To maintain excellent client service, avoid security risks and help position itself for continued growth, Primerica, Inc. wanted to pursue application modernization.
Builds software more quicklyand releases it on a shorter timeline
Supports stability, reliability and availabilityof its system, allowing Primerica to focus on client engagement
Fosters a cultural transformationby applying agile principles and a user-focused approach to business
Business challenge story
Keeping pace with evolving technologies
Every day throughout North America, important life decisions are made while sitting at the kitchen table. For financial services provider Primerica, the client’s home typically serves as an ideal location for meaningful conversations about ways to better protect middle-income families with life insurance and help them develop a roadmap to financial security.
Behind this business are people and processes that need to keep pace with evolving technologies. This is especially difficult in a highly regulated industry like insurance, where many long-time employees are beginning to retire and take decades of institutional knowledge with them. Barry Pellas, Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President for Application Development and Delivery at Primerica, explains: “Many challenges in the financial services industry stem from our reliance on legacy systems to support our business, while the skills [including industry knowledge] necessary to support these systems are diminishing due to retirement and availability in the market. Additional challenges result from our commitment to protecting client data and needing to take our time making changes so that we can ensure we use secure technology and are good stewards of our client’s information.”
As retiring IT directors leave the company to enjoy retirement after many years of service, current employees are left with a steep learning curve, especially related to heritage systems’ software development and support. Further, Primerica’s siloed application architecture slowed development and updates because changes required a full application rebuild and re-testing. With sensitive client data spread across multiple IT environments and millions of lines of code, the prospect of digital transformation was overwhelming. To maintain excellent service, mitigate security risks and better position itself for continued growth, Primerica wanted to pursue application modernization.
Modernizing with the latest IBM technologies
The Primerica team worked with developers and software architects from the IBM Garage in Austin to design an innovative strategy for modernizing applications. To conduct the initial modernization assessment, the Primerica and IBM team used the IBM Cloud Transformation Advisor solution. This automated application modernization analysis tool scans existing applications and automatically generates specific modernization recommendations, effort estimates and comprehensive technical analysis reports. The resulting modernization recommendation was to re-platform the application portfolio to a modern IBM WebSphere® Liberty runtime, then containerize WebSphere Liberty applications and deploy on IBM Cloud Private for Kubernetes-based container orchestration and DevOps enablement.
In just a two-week period, the group successfully migrated several applications to an open hybrid cloud environment using containers and microservices. Because of this success, Primerica began moving other applications that worked in its heritage environment and is considering plans for additional migration in 2019. Primerica kept client data on premises on the IBM Cloud Private platform because it was complementary to and compatible with the company’s public cloud offering. In addition, this platform provided requisite security for sensitive information, while allowing approved third parties to securely access data.
The modernized IBM Cloud Private architecture, including containerization on the middleware side, allows Primerica to replicate the use of containers in the pubic cloud to offer flexibility to clients. Pellas says: “IBM Cloud Private provided us with synergy between our public cloud and our private cloud to create a true hybrid, which is a very differentiating feature of our architecture.”
According to Pellas, “The IBM Garage was about technology innovation. It was, ‘show us and teach us how to modernize applications on IBM's latest and greatest technologies.’” At the same time, employees learned new skillsets to manage the updated technology. Pellas points out: “We have amazing engineers, brilliant people who know our business, and their intelligence makes up Primerica, so we repurpose this institutional knowledge through an extensive training program in order to adopt these new technologies. We went through a goal assessment and aligned skills toward what the new business would need in the future, as opposed to the way we were aligned before in silos.”
Seeing unexpected cultural transformation
By working with the IBM Garage, Primerica learned strategic heritage application migration. Pellas explains: “We weren’t just looking at the application and saying, ‘I want this to work exactly the same way as it did before.’ Instead, we injected a process to really scrutinize whether this is providing a valuable feature or function. That's something we hadn't done in the past. Through the IBM Garage experience, we were able to really focus on modernization as a tool, as opposed to just taking what we had before.”
The first time the Primerica team saw one of its earlier applications come up in a containerized environment on IBM Cloud Private, they described it as a “breakthrough because we didn't have to rewrite these hundreds of applications and these millions of lines of code. For many years to come, we will keep using all of the great applications that we’ve had.” With a modernized system, Primerica can now build software and release it on a shorter timeline.
Pellas says that the IBM Garage’s engagement model’s most significant impact has been on stability. Clients have a system that is designed for reliability and availability, so Primerica can focus on engaging them further. Through this digital transformation process, Primerica began taking a user-first approach. This, combined with agile principles, has led to a cultural transformation. The company now brings this user-focused experience into every aspect of its IT business.
At the end of the day, Primerica still has the same goal it has had for decades: provide clients with improved tools to make the life insurance sales process more efficient, and important financial conversations, around the kitchen table or elsewhere, easier.
About Primerica, Inc.
Primerica, Inc. (NYSE: PRI) provides financial services to middle-income households in North America. Primerica’s licensed representatives educate their clients about how to better prepare for a more secure financial future by assessing their needs and providing appropriate solutions through term life insurance, mutual funds, annuities and other financial products. Primerica insured approximately five million lives and had over two million client investment accounts at December 31, 2018. Primerica, through its insurance company subsidiaries, was the number two issuer of term life insurance coverage in North America in 2018.
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