Axa Insurance is to replace its 10-year-old mainframe as part of a multimillion-pound project to reduce the time taken to roll out new commercial insurance products from months to weeks.
The insurer, which is replacing its AS400 mainframe with a platform from Duck Creek Technologies Europe, predicts that the technology will cut the time to develop and launch new products from nine months to 10 weeks.
At the same time, the company plans to retrain its IT staff in agile programming techniques, giving them the skills to update the company's management information systems rapidly to keep pace with the roll out of new products.
"It will make a huge difference," said Morgan Spillane, IT and change management director. "If there is a new initiative in the market, or changes to regulations we can respond within 24 hours. It can take up to 40 days using our existing system."
The platform, from Duck Green Technologies, will allow the company to develop insurance products and make changes to existing products when it goes live in the first quarter next year.
It will replace the company's AS400 mainframe, which runs the Insure 90 insurance software, and its web front end, Axa Business Risk, a Java program developed by Axa's in-house IT team, used by brokers and Axa staff.
Axa realised it needed to replace its IT system after it began a project to refresh its commercial insurance products - its first redevelopment in seven years
Spillane says it became clear that the IT department could not do the job quickly. Each insurance product required two sets of programming, one for I90 and one for Axa Business Risk.
The firm brought in management consultants Winchester White to review 30 alternative systems. Axa chose Duck Creek from a shortlist of six.
"We wanted something off the shelf. We wanted to use a form of agile programming. We wanted a partner who could operate in an agile way, and we wanted more of a collaborator than a supplier," says Spillane.
Axax plans to retrain its IT staff in agile techniques so that they can redevelop the systems used to manage claims, and market the new products as they are developed. They will work much more closely with the business, rather than act as an internal supply chain as they have done in the past, says Spillane.
"We are retraining more people downside on agile methodology," says Spillane. "It is crucial. You cannot have a train of cars travelling at 60 miles an hour, if some of them are travelling at 30mph."
The new platform will require IT staff with business analysis skills, rather than traditional programming skills, he says.
"We need a different skill set, more around the business and a lot less around software development. I want people with very strong business understanding who can convert that knowledge to a rules based system"
Axa will take three years to migrate all its commercial insurance products to the new system. Axa will keep its AS400 mainframe running in parallel with the Duck Creek platform during the project. Around 100 IT staff based at the Axa datacentre in Lytham St Annes will work on the project.
The company is in the process of moving its non-legacy IT systems to a datacentre in Switzerland, acquired when Axa bought Winterthur, in 2006.