Need for speed

How IT ops powers business strategy at a major insurance company

IT in insurance sector
  • New products and pricing models coming to the insurance industry require faster, data‑driven decision‑making
  • Automating processes, reducing handoffs, and shifting workloads to the cloud will help Nationwide gain speed and efficiency
  • Infrastructure changes to support apps that once took weeks can now be done with the push of a button

The insurance business is at an inflection point. New pricing models, heightened customer expectations, and nimble competitors from outside the industry make it inevitable that traditional providers will be disrupted.

At Nationwide, where I oversee IT service management and the company’s data center operations, we’re responding by disrupting ourselves.

Primarily, that means getting faster. We need to speed up every aspect of our business, from responding to customers and developing new products to analyzing meaningful data that will make us even more competitive. At the same time, we need to keep our systems highly available, around the clock.

In IT infrastructure and operations, we’ve made three big changes to support this goal. First we’re automating as many processes as possible. Second, we’ve redesigned our organizational model to reduce handoffs. Finally, we’re moving the majority of our workloads to the cloud.

It’s hard to underestimate how challenging all this is for a company of our size and reach. Nationwide offers an unusually wide range of products, including property and casualty insurance, auto and life, annuities, and retirement plans.

Supporting that many product lines and distribution channels is very complex. We have about 7,000 IT associates and numerous legacy systems. We have several ongoing initiatives to shut down legacy systems and migrate to modern systems, which will help us gain speed and efficiency.

Real-time availability

The ability to make faster decisions based on data is critical when you consider some of the new pricing models that are coming to insurance. In the future, real‑time information from vehicles will help determine how we price and renew auto insurance rates. And we’ll need systems that are available 24x7x365 to support all our insurance products across property, casualty and financial services.

Our company is on a mission to consolidate systems and modernize. We’re looking to automate every process we can. For example, we used to have multiple asset inventory systems. One system housed all of our server information, another had our network information, and a third system housed our software information. Those systems could only talk to each other were through a lot of interfaces that we had to build and maintain. We’ve been able to consolidate all of that asset information and automate the tracking process.

The need for speed has also led us to change our internal processes and organizational model. At Nationwide, IT used to be on a monthly release cadence for application changes as well as upgrades and maintenance to our infrastructure. Once a month is too slow, so we developed new change processes and have reorganized into agile teams that deliver in very short iterations using DevOps concepts.

Our Agile and DevOps teams can work fast, fail fast, and mature fast. They have fewer handoffs to deal with because all the important decision makers are in the same room. With our agile teams, we’re at the point where we can modify certain applications daily using new processes and automation.

Cloud coverage

The cloud has become a key part of our strategy to support speed and efficiency. Currently, Nationwide is about 10% in the cloud. Over the next 36 months we aim to become about 80% cloud leveraging SaaS, PaaS and IaaS.

The cloud enables our application developers to control the design, development, implementation, and installation of applications on their end, rather than working and waiting for approvals across multiple departments. That process used to take weeks, but with applications in the cloud, we can do a lot of infrastructure provisioning and experimentation with the push of a button.

The lines between IT and the rest of Nationwide’s business are blurring, and that’s a good thing. With our old model, IT was mostly an order taker, waiting for the business to provide requirements for what they wanted to do. Many new products and innovations (such as metered auto insurance) are now being driven more by technology. Nationwide’s technology is at the heart of our products and the technology itself can be a competitive differentiator.

Ultimately, the need for speed is critical because our future competitors are likely to be some of the fastest and most innovative IT companies in the world. For example, we know that Amazon and Google are looking to get into the insurance business and disrupt us. In some ways we’re more worried about competition from tech companies than from traditional insurance companies. But as long as we can offer innovative new products in shorter cycles and an outstanding user experience, Nationwide will be very well positioned moving forward.