The internal IT leader driving a comprehensive digital transformation plan at one of the world’s biggest insurers - Generali - says identity and access management provided by cloud-based provider Okta is proving central to accelerating its progress.
That individual - Yanna Winter - says:
This move has helped us in so many ways, but I come back to our operations people, who are often forgotten heroes. When we insure a telephone operator, which has 60,000 masts, sometimes they really do have to go in and enter things 60,000 times; for those people to be able to switch between systems and do all this data entry, and checks, using one solution gives us really significant productivity gains.
Generali is a 100 billion euro global insurance provider with 66 million customers in 50 countries. Based still out of Trieste, the Italian-based firm can trace its history back to 1831.
Rated in the top ten largest brands in its sector by net premiums and assets, Generali is divided into several operating units. Winter is both CIO of its Generali GC&C (Generali Global Corporate and Commercial) arm, plus its Generali UK operation.
Winter kicked off Generali’s ongoing digital transformation work in 2019. The project is centered on finding a fully cloud-based solution that would serve equally well not just customers, but also staff and external brokers.
Generali’s IT world is always composed of many, many multiple directions, users, and pieces - but when I came on board, I faced what I call ‘multiple multi-dimensional puzzles’.
These ‘puzzles,’ she adds, are composed of trying to satisfy the multiple needs of the many clients, territories, lines of business, internal users, external users, brokers, suppliers, systems, API integrations her team supports.
The specific trigger, however, for an upgrade was that it was becoming unsustainable to use what she jokes as “the good old fashioned approaches” the organization had previously been using for identity management and authentication across Generali GC&C’s complex ecosystem.
Why was the first element of that transformation program identity management? Because, Winter says, unless IT knows what it is actually managing, integrating, and developing - and how all those pieces talk to each other - progress could not be made. And so a new approach to identity management was seen as the first building block for any new structure.
Another complication: due to the complexity of the system she inherited (and wanted to support), any possible new security solution would need to be able to handle a range of functions beyond identity management, such as authentication and authorization. It also had to be extremely straightforward for business users, as the team did not want to try and get brokers and underwriters to have to remember “22 passwords” to do, as she puts it, “basic stuff.”
Winter says that the ideal way to satisfy that requirement has emerged in the form of use of a product provided by Okta.
This provides cloud software that helps companies manage and secure user authentication into applications and for developers to build identity controls into applications, website web services and devices.
Winter stresses that she was not interested in any significant adoption curve for getting the upgrade moving. She explains:
When we went to market for this, someone came in to try and sell me a bespoke way of doing this. I fell off my chair laughing - actually, I nearly fell out of the taxi we were sharing laughing.
I said, no, this must be a mainstream product that is simple to introduce. Glueing all the pieces together in our heterogeneous setup is not easy, so I am absolutely delighted with what we've achieved in terms of finding an answer across all our ‘puzzles’.
Key to digital working
A key ongoing win for the product is that any new extension of identity management to Generali GC&C systems, as the wider digital transformation progresses, does not include major upgrade work or significant cost.
Three years into the introduction of the software, 11 core workforce apps are now accessed by SSO (single sign-on). Apps covered include its use of the JIRA project tracking platform, Microsoft SharePoint, and IT service management (ITSM), as well as Dun and Bradstreet for data and analytics. Use of the vendor’s multi-factor authentication is also becoming more widespread.
The company has also seen an 80% reduction in password reset requests.
Winner says she can also now respond to internal data requests within minutes, rather than weeks - responsiveness that cuts data request times, but also boosts overall Generali Global Corporate and Commercial productivity.
Another win has been for the company’s extremely important third party user community - particularly users of a core asset, the Generali B2B underwriting platform, Generisk.
Here, all the identity management interfaces in that application - accessed by external brokers - have been replaced by the cloud version, allowing Generali to guarantee security and for users to only worry about their specific underwriting needs.
Next steps for identity management at the company include more decommissioning of legacy platforms and their gradual replacement - instead of the current (though successful) co-existence - of old and new, she predicts.
Summing up the impact of taking a new approach to identity management, the glue for digital working at her company, Winter says:
Our transformation is all about getting our staff to feel more inspired and achieving better engagement with customers and brokers via a data-driven approach.
That’s starting to happen, as our people have stopped worrying about the complexity of the systems, because we're managing that complexity.
We’re starting to give Generali users truly modern technology - and the business is working very nicely as a result.