Insurance firm frees itself from legacy shackles

Insurance intermediary is moving its IT infrastructure into the cloud in a 12-month project that also sees it update its end-user computing technologies

Insurance intermediary Towergate will be free of the shackles of out-of-date technology by the end of the year when it completes its move to Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform.

The 12-month project includes a refresh of end-user technologies.

The acquisition of more than 300 individual insurance broker businesses over the last 17 years left Towergate with highly fragmented IT and outdated end-user computing hardware and software.

CIO Gordon Walters said this was because the company did not have a blueprint for how to integrate acquisitions, so they were “sort of bolted on the side”.

“We had multiple datacentres, multiple suppliers and everything ranging from Windows XP to Windows 2007,” said Walters. “We had a whole estate of outdated and under-invested IT that was not giving us the performance and reliance we were looking for.” The company had suffered costly server outages and was unable to use modern digital productivity tools.

The company had tried Citrix to address the problems and had used its software for four years, but Walters said network issues made this a struggle.

When a refinancing round came up the company decided to look at transforming the core infrastructure. “The infrastructure was holding us back and preventing application rationalisation that we needed to do because we had inherited so many applications through acquisitions,” Walters said. Towergate had about 1,400 servers, a substantial number for a company that only employs 4,500 people.

In July 2015 the company decided to recruit the support of Accenture and its Avanade joint venture with Microsoft to outline the options available. By October, Walters was going to Towergate’s business leaders with a proposition to move everything into the cloud and a plan to refresh end-user computing.

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The IT leaders believed by moving everything into the cloud the business could gain competitive advantage and senior business leaders agreed when the business plan was presented in October 2015.

“Most of the insurance industry was doing parts of IT in the cloud, but we wanted to leapfrog this and go all in,” Walters added. “We wanted to get rid of physical datacentres and PBXs and move into things like Skype for business where costs are likely to come down, not go up.”

He said there was an immediate benefit to moving to the cloud because the company had run out of rack space in its two main datacentres and would have had to buy more.

It was then a choice between Amazon Web Services cloud and Microsoft Azure and a mix of the two seemed likely. “Amazon looked quite easy, but Microsoft came and put something different on the table, which included the use of not only Azure, but things like Microsoft Dynamics, Windows 10, Office 365 and Skype for business.”

Microsoft was chosen and a 12-month migration began, of which Towergate is currently in the middle. The project involves not just datacentre renewal, but includes the implementation of a new network from BT and a refresh of all the company’s end-user computing equipment. “We are replacing generations of old kit and moving away from Citrix back to traditional clients.”

The company is readying the applications to be taken out of physical datacentres to be put in the cloud.

Accenture is leading the migration for the company, which has 100 IT staff, with Avanade focused on the end-user computing build.

“We plan to have everything in Azure by the end of this year, which will make it an 11-12 month project,” said Walters.

In terms of cost savings, Towergate has invested over £14m to upgrade its IT infrastructure. As well as improving the experience of staff and customers, the company expects annual savings of about £4m.

Future acquisitions will also be easier to complete with a blueprint now in place, added Walters.

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