Zurich Insurance UK recently adopted low-code practices and integrated business and IT teams to foster a sustainable DevOps culture across the business. UK Head of DevOps Barrington Clarke explains that by using this agile approach, the insurance provider is able to respond to business and customer needs faster.
The shift from longer lead times to an agile DevOps approach was driven by management who want the business to be able to respond quickly when opportunities arise. Clarke explains:
Our COO came from a small insurance company that had in-house software development capability, and had become a little frustrated that it could take so long just to get an innovation or a small application written.
He tasked the IT function with looking at how we could rebuild both internal capacity and rapid application development capacity, and we quickly put in place a DevOps function that I was asked to lead.
Adopting DevOps requires a huge change in process, organization and culture all at the same time. A key part of the transition for Zurich Insurance UK has been to closely integrate the IT teams with the business analysts, so that there is a clear understanding of the business requirements from the start.
However, as business analysts have little or no experience with traditional coding, Zurich Insurance UK has also introduced the use of Mendix – a platform that enables low-code development. Clarke says:
With a low code, you can attract talent from both traditional IT training and business training, as the barrier to entry for development is lower. Using a low code platform also allows us to develop software very quickly and we can iterate on that maybe faster than traditional software development.
In addition to this, agile development has been adopted as the main approach, which focuses on user needs, starting small and testing frequently. Clarke says agility and DevOps give Zurich Insurance UK business space to change their mind, without fear that huge development costs have already been swallowed up. Clarke explains:
I think it’s unfair to ask an insurance professional to be very firm and clear about what they want from a new system early in the development cycle, and never allow it to change. notice.
DevOps, the iterative nature of agile delivery and low code lends itself to recognizing that the company won’t always know what it wants, it might change its mind, but also that software developers don’t know necessarily how to provide that – but they can explore and find out together.
I am also convinced, quite frankly, that agility, DevOps and low code are the future of business: we have to move away completely from the traditional linear cascade, which in my opinion is not suitable for market oriented or oriented development. client currently.
Speed to market
Since these changes were introduced, Zurich has been able to put applications into production in weeks rather than months. One example is the company’s “FaceQuote” application, which asks customers to take a selfie to estimate their age, using third-party facial recognition software. The app then calculates a monthly premium based on that estimate.
FaceQuote adoption has been strong and development costs have been modest, according to Clarke. The development team consisted of a single low-code developer and a UX / UI expert, with the creation of the front-end taking just four days. The total development time was only seven days.
Another example is Zurich Insurance UK’s complete rewrite of its brokerage processed quotes operation, which reduced turnaround times from days to minutes and hours. The collaboration that DevOps culture enables between business and IT is at the heart of these successes. Clarke says:
Because we are an internal team, we can sit closely with the company, understand their issues and accompany them on this journey. So we go to the operational meetings, we have regular meetings with the product owners, we look at the backlog and ask, “Where is the business unit going? Where is your industry heading? And that means we can work with them to deliver what they need for their business, as opposed to that older, traditional IT supply and demand model.
Embrace change during COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on businesses around the world, where changes had to be introduced within days to support both employees and customers. As a key provider of financial services, Zurich Insurance UK has faced increased demand from customers, while also having to ensure that its employees can work efficiently from their homes, in many cases. The company’s low-code DevOps culture helped it respond quickly during this time, according to Clarke. He says:
Digital transformation isn’t just about delivering an app – it’s actually forcing a business process change in the very way you do business. And in fact, some of the biggest digital transformation projects the DevOps team has done have been in the last year or so during COVID-19, and they’ve been significant.
Where things were tough was when you had tough business and technical issues, the ability to walk into an office around a whiteboard and sticky notes, and debate things face to face. was not there, so it took a bit longer. But in the end, we’ve shipped almost a dozen apps over the past two years or so, and the pace of change hasn’t slowed down at all.
With persistent change now in place, Zurich is now thinking more broadly about how it can modernize its systems and processes. Part of this is legacy computing, where, for example, the company is upgrading its 14,000 Lotus Notes applications. But it is also recognized that the way in which the company supports development may also need to be reassessed. Clarke says:
Embracing low code, agility and DevOps has allowed us to think and operate differently, and seize opportunities that weren’t there before.
I think we’ve also found that the annual fundraising cycles of traditional annual planning aren’t always the best equipped to deal with the rapid changes and evolving way the business wants to operate, so I can see that will change as we go along.