The challenge of our era - digital transformation at Allianz

The insurance firm wants to become "digital by default" and its CIO explains the vital role DevOps and cloud play in its change programme

Allianz was founded 127 years ago and has seen huge transformations across business and society in that time. We have adapted to each wave successfully to become one of the largest companies in the world.

The challenge of our current era is digital transformation. Software is revolutionising the business models of every single industry and every company has to rise to the commercial challenges this change creates.

Allianz is transforming to become a digital-by-default insurer to ensure we offer high-quality, personalised, data-driven digital experiences that are tailored to our customers’ needs.

This requires a significant step change in the speed, agility and quality of how we create and deliver value to our customers in order to continue our history of innovative success.

We have embarked on a full-scale DevOps and cloud transformation – changing the way our processes and technology interact to accelerate our ability to respond to the market and deliver exceptional experiences to our customers.

The depth and breadth of the change before us is sizable. Transforming from a partially agile organisation into a full DevOps operating model in the public cloud involves not only fundamental shifts in how we work and the technologies we use, but also a shift in mindset.

Stepping out of our comfort zone

Large enterprises are often cautious around step changes in how they work, and this has generally served them well in the past. But as technology accelerates the pace of regulation and governance on the one hand and catalyses shifts in consumer behaviour on the other, there’s only one choice left – to swiftly build new digital propositions to counter disruption by newer, more nimble market entrants.

Allianz is developing private cloud capabilities but our leadership team has agreed to use Amazon Web Services (AWS) to move towards a “you build it you run it” model to deliver at the pace of change the market now demands. We believe it is imperative that we bring our software and technical delivery capability in-house and modernise our skills and technologies in order to create, change and deploy software at velocity.

Creating the change

From a technological perspective, the goal is to completely automate infrastructure and application build, testing, releasing, security, compliance, monitoring and so on. This means key processes will be reliably and consistently replicated at maximum speed, delivering value to our customers, gathering feedback and enabling the business to make appropriate changes as quickly as possible.

Extremely important compliance and security concerns can be embedded – as code – as early as possible in an automated software delivery pipeline, meaning they are no longer tacked on at the end where they become a potential bottleneck to release.

We also set up end-to-end cloud environments in AWS across development, test and production that can be provisioned in minutes, rather than days or months. These AWS environments are integrated with the on-premise Allianz systems of record to enable a hybrid operating model. It is the intention that scripts used to build these environments in AWS will be interchangeably re-usable for carrying out the same task in our private cloud.

These technologies provide great speed and efficiency, but must be combined with ways of working that leverage these capabilities. Alongside technological upgrades, we introduced DevOps and continuous delivery engineering practices across this pipeline to establish a new, scalable operating model.

Last, but by no means least, it is empowering developers – in terms of knowledge, resources and support – to create fantastic digital experiences for customers. Instead of siloed development teams, we created co-located cross-functional teams to make collaboration the natural way of working and enable individual teams to take ownership of a particular product or feature from conception to delivery.

Strategic partnership

We didn’t transform alone. Our partnership with Contino, a specialist DevOps and cloud transformation consultancy, brought a wealth of experience to our transformation. Contino has experience helping large, regulated enterprises to overcome existing organisational structures and legacy technologies and to create new, cutting-edge structures and processes that enable rapid time-to-market while remaining secure and compliant.

The crucial aspect of our partnership is their ability to help us to deliver the software we needed as well as work alongside our own people. Contino delivery engineers are paired up with members of the Allianz team – from development to operations and security – and work hand-in-hand to deliver work while learning on the job and in dedicated workshops.

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With help from our supplier, Allianz is establishing a DevOps Centre of Excellence, which provides a base from which to share knowledge and lessons learned. This is a proven strategy for effectively improving in-house DevOps capability.

The Allianz IT leadership team in the UK has made bold but necessary moves to leapfrog the competition and fundamentally improve how they deliver value to their customers. Allianz has been able to create rapid software delivery capability and fully-skilled co-located delivery teams – a game-changer with significant return on investment that will stand the organisation in good stead for further transformation projects going forward.

Digital transformation outcomes

Our first tangible step towards the digital-first goal is a refresh of our presence in the animal health market, where Allianz is a global leader with a £300m share. Allianz needs to deliver new software to support this business but existing structures and processes could potentially have slowed this process down.

Allianz engaged with Contino, which committed to delivering this work as a 12 week “lighthouse project”.

Moving to the cloud and introducing DevOps practices has accelerated our software delivery capability when conventional offshore software development approaches would have taken two or three times longer. This is a marked increase in effectiveness for such a large company and will be a critical success factor in expanding our presence in this market.

Establishing reusable patterns – through infrastructure as code – for software delivery is improving delivery quality, reliability and agility. This is a scalable model which can then be repeatedly deployed across the rest of the organisation to help us expand the transformation across the entire company.

The DevOps Centre of Excellence is enabling our teams to build the skills and talent to improve their software delivery capability in the future, with no further reliance on other parties. The scale and speed of the transformation project is rare in terms of standard enterprise expectations.

Allianz has built an entire platform from scratch, including a multi-account hybrid AWS setup, and managed everything with infrastructure-as-code
Jacob Abboud, CIO, Allianz Insurance

Allianz has built an entire platform from scratch, including a multi-account hybrid AWS setup, managed everything with infrastructure-as-code using Terraform and Ansible, set up on-premise connectivity via private links, re-engineered monolithic application into microservices, and baked security and compliance into the entire continuous improvement and delivery pipeline.

The results are impressive. The entire platform and all the applications hosted on it can be moved to another AWS region within three hours. Changes can be delivered through an automated build, deploy and test pipeline in 30 minutes. A completely new microservice can be delivered within the hour.

The team took all this on and worked extremely hard. We are now achieving all this in just three months with a team that can fit inside a single room.   

Rising to the challenge

This process certainly hasn’t been easy, but significant root-and-branch change rarely is. Throughout the project, we have been and are still working tightly with the business to demonstrate the rapid step change, and what it means to them. We have seen that pushing such transformative change through requires bold ambition and convincing sponsorship which was driven by the Allianz leadership team.

Expectations have now been significantly raised in our UK business. Over the next 18 months, the expectation is that this mode of delivery will be business as usual and the new benchmark for all software delivery. That’s the power of transformation in meeting the challenges of the digital era.

This was last published in July 2017

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