If you think about it as ones and zeros, soulless spreadsheets, forms and figures, probably not. But what if data could help make cancer and world hunger subjects that kids only learn about in history lessons a decade from now? What if it powered technology that understood our needs and worked proactively to meet them? […]
One of the largest travel retailers in the world, Dufry is committed to digitizing its operations and becoming a fully data-driven company. In support of this target, Dufry is using Azure as a scalable, dynamic platform helping it reach a single source of truth.
“We absolutely love data, but we don’t believe in using it just for the sake of it. It needs to be used to answer key questions – and for us, those questions revolve around providing the best offering for our customers.”
Yiannis Zouroudis, Head of Corporate Applications and Enterprise Architect at Dufry, is discussing his company’s mission and the critical role data and technology play in enabling it.
As a global leader in the travel retail sector, Dufry gathers and manages vast amounts of data. “Making analytics-based decisions is absolutely vital for us,” he says. “You really need to have that data, understand it and action on it in order to achieve meaningful transformation.”
But becoming a truly data-driven organization is no easy task without the right digital support. And Dufry realized it needed a platform that would enable its move towards a single source of truth. “Our vision for Dufry required a scalable, dynamic platform that would support our need to better handle our data,” he says. “And Microsoft Azure was the only technology capable of doing that.”
A market leader missing out on its potential
Founded in Switzerland in 1865, Dufry is one of the largest travel retailers in the world. “It’s easier to say where we don’t operate than where we do,” jokes Yiannis Zouroudis. “We’re currently active in 64 countries, and, before the pandemic, made revenues of CHF8.5bn.”
With international travel skyrocketing over the past two decades, Dufry has grown to have more than 2,300 duty-free and duty-paid shops located at airports, on cruise liners, in seaports, railway stations and other tourist locations.
Operating across four global regions, Dufry has vast amounts of data related to customers, products, traffic, stock and more. “Our motto is ‘make it seamless’, and our strategy is to make sure that we have the right level of data to use in the right way,” he explains.
But, back in 2017, managing all this data, and using it to drive meaningful, analytics-based decisions was becoming impossible for Zouroudis and his colleague Ruben Pertusa Lopez, Data Lead at Dufry. “We realized that we needed more power to process all our data,” says Lopez.
“I remember suggesting that we needed to access our daily stock per item per shop and being told that I was crazy, that we had too many items, and were lacking the means to process them all.”
Adding to that, the company was also looking for greater insights into its customer base. “The bricks and mortar part of our operations is essential for us, since our audience is mainly captive,” says Zouroudis. “But this means that most of the customers are anonymous, and that has always represented a problem for us.
“It became clear that we needed to unify our data, get hold of it, and leverage on it to become more competitive.”
In search of a unified data platform
Dufry’s growing need for a new digital platform led it to Microsoft. Zouroudis and Lopez had two main requests: to migrate Dufry’s IT infrastructure away from its existing on-premises applications, and for the new cloud-based environment to help reinstate a culture of data that had long been lost within the company.
“Before we reached out to Microsoft, there was a lot of Excel-based data manually extracted by individual people,” says Pertusa Lopez. “That gave us a lot of problems in terms of data trust. And our challenge was to bring it back to the company.”
Upon meeting with Microsoft, the two agreed that adopting Azure was going to be a substantial step in this direction. “It was our opportunity to leave everything that we had on premises and set the baseline for change,” he explains. “So, we started out by migrating all our analytics to the cloud and we were so pleased to find a platform that can be scaled so easily.”
The migration kicked off just months before COVID-19 started grounding flights all over the world, but Dufry saw it as an opportunity to carry out tests and complete its migration without disruptions. “Like many others in this sector, we were hit hard by COVID-19,” says Zouroudis. “But that didn’t stop us from focusing on our objectives.
“I don’t know if it was out of necessity or just in reaction to the situation, but we were able to make great progress and with the support of Microsoft, we really managed to get things done in the face of adversity.”
How Azure has transformed Dufry’s data culture
Ever since starting its cloud conversion, Dufry has been enjoying a much more flexible and scalable platform that it is now building on. “The data is now standardized and central to everything that we do,” says Yiannis Zouroudis.
“It’s so precise that if we want to know how many people have bought Toblerone, at a specific shop, at a specific time, and where they come from, we can find that out in minutes.
“This is something that a few years ago wasn’t even remotely possible, given the billions of records we had.”
The success of the initiative has been so compelling that Dufry is now introducing an array of additional Azure tools and solutions, including a Power BI platform, a data warehouse based on Azure SQL Database Hyperscale and Dynamics 365 CRM.
These are bringing Dufry a step closer to achieving a single source of truth. “People can apply their own filters and logic to the data but no matter where you go to the system, no matter which side of the system you’re coming into, you will see the exact same thing,” says Zouroudis. “And that has helped us build confidence in the application, in the platform, and is helping us now with the rest of the applications, because feeding them the right data has made that a world of difference to everything that we do.”
This means that the data is not just easier to manage, but also more accurate than ever. “Most companies in our industry are usually satisfied with having a system that is 85% or 90% correct,” he says. “Ours is now over 99%, correct but that’s still not enough for us, we want it to have 100% accuracy.”
Preparing for machine learning and AI
With the prospect of international travel picking up again in the coming weeks, Dufry is preparing for the next steps of its digital transformation.
Since moving to Azure, Dufry has been able to study its customer and product data and come up with up-to-date reports of any local and global activity. “The goal we have for this year is to achieve real-time streaming and reporting of data,” says Zouroudis.
At the same time, the company is preparing to develop machine learning and AI projects, while also planning to introduce more Azure tools such as Azure Synapse Analytics and DevOps.
“We want to deliver a common data model for the applications that we move to Azure,” he continues. “So we’re trying to simplify our environment in a way that allows us to deliver more features in a shorter period of time.”
But there is nothing more satisfying, for the pair, than having helped Dufry take control of its data. “Our board wants us to be accurate, fast, able to deliver, and Microsoft has helped us embrace those values,” he concludes. “Bringing back the data culture was maybe our most gratifying success.”