Generali UK CIO’s tech strategy is to ‘divide, conquer and integrate’

Profile picture for user Sooraj Shah By Sooraj Shah February 2, 2021 Audio version
Summary:
Yanna Winter continues four-year digital transformation programme at Generali UK, with move to 100% cloud-based environment.

Generali
(Assicurazioni Generali)

Generali is one of the top 10 insurance companies in the world, with a wide geographical base. Yanna Winter is CIO for Generali UK and for the Global Corporate and Commercial (GC&C) part of the business, which is located in 20 countries.

She joined the company more than three years ago, and realised that the insurer was in need of significant transformation, with regards to its IT infrastructure. She said:

When it comes to IT transformation the three things from my point of view that we need to ask are: What is the functionality we need to provide, what is the regulatory requirements we need to meet, and how much is it going to cost?

With extensive experience of working on large-scale transformations, Winter emphasized the importance of not attaching a short-term target - for instance planning to begin a project in January and complete it by December. Instead, a true transformation project needs to be a long-term programme.

Winter put forward a four-year IT transformation project to her board. Each financial year, the company could achieve some functionality and review where it is at, so if it wanted to slightly alter the course of the overall programme, it could. She said:

The sequence of transformation has been to firstly work out the integration transformation, secondly the infrastructure, third data, and fourth applications.

The reason to resolve integration and identity management first was because the company had a very complex IT environment; with an array of internal and external systems in multiple countries and a huge number of data sources.

Winter describes her IT strategy as "divide, conquer and integrate", meaning the company required a relatively simple integration architecture before it could move onto the next stage of transformation.

Transformation isn't just about going from analogue to digital

Winter explains that digitization isn't just about going from analogue or paper to digital - although she acknowledges that transforming paper processes is a big shift in the insurance industry. She said:

Even if everything is digital, if it is not structured correctly or integrated correctly it can produce delays in meeting customer or regulatory requirements.

This is why integration needed to be worked on first. For integration, the company selected MuleSoft to replace its existing Enterprise Service Bus (ESB), which had been rolled out by another vendor as part of an API strategy to integrate various sources of data more effectively. Winter said:

We had to decide how we're going to do this new integration, considering functionality and regulations and trying to get out of the box as much as possible without having to develop it ourselves.

A cost-benefit analysis was undertaken for its API and ESB integration, and the conclusion was that the best approach was to use an integration Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). Each part would fit into its own cloud as close as possible to the experts who provide the services, and then these pieces would be integrated.

Winter said that MuleSoft was selected after a proof-of-concept stage involving several vendors, for the following reasons:

I didn't want to have the complexity to procure software, install it on my infrastructure and then maintain the entire stack. By selecting MuleSoft we were able to hit the ground running and start implementation in two weeks - if we tried to do it on our own infrastructure it would have taken four or five months - not because of the software integration but because of the infrastructure needs.

MuleSoft was also selected for the cost benefits and because of the professional services offered; Winter explained that the consultants acted like an integral part of the team rather than being two teams working separately, which helped to make the implementation as smooth as possible. Finally, Winter explained that there was far more that was found ‘in the box' with MuleSoft than other providers.  She said:

When you talk about the typical ESB integration, you're going to need API management and more out of the box support needs to be provided. For example, for things like security, segregation and management reporting - this is why MuleSoft was selected.

Next steps

At the start of 2020, Generali UK completed its integration transformation and by the end of 2020 it had also completed its infrastructure transformation.

This consisted of a transition to a 100% cloud-based environment, meaning that the company began decommissioning its data centres at the end of last year. This decision to take a multi-cloud and cloud-first approach was based on enabling the company to have a competitive advantage, Winter said. Generali UK and GCC is using Office 365, and it's mainly using Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications because the team does not want to reinvent the wheel when it can buy straightforward functionality, Winter explained.

Towards the end of last year, the company began its data transformation, which Winter believes is more critical than the application transformation. She said:

My logic goes like this: if my data is sorted out then I can develop multiple applications on that and that's why applications were last on the list - in order to make more radical decisions.

There were a number of challenges that needed to be overcome for Winter's team on the data-front. Winter emphasised that her team has had to accept that data will continue existing in multiple places and multiple platforms. The main challenge is to understand where the data is, how people can get hold of it, how quickly they can get hold of it and how they can match pieces of the data.

While the API ESB approach will be the main method used in many of these cases, Generali UK will continue to use existing technologies such as ETL in some cases where huge amounts of data is being processed.

Overall, the digital transformation plans for Generali UK and GCC are on track. As a result of the changes made to integration, infrastructure and data, the company already has a better grasp of customer insights, while the use of APIs has sped up the pace of innovation at the company. For example, it has been able to reuse digital capabilities to build new applications faster, rather than having to start from scratch every time.