Axa builds broker web portal on OutSystems

Insurer Axa has begun using the OutSystems rapid application development tool to help it modernise for 21st century business

Insurer Axa has begun using the OutSystems rapid application development tool to help it modernise for 21st century business.

The application has built on a four-year transformation programme at Axa, involving moving software development from traditional waterfall to the Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM) agile methodology.

During this time, the insurance company developed an enterprise service bus (ESB) to connect different IT systems.

Axa chief operating officer Jon Mitchell said like many insurance companies, Axa has not been a great investor in technology.

Despite this, Mitchell wanted to provide a self-service application for brokers.

In the past, a broker would need to dial into Axa to find how far a customer’s insurance claim had progressed. This would involve giving the broker an application that could access Axa’s disparate legacy backend systems.

Changing business and IT culture

Chief operating officer Jon Mitchell joined Axa at the same time as its IT director, to implement component based architecture, which he admits involved a lot of effort in background. 

This resulted in the development of an enterprise service bus (ESB), which he said lowered the risk of future IT projects compared with developing new functionality directly on the large legacy IT estate at Axa.

“A big enterprise IT project is a huge drain on resources,” said Mitchell.

The company selected Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM) as its software development methodology. 

Mitchell described the change process involved in switching over to DSDM as "really fascinating”. “I’m much more into the people aspect of this,” he said. 

Mitchell admitted the move to DSDM was painful for some individuals. He said: “People who were used to waterfall were pushed out of their comfort zone.”

The other challenge came from the business. “Business people need to get involved in IT, but I have not seen any part of business turning away from this,” said Mitchell.

But the company's ESB, which was implemented four years ago, has provided the backbone onto which Axa’s software team has built the new broker self-service application, called eServe.

The application, which works as a web-based portal, allows brokers to view key claims information in real time, including liability decisions, as well as payment and settlement details. It also enables them to view the contact information of the relevant parties involved in the claim, such as adjusters, solicitors and surveyors.

“Once we had built the ESB we could deploy eServe really quickly,” said Mitchell

Among the reasons to select OutSystems as the development tool was that it natively supported Axa’s ESB.

But the methodology used by OutSystems was Scrum, not DSDM. “It took us a few weeks to figure out but we found common ground quickly,” said Mitchell.

OutSystems sent some staff from Lisbon to work with Axa on mapping out the two methodologies. Luckily, both Scrum and DSDM shared common elements, such as the concept of the earliest delivery of business value, whiteboards, deliverables and blockers.

Mitchell said he was confident enough to run a show-and-tell session with Axa’s CEO after only four weeks, to demonstrate the broker self-service application.

Following a successful pilot with broker Bluefin, eServe has now gone into a second pilot phase with members of the Brokerbility group and will be made available to the wider market in the second quarter of 2015.

Read more about agile

The eServe project was the first time Axa’s claims staff were involved in an agile IT project. 

“I had the claims directory scream that I was taking too many people out of the business but we delivered a working portal to Bluefin in less than six months, which is something we could not have achieved using a traditional approach,” said Mitchell.

Read more on Software development tools