At most medium-to-large insurers, application developers are well-versed in Agile application development practices. They rightly view Agile as a way to increase process agility and accelerate release cycles. Many also use some form of DevOps to automate and “institutionalize” Agile processes.
After all, business users are asking for a host of new features – and, of course, they need these new capabilities “now.” In-demand capabilities include the ability to:
- Improve customer experience through a simplified user interface accessible through multiple types of devices.
- Provide interactive visual representations, such as maps.
- Launch new insurance products quickly.
To meet market needs in a timely fashion – and get the full range of Agile benefits – insurers need to combine Agile development with mature DevOps practices. Because DevOps ensures automation and integration across the full application development lifecycle, it enables the velocity needed to compete today. When Agile and DevOps come together, the whole is greater than the parts.
Reading the Danger Signs
As most people know, Agile development is a blueprint for a particular type of application development in which teams work in sequenced bursts called “sprints.” DevOps orchestrates the Agile blueprint, using various tools to bring a high level of automation to the process.
DevOps addresses the operational aspects of deploying apps, including automated provisioning and gating at different stages of application development and maintenance. It helps the app dev engine run at maximum efficiency by shifting tasks to earlier in the software development lifecycle (also known as “shifting left”). For example, the code review process happens earlier in the lifecycle with DevOps, which reduces the time and effort of fixing coding errors.
Signs that DevOps is needed include:
- Business users are asking for more functionality, faster than the organization can provide it. Many insurers are now updating their business systems, driven by the need to provide greater flexibility when signing up new customers and a better user experience with prefilled forms and fewer clicks. Agile development helps developers provide these new capabilities, but without the optimal tooling and automation of DevOps, it may not be quickly enough.
- Features that had worked in a previous release fail to work in the new release. Without DevOps, an upgrade can “break” something that had been functioning, making the application unstable. With DevOps, IT can deploy new functionalities in multiple environments using continuous automation so corrective action can be taken quickly if an issue emerges. For example, complex regulatory changes can cause unexpected defects. With mature DevOps, changes can be quickly verified by running an automated regression test suite to ensure none of the existing features are impacted.
- Software issues are identified late, increasing the cost of quality. Some problems come to light late in the software development cycle. For example, claims data needs to meet certain criteria to meet ISO reporting requirements. If some rules are missing, the result is rejections that require a claims handler to resubmit the report. The testing that determines whether all the relevant rules are validated and in place typically comes at a later stage of the application development process – sometimes just before it reaches production. Automated unit testing via DevOps enables IT to identify issues like these early on in the development process.
- Best practices aren’t enforced. Without DevOps, it’s up to the individual developer to utilize best practices or not. With DevOps, businesses can automate compliance, including testing to check that standards were maintained.
- The cost of fixing broken integrations is unacceptably high. Complex core insurance systems can have as many as 40 or 50 integration points – or more. When an integration point doesn’t work, it can be difficult to identify whose issue it is within the larger ecosystem. With DevOps instrumentation, IT can run tests for the different integration points and very quickly isolate and fix the ones that are not working.
- Environments can’t be provisioned quickly enough, or there’s significant downtime during production rollouts. Traditionally, it can take weeks to establish the necessary servers and get the software loaded to provision a new environment. But in the cloud era, businesses need to establish a new test regime in a matter of hours. This is possible with a DevOps infrastructure-as-code solution that enables fast setup.
We worked with one of the largest property and casualty insurers on application development, enhancement and production support for a claims environment using a global delivery model. The insurer was experiencing delays in time-to-market due to manual code reviews and build times, which sometimes resulted in an overlap with the next scheduled build. Other issues included poor application stability and random build failures. The insurer also needed a common dashboard to track metrics, including unit test success, code complexity factor and technical debt.
We implemented a host of tools that helped shift tasks left, increasing DevOps maturity. The carrier realized a variety of business benefits, including improved code quality, shorter build times, faster time to market, better application stability, fewer failed deployments and reduced downtime.
Insurers are experiencing more pressure than ever to meet customer needs quickly. The ability to decrease application development turnaround times drives competitive advantage, and implementing mature DevOps brings that necessary speed.
We’ll explore these issues further at the upcoming virtual Guidewire event.
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