Yanna Winter, CIO, Head of Generali UK IT and Generali Corporate & Commercial IT, tells us how the insurance giant maintains its position as one of the most significant players in the global insurance and financial products market. We hear how the company has utilised a MuleSoft technology solution to future-proof its operations and maintain its competitive edge in such a demanding market.
Can you provide an overview of the company and your digital strategy?
Generali is one of the world’s major insurance companies. I’m responsible for all of our UK businesses and also for one of our global businesses called Generali Corporate & Commercial – a very exciting business based in 20 countries dealing with our high-end customers.
I’m going to talk about the parts of the company that I’m responsible for the in the UK and Generali Corporate & Commercial. I find it the most exciting job I have had in my entire life – maybe it’s a case of reaping the benefits of experience from all of the things I have previously done in various places and in various industries. What is exciting about Generali UK is that at the right time, at the right place and for the right reasons, we have launched into a significant IT transformation. We have done it with the right speed, the right goals, the right measurements and with the right benefits, and it will take us approximately four years to complete. This is an exciting place to be and all for the purpose of better serving our customers.
Why did you select MuleSoft as the technology vendor and what benefits has this delivered?
I will respond to this on three levels: the first is ‘why integration?’; the second is ‘why MuleSoft?’; and the third is ‘the benefits’.
So, ‘why integration?’. In this four-year transformation we’ve had to be very careful what we transform in what sequence because in the world of IT there are some very physical dependencies. So, the first part of our transformation was the integration. In a nutshell, it was integration, then infrastructure, then data and then applications. So, why integration first? Our IT strategy is ‘divide, conquer and integrate’. Integration is our first priority because it enabled the rest of our landscape and the rest of our transformation, because if I know that then I will forever have multiple systems in multiple territories, internal, external, all kinds of systems, for me to be able to decouple them and then integrate them, I need to have that integration strategy and integration architecture.
So, ‘why MuleSoft?’. We selected MuleSoft in July 2019 and were replacing a previous implementation which had outlived its capabilities technology-wise after being in place for about 10 years. We had to consider what would meet our business needs in the next 15-20 years. The three considerations are: functionality; regulatory and security requirements; and cost. Projecting the needs for the next 15-20 years and doing the cost benefit analysis proved to us that MuleSoft was the best provider. The main benefits we’ve seen are out of the box functionality; cloud provision of the service; the professional services; and the elasticity and predictability of costs.
How important is Digital Transformation to the organisation, and how has this been accelerated in response to COVID-19?
I have been involved in the digitalisation of insurance for the last 20 years. In a very simplistic manner, there were two ways of thinking and one of these was anything which is analogue, paper, humans and doing things manually. We have been digitalising these processes for years and there’s relatively little left in digitalising those straightforward, non-digital processes. The same terminology of digitalisation is applied to improving what we have and I’m sure you will have heard this piece of wisdom – ‘don’t digitalise your processes, if they’re the wrong ones’. So, pick the right elements and compose as they need the new customer journeys, the better customer care, the regulatory requirements responses, security responses, costs, etc.
I would like to predict what the next wave of digitalisation is, but I can’t quite imagine it yet. So, we’re still doing a bit more towards making sure we’re improving, speeding up, where we’re putting Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and ultimately making all of the right decisions at the right time. COVID has sped that up. I remember conversations even back in March as we were going into lockdown where people were asking if we were going to delay our transformation. I responded by saying I don’t have the option to delay, because I need to enable my business users to work remotely from home and to be able to sustain the business without exceeding the costs.
So, the two major areas where I’ve seen changes are collaboration, and the paperless office. I’m going to start with the paperless office. We have been improving, automating and reducing paper. It has been a challenge with not being allowed to come into the office, with certain documents still needing to come into the office. Coming back to our integration – this is where it has worked very nicely because for the first step, we’ve got a skeleton team operating from the office; scanning documents, putting them electronically and then dealing with them in the redistribution of the documents. At the moment we’re using paperless managed service of people dealing with that but when the actual information from the scanned paper comes to us, then we’re using our integration approach to work out who needs to be notified with what speed, and what systems, what is the overall integration of those incoming and outgoing documents. So, the paperless approach has been sped up.
