Careers: INFORMATION

INFORMATION by Stephen Ibaraki

Success lessons, Brendan Bank, CIO, Booking.com, Finalist CIO of the Year Award

This is the next article in the series of success lessons from the CIO CITY summit.

In this video captured at CIOCITY, I overview what the EU CIO of the Year Winners and finalists embodied having chaired the panel session with the EU CIO of the Year winners.

Quoting from the CIOCITY 2015 Digital Leadership Report by Nils Olaya Fonstad and Frederic De Meyer and discussed in the panel session with the EU CIO of the Year winners


Brendan Bank, CIO, Booking.com (Netherlands)

Category: Large Enterprise

Activity: Global e-commerce in online travel and related services.

Employees (FTE): +9000

About the IT division

Full Time Equivalents: 750

About Brendan Bank

Brendan Bank is Booking.com's Chief Information Officer, responsible for all IT Product Development and Corporate IT. He leads a team of hundreds of professionals working on Booking.com's website and apps, which attract visitors from both the leisure and business online travel sectors worldwide. Bank brings extensive experience in the fields of e-commerce, IT management and agile software development to help ensure that Booking.com remains one of the leading digital e-commerce and online accommodations search platforms in the world.

Before joining Booking.com in 2008, Bank spent four years as an IT consultant working on a number of specialist projects. These included serving as Chief Information Officer with Aon eSolutions, in Atlanta, Georgia; and as Manager of Internet Services with the Telegraaf Media Group, the largest media and publishing company in the Netherlands.

Prior to this, Bank worked as the Server and Services Director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at MCI WorldCom and the Manager of Network Operations for the Dutch part of the network with UUNet. Bank also worked as a Product Development Engineer at NLNet, one of the first internet service companies (ISP) in the Netherlands which was acquired by UUNET in 1998.

Bank started his career as system administrator for a printing company, were he was responsible for planning, developing and operating the workflow management systems.

A selection of recent achievements

  • Over the last 6.5 years the IT department has been instrumental in Booking.com’s global growth. In terms of room nights booked – a key metric for the company – Booking.com increased its business exponentially in that period. To support such rapid growth, Bank and the rest of the Leadership Team decided, “the best way forward was organized chaos.” During that period, Bank scaled the IT Group from fewer than 50 to over 750. Today, it consists of over 100 agile development and production teams that build and extend the Booking.com technology stack and product portfolio. Bank and his team have developed an infrastructure that enables AB testing – essential for development team to rapidly test hypotheses with customers and learn from their results.

  • To significantly increase the velocity of developers, while minimizing any risks to the website, core systems and data, Bank and his team changed the way development teams can make changes to the booking.com website. Development teams are able to introduce new features and functionality directly to the website. This allows customers to give feedback to the teams so they can improve the feature. Bank and his team also developed ways to mitigate the risk that bugs and mistakes have direct impact on their customers (see first key lesson, below).

  • Bank helped reinvent the way Booking.com hires and organizes recruitment so that it is one of the most strategic processes in the company. Booking.com could not have grown so fast and become the largest accommodation website in the world without a core of very strong and competent IT system engineers, software developers, front-end developers, analysts and designers. The company reinvented how it finds, on-boards and retains "A+ talent" by repositioning recruitment to be "part of an employee lifecycle." This lifecycle starts before the future candidates even are aware he/she is going to work for booking.com and ends long after the engineer has left the company. The results have been impressive: a very low churn rate (<9% over 2014) and a significant growth in staff year over year over the last 5 years (40%+ in 2014).

A selection of key lessons and advice

  • Create a bottom-up culture where failure is built-in to the system. To overcome instinctively risk averse software engineers, Bank introduced an "outage budget" to cover for any failures and allow that their website will sometimes have problems. They complemented the outage budget with very quick roll-back processes (tools and monitoring) so that when they discover live faulty software, they are able to do a rollback in seconds to limit the impact on customers. The outage budget has helped foster data driven decision-making and enhance the velocity of developing features.

  • Reposition recruitment to be part of an employee lifecycle. Booking.com has been positioning itself to be top of mind when candidates think about transitioning to a new job. They try to build touch points with the future candidates by sponsoring open source initiatives, funding foundations, and hosting conferences. When they bring in candidates we make sure that the candidate experience is fully in line with the company’s values and culture. Booking.com has over 65 nationalities in IT working for in Amsterdam. Once a foreign-candidate is hired they will reach out the spouses and ensure they will enjoy the same values and culture.

  • Err on having too few levels of management rather than too many. Bank and his colleagues prioritize garnering commitment from their employees over controlling them. They prefer bottom-up ideas over HIPPO (Highest person’s opinion) directives.

Quote

The best way forward for us has been organized chaos. Data driven decision making and data driven product development are the keys to our success.

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