Insurance companies are typically a risk-averse bunch, but in 2002, the online content strategy being used by Insurance Australia Group (IAG), Australia's largest general insurer, was looking increasingly risky.
The system used to manage content was based around IBM's Lotus Notes technology, but was complicated to deploy and offered no workflow, audit trails or reporting features.
"Admittedly, we had fewer Web sites back then, but that was probably a blessing, given the technology," Richard McCarthy from IAG's personal insurance systems team told attendees at a seminar hosted by Interwoven in Melbourne.
McCarthy is part of a team responsible for helping provision content for public Web sites for IAG's various insurance brands (which include NRMA Insurance, SGIO and CGU), IAG's corporate intranet, and the online help systems used by branch office staff and call centre workers.
Under the old system, deploying new releases of code for the system would require an afternoon-long team meeting to determine what new elements needed marrying together, followed by an installation process where CDs would be transported to the IT operations group and then manually delivered to all relevant servers, McCarthy said.
Timing the rollout of changes was also tricky and inconvenient, since it had to be co-ordinated with scheduled downtime for mainframe systems. "Typically, those changes were happening at three or four in the morning," McCarthy said. "There was also little hope of a rollback because the change window was so constrained. If something went wrong, you only had an hour to rollback before the mainframe came back up and the Internet sites had to be there."
In 2003, IAG decided to switch from that system to a new centralised package using Interwoven's OpenDeploy and ControlHub provisioning technologies. Building a business case was relatively straightforward, McCarthy said, since the team could demonstrate positive ROI in the first year of rollout, as well as offering reduced legal exposure, increased customer retention, and a better capability to handle mergers and acquisitions.
One key benefit is the ability to make changes on the fly rather than batching them. "Previously, even if it was something as simple as a spelling mistake, it would have to wait for the next release. Now a simple spelling change can be done in 20 minutes, where it used to be a week or more."
Late-night deployments have also been minimised. "Changing any of the Internet applications still depends on outage windows, but now developers put together any required changes on a Friday afternoon and they get approved up to the operations stage. Then the operations guy can log in remotely from home, make a single mouse click, and five minutes later gets an e-mail telling him the installation status."
The system was initially used purely for Internet sites, but has now been rolled out onto other projects. "It's the standard way we set up content and application provisioning now," McCarthy said. Typically, the company makes 300 deployments covering around 15,000 files each week.
Last year, IAG used the system to update the Claims and Assessing System (CABS) help information offered to insurance consultants. Historically, the CABS documentation has been generated as a WinHelp file which consultants had to access via a Citrix thin client system. The department responsible for managing CABS content was happy with its authoring system, but wanted to deploy the content via IAG's Intranet and enable more frequent updates.
Under the new system developed by McCarthy's team, changes to the CABS document are now automatically deployed daily, with the WinHelp file converted to HTML and snapshots of earlier versions kept for audit purposes. Development for the new process only took a week, and the system has been running successfully for six months. "There's no problems at all; it just runs every day at 6pm," McCarthy said.
The changeover has had other benefits too. Recently, IAG's internal audit team sought documentation of application changes over the past year, a report that would have been time-consuming to generate under the old system but which could easily be produced using the new approach.
In the near future, McCarthy hopes to make use of extensions to OpenDeploy which allow direct deployment of applications to development systems, rather than the script-based approach currently used by IAG.