But in terms of collaboration, if you’re told you have 24 hours to go home and continue working due to the COVID-19 lockdown, it’s all about the collaboration. However, in the IT world, I cannot and I don’t want to stipulate to my business what to use, because I have multiple businesses, multiple countries, multiple systems, multiple document management systems, multiple scanning, multiple workflow systems. So to enable that collaboration, I can’t tell everyone to stop what they’re doing and use Zoom or Microsoft Teams, but to be able to orchestrate traffic and to provide the right collaboration at the right time and not for people to have to copy documents in 20 places and keep an eye on 10 workflow systems. This is where the magic of IT has to be played out.
How do you maintain a competitive edge in such a demanding market?
Very carefully. A competitive edge by definition is that I need to be better at something, but the question is, where? Usually, the typical things to consider in our insurance value chain are how to understand risk, how to price risk, how to take care of customers’ claims, how to not over-expose to claim. These are quite specific areas and as long as I know that certain areas of our IT landscape are providing competitive advantage to our business, I tend to protect those, I tend to be competitive by definition, and this is where our efforts go in terms of keeping something that is ours, ours.
How have APIs played a role in supporting Generali’s transition to a 100% cloud-based environment by the end of 2020?
I hadn’t thought it through that deeply let’s say two or three years ago, because directionally, we knew that we had to integrate our pieces. What worked out very beautifully was when we started migrating the contents of our data centres to Infrastructure-as-a-Service, we had to make a very specific decision – do we shut down everything for a few days and then do the lift and shift in one go, take everything over our employees’ long weekend or maybe tell the business not to come to work in August because we’re moving everything into the cloud; or do I have a more incremental view where I say let’s analyse the applications, the data, the reporting and then migrate it gradually. And the only reason we have the comfort to actually make the choice between one big bang approach or gradually is because we had a good integration approach. This is the advantage of having a good API approach because our business was unaware that we were physically moving things from data centres in London into data centres outside Amsterdam. This wouldn’t not have been possible without the API approach we selected.
What benefits has the MuleSoft solution offered the end-user?
I will refer back to the functionality, regulatory security and costs. So in terms of functionality; the ability to compose new services, to compose new functionality, to compose new data feeds, very rapidly.
In terms of regulatory, we’re supporting the data lineage, providing absolute visibility of where the data flows have been before, the decision has been made on pricing on claims, as an example.
In terms of security, the majority of the security that we have had to do on the integration has been out of the box.
And then finally, the pricing. For our purposes, we selected the cloud offering from MuleSoft – the Integration Platform as-a-Service because it serves our needs. We are reassured by knowing that we can purchase additional power as and when needed, instead of committing to owning the infrastructure.
Another factor that helped with the cost was using the professional services from MuleSoft. When we started our development, we started within two weeks of selecting new software because we could use the cloud platform and using the professional services accelerated our development. Something that we thought could take up 12-18 months we did within six months. Referring back to the cost – that flexibility of the processing power that I can procure from MuleSoft means we can maintain our competitive edge. I don’t need to be paying flat fees 12 months a year, so it makes my life significantly easier.
How has the solution future-proofed the company?
We have to imagine the future for the next 20 years because I’m sure something will take us by surprise 10 years from now. We have been predicting where the business is going, what kinds of business in terms of whether it will be along the same lines or whether it be new lines of business, what the level of granularity of services will be, because between all of the businesses that we serve we’re always looking at that level of granularity. We have been protecting the business needs, we have been projecting what regulatory requirements will be, what the capacity is going to be just by having a good grasp on how things will work for the next 20 years. This is how we selected the functionality, security, throughput and cost for what we pay for our API management and ESP implementation.