5 steps to cloud success for insurers

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When insurers migrate to the cloud, long-term success is reliant upon effectively setting expectations and goals, in addition—of course—to a well-planned execution. A recent Accenture report found that two-thirds of businesses have not achieved the expected benefits of their cloud journeys, with more than half citing organizational complexity as a barrier. In my experience, one of the main reasons for this outcome is having a migration strategy that doesn’t set realistic expectations; doesn’t take diligent inventory of all on-premise interfaces, systems, and operational processes; and doesn’t focus on organizational alignment at each step of the process. Cloud migration is a multi-team affair, where a well-defined strategy that focuses on organizational accountability and communication is essential to realizing goals. In supporting more than 200 cloud clients and participating in numerous cloud migrations, Insurity has defined a five-phased migration strategy that has consistently helped insurers achieve their desired results.

PHASE 1: Develop a Well-Documented Migration Strategy
Beginning with a migration strategy is critical because it’s where insurers assemble the teams involved in the initiative, set timelines with expectations and goals, and take an inventory of all interfaces and components that must be considered within the scope of the migration and as part of the definition of the post-migration process. This step is much more about the identification of relevant components and processes, rather than execution. As noted earlier, organizational complexity is one of the most common obstacles to successful cloud migration, which is why clearly documenting this information is so important. Interface inventories must include noting how every system connects and interacts on-premise, ensuring that comparable connectivity/interactivity is planned for in the cloud. There are always going to be certain on-premise systems and functions inside insurance companies that aren’t regularly top-of-mind, and identifying each one is necessary to reducing migration complexities.

When creating the migration timeline, existing system and business needs that could impact the plan must be considered, such as upcoming product launches and system upgrades. Insurers and SaaS providers must work together to balance the aggressiveness of the migration plan while minimizing business disruption. A well-planned timeline is also essential for keeping cloud teams focused on the right project areas at the right time. It’s not uncommon that a migration team will become laser-focused on a certain application and pay less attention to the external teams and processes that can quickly become problematic or critical to the overall success of the migration. One common example is with auditors and regulators. If migration teams aren’t regularly considering information security and regulatory compliance at each step, they may end up with a significant amount of unexpected work during the final phases of the migration. To avoid these issues, it’s essential to plan for both internal and external audit and compliance reviews and prioritize the required organizational alignment from the executive level down to the execution level.

PHASE 2: Define Requirements
Once the migration strategy is complete and the project team is assembled, insurers need to validate their on-premise systems architecture documentation and develop a contextual diagram that maps how each interface currently works. Insurers often think that a “lift & shift” approach will translate into an exact replica of the on-premise architecture and operating model but that rarely turns out to be the case. Developing seamless cloud-based workflows requires a granular understanding of all interconnected systems, as well as identifying the access models that will be employed as part of the solution (e.g. single sign-on [SSO], multi-factor authentication [MFA]). A common example of an area requiring operational change in conjunction with most cloud-based core systems deployments is the help desk. An on-premise help desk model will often involve many different operational teams. The shifting of the application and infrastructure management to the cloud will typically serve to limit or even remove some of these groups from the end-to-end support process. This can impact the workforce and should be addressed up-front and understood by all stakeholders, so that expectations can be properly set. Operational process mapping will help ease an insurer’s transition from single-handedly managing all on-premise processes to a joint effort involving the SaaS provider.

PHASE 3: Pre-Migration Planning and Activities
Once the technical and business components of the migration are established, the next phase focuses on what must be done prior to moving on-premise systems to the cloud. One of the key aspects of the pre-migration plan is implementing the required connectivity to enable the remaining on-premise systems access to the new cloud environment. Since cloud deployments are often the first time an insurer moves core systems beyond the firewall, it’s necessary to build a path that connects to SaaS provider managed cloud environments. This can be a very detailed process ensuring that file transfer protocol (FTP), certificates, DNS, SSO, and MFA requirements are all reviewed and continue to meet corporate information security standards and function in the cloud.

Also during this phase, insurers should identify the third-parties required to support all the various components of their cloud plans, which extends to everything from legacy systems, to third-party interfaces, to audit and compliance requirements. This may even include identifying and engaging offshore resources, ensuring compliance with data residency regulations.

Finally, the post-migration support plan must be established. Cloud deployments are likened to living, breathing organisms, requiring care and upkeep once the migration is complete and in production. Some considerations include who will be responsible for managing the environment, data maintenance, and ongoing support and training, and how will application upgrades be handled. A well-integrated project team will include account management, business analysts, and operations and technical resources from the both the insurer and SaaS provider, ensuring clear communication channels throughout the lifespan of the cloud-based system.

PHASE 4: Cloud Migration and Regression Testing
Regression testing is essential in all software development processes, ensuring that new changes and features don’t jeopardize existing functionality. In cloud migrations, after each environment is migrated from on-premise to the cloud, regression testing is similarly needed but is instead focused on ensuring that the application functions in the same manner in the cloud as it does on-premise. Testing the newly-migrated cloud environment to validate that all interfaces and access points meet the documented test results will provide a level of confidence that the project team requires to successfully migrate the application from test to production environments. Typical examples of regression testing focus areas include certificates, URLs, SSO, MFA, system-to-system interfaces, and automated processes.

PHASE 5: Post-Production Migration Support
This last phase of the cloud migration extends over the lifetime of the cloud-based application. Once the migration is complete, it’s important to revisit the post-go-live migration support model built during the third phase, and make sure all the roles and responsibilities across the teams are understood and correctly aligned. Teams must establish clear accountability across the cloud environment, in terms of how to handle day-to-day processes and escalation issues both during and after business hours. This is where insurers can reap the benefits of having great communication and solid alignment of business goals and expectations within each previous phase.

Today, migrating core systems to the cloud is widely considered to be a matter of “when” and not “if.” The benefits are well-documented and the number of migrations continue to rise. The process does have many moving parts and dependencies, but with proper planning, and a highly-experienced implementation partner, a successful migration is not only entirely achievable, but practically assured.

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