majority of the reports and queries that could run for more than a day are running in less than a minute.”
In the previous environment, users could not run their queries simultaneously, and they would often have to wait until someone exited the system before they could perform their tasks. Now, those limitations are gone. “Everyone has the ability to access the system whenever they want, and query results are delivered almost immediately,” Seymour says. “Due to the speed and robustness of the environment, users can perform more advanced analytics and obtain deeper insights than ever before. Instead of crossing their fingers and hoping the query would run before bombing out, users are now thinking of advanced reports they could run to obtain greater insights. This is a success on multiple levels, and our users are extremely happy with the results.”
As a real-world example of advanced reporting in action, users now can query many different specific customer scenarios that were previously not possible. They can also obtain data for trending analysis across multiple months to improve forecasting. These innovative and exciting results were simply not possible in the legacy environment, according to Seymour. “Our business partners are leveraging the speed of the system and are experimenting with what new things are possible,” he says. “We have successfully launched a critical component of our future architecture that successfully replaced the previous environment. It has proven to be enormously valuable to obtain information and increase productivity. We haven’t just implemented a quick fix for today, but rather executed on our future vision to holistically architect around our SAP ecosystem.”
A Strong Foundation for the Future
As Sabre continues to evolve its technology and transform the organization, it will rely on the enterprise edition of the SAP HANA platform as the foundation for its corporate data warehouse environment. There are an additional seven systems connected to the billing process that will be retired and migrated into the new environment. “While SAP HANA only manages a subset of billing information today, that won’t always be the case,” Seymour says. “By the time we reach the end of this journey, it will maintain all billing data for Sabre, which will be massive. Ultimately, anything acting as a corporate data warehouse today will be stored in SAP HANA.”
According to Seymour, the business has set a goal to move all internal corporate data into the SAP HANA environment — to create one source of the truth, provide users easier access to data, and offer analytics that lead to powerful insights for the company. “It’s so much more efficient to have all the data in one place,” he says. “As we move more data into SAP HANA, we will have the ability to not only increase the speed at which we process information, but also to make better and smarter decisions for Sabre.”
Exceedingly happy with Sabre’s decision to unify with SAP HANA, Seymour offers advice to others planning or considering a similar implementation: “First and foremost, you need to work with your business partners to clearly understand their needs, as well as the outcome you are trying to achieve — whether that’s speeding up processing, reporting, or something else. Next, ensure you understand the architecture design for what you plan to implement. Once you have a solid design, lay out your plan and execute on it. I’m a firm believer of following a strong methodology to create your plan. Think right to left, and lay out what you plan to achieve as opposed to trying to design it on the fly, because ultimately, you may not end up with the desired result.”