When you think of the insurance industry, you don’t usually think of DevOps.
Well, it’s time to think again. It turns out that agile software development has become a must-have for any insurance carrier that hopes to compete in an industry where digital transformation – and yes, COVID-19 – is upending traditional ways of doing business.
"DevOps is going to be instrumental in how the insurance sector moves ahead,” says Jeffery Williams, a senior analyst with Forrester Research. "A handful of industry trends are driving the need for DevOps-driven agility,” he says, "including increasingly empowered – and picky – customers and major innovations and disruptions driven by a cluster of new industry technologies known as ‘insurtech’.”
Williams shared his thoughts on DevOps in insurance at a recent CloudBees-sponsored webinar exploring where the insurance industry is headed. He was joined by Brett Cannon, senior manager of IT at Aflac, one of the world’s largest insurance companies, where Brett manages DevOps operations on a daily basis.
What’s new in the insurance industry? One of the biggest trends is radically changing customer behavior patterns as more consumers leverage the power of mobile devices to buy and manage insurance coverage in new ways.
"They have more power through mobile devices and that power has really changed the way they engage with their service providers,” says Williams, noting that consumers increasingly prefer to use digital capabilities, especially in the early stages of the buying journey. For example, they are more prone to research insurance online and increasingly use mobile phone cameras to file claims.
Insurtech startups like Lemonade and Metromile exploit consumers’ demand for digital experiences. These startups simplify the buying journey by leveraging mobility and cutting edge technologies like AI, virtual agents and chatbots to reshape business processes and upgrade the customer experience.
"Insurtechs are driving the need to be agile and fast to market,” Williams says. DevOps in insurance factors in heavily here because it enables the sector to keep pace with the change and create a competitive edge. "Technology is going to be the way that carriers create those advantages,” he says.
Brett Cannon, who has had a front-row seat at the insurance giant Aflac’s DevOps organization for the last year, agrees. "We definitely want to be a disruptor in the market,” he says. His strategy starts by using value stream mapping to understand what’s going to bring the most benefits to Aflac’s customers and the business itself. Based on that exercise, the organization puts together a backlog of improvements and features it wants to deliver, and then harnesses agile principles and tools to build the right software quickly and securely.
To unleash the full power of DevOps in insurance, however, the developer community needs to internalize the concepts and behavior patterns behind agile – and that takes some time. "DevOps is not a big bang,” says Cannon. "If we truly want to be able to deliver better, faster, and more securely, we need to change the mindset and culture of the team.”
Lately, Aflac, and nearly every insurance carrier, are placing a higher priority on agility. "When COVID-19 hit, suddenly we had to take a step back and figure out how we can still deliver our strategy and accomplish our goals but do it virtually,” Cannon says. "This is when we needed to apply DevOps practices and principles to pivot quickly.”
It may be early next year before Aflac’s developer teams can return to working in person again. Cannon feels the quick pivot to remote DevOps has been a worthwhile experience. "I think we're going to be stronger and better for it because now we have capability to be either face-to-face or virtual and drive the business forward,” he says.
For Williams, the shock delivered by the pandemic could have a bright side by stimulating long overdue investments in agent technology and customer experience platforms. "COVID-19 has accelerated the need for insurers to have capabilities that enable their customers to experience them digitally,” he says.
To learn more about the future of DevOps in the insurance industry, listen to a replay of a recent CloudBees webinar, Digital Transformation within the Insurance Industry.