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How Amazon Web Services are transforming our business

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As one of the UKs leading general insurers, Direct Line Group relies heavily on technology to serve customers across our range of brands – including Direct Line, Churchill, Privilege, Green Flag and numerous brand partners.

The company has around 8 million enforced policies and operates within a regulated environment, so minimising risk and maximising security is paramount to everything we do.

The challenge

As with most organisations, our goals were simple: we wanted to be faster and more innovative.

We didn’t believe innovation should sit within one department; it should happen across the whole organisation.

We already thought we were pretty fast, but we wanted to be more agile.

And when it came to innovation, we didn’t believe it should sit within one department; we felt that it should happen across the whole organisation.

Then with any luck, the way we work would improve and the customer experience would get better, too.

We split our goals into the following four components. We wanted to improve:

  1. Our tech
  2. The skills and structure of our organisation
  3. The way we work
  4. The mindset/culture of our people

How could AWS help?

At the beginning, our main focus was on tech, as it seemed like the most obvious starting point.

But a key factor in our success has been our ability to influence teams and departments within the organisation.

In terms of seniority, it’s important to understand that this wasn’t a ‘top down’ decision. You need key people throughout your whole organisation who get it. People who are determined and resilient and aren’t afraid of change.

These people can then use their passion to influence colleagues and explain how and why using AWS is a good idea.

So, we’ve been working extensively with tech teams, risk teams and security teams over the last year, in order to get their buy in.

The move to AWS

The transition so far has been pretty straightforward. We started by moving a lot of assets into a development and testing environment, before going into production earlier last year.

Direct Line for Business, Green Flag and FAQs moved over to Amazon in quick succession over the last few months, with plans for more transfers in the pipeline.

So, what makes AWS good?

As other companies have demonstrated, AWS really is a cost-effective option for trying out new tech solutions. You only buy software as and when you need it on a pay-as-you-go-basis, so you don’t have to stump up for systems that you later decide you don’t need.

It enables you to learn, test, build and develop systems at an incredibly fast pace. You can change direction and be more flexible, regardless of the size of your business.

And lastly, we believe it to be just as safe as our previous set up, which is crucial for any organisation holding large amounts of financial and personal data.

But the biggest impact we’ve seen is the way the business is starting to adopt AWS and understand the huge benefits it can have across the business.

It’s been a catalyst for organisational change.

By implementing AWS on just a few of our services so far, we’ve been able to provide support and solve issues in other areas of the business.

How has AWS changed the way we work?

From a tech perspective, AWS has already changed the way we work for the better. We are able to be more responsive and adaptable to market demands. And we can implement services faster, cheaper and more safely.

We can respond to issues quicker because automated processes have dramatically reduced turn-around times.

It also shifts accountability – enabling finance, marketing or HR departments to get involved in spinning up a new server, for example.

There’s no more form filling, SLAs and endless meetings – it takes just eight clicks to set up a server. Imagine what you could do with all the time you’d save?

We’re all used to working in an environment where change happens slowly. You get used to quarterly, monthly or even weekly cycles. But, introduce continuous delivery and suddenly everything happens much faster.

These days, we can respond to issues quicker because automated processes have dramatically reduced turn-around times. This directly affects how fast the organisation can run.

Budget cycles start to change because the sign-off process is quicker. New ideas suddenly become possible and everyone agrees it’s worth a punt.

The interface is pretty intuitive too; the acid test? Try teaching it to your parents and it’ll be a lot easier than talking them through traditional systems.

So, have we achieved our goals?

Well, we will continue to fit AWS into the Direct Line environment wherever we see fit, so we can definitely tick the tech box.

And by demonstrating how easily AWS fits in with and has changed our way of working, we can continue to influence the organisation to become faster and more innovative.

From a skills and structure perspective, services such as DevOps merge roles within the company (development and operations), opening up lines of communication between departments and encouraging collaboration.

But the most important aspect for me is the culture. If you want to encourage an experimental mindset where people can ‘fail fast’ and learn quickly, Amazon is a pretty safe place to go.

If your idea works, you know it will scale and you can implement it quickly. This gives you the freedom to try something new, without the constraints of lengthy development and sign off.

The bottom line…

The great thing about AWS services is that they can actually make your core application grow quickly and you won’t have as many sleepless nights.

But personally, I think the biggest opportunity we have is the way that we can use AWS as an intervention tool to help the whole organisation become faster, more innovative and ultimately more successful.

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