State Farm wanted to accelerate the development of new digital services integrated with core systems, and aimed to standardize tools and development approaches across all enterprise platforms.
IBM z/OS® systems using modern industry-standard tools, to promote consistent, modern development practices across diverse technology environments.
Increasesefficiency and expands skilled resources through modern approaches on all platforms
Acceleratesrelease of new digital services by increasing standardization
Simplifiesaccess for business-critical applications to core systems and services
Business challenge story
Mutual insurer State Farm aims to be its customers’ best choice in products and services. In the past, heavy industry regulation leveled the competitive playing field; more recently, deregulation has opened the market to newer and more agile digital competitors, raising customer expectations and putting State Farm under pressure to innovate faster.
Mark Moncelle, IT Architect for testing at State Farm, says: “Our customers now expect the same level of functionality, access, and ability to achieve their goals whether they engage with us face-to-face, online or via a mobile app. As we build out new self-service tools, our time-to-market depends on having development practices that can accommodate rapid change.”
State Farm wanted to draw maximum competitive advantage from its existing core systems running on IBM Z servers – tried and trusted over 50 years – while simultaneously outpacing smaller and more nimble rivals. While the company had evolved to DevOps on other platforms, it had not taken advantage of newer development practices for its enterprise systems.
Moncelle comments: “You can be agile as you want in your own space, but if the teams and processes you integrate with aren’t agile, then you won’t be able to deliver changes quickly. That’s the reality of being a large organization: you’ve got to get everything running faster, not just your product.”
“Our distributed teams were able to access always-on services on our enterprise systems, but when they needed changes made to those back-end services, the iteration cycles could last weeks or even months.”
To standardize development cycles across all enterprise systems, State Farm wanted to introduce new tools that would support a cross-platform DevOps approach.
Krupal Swami, Technology and Architecture Director for State Farm, says: "From a strategic perspective, all technology platforms should be equally accessible to help the business solve its challenges. The technology should not get in the way of business objectives."
She adds: “Our IBM Z systems offer a robust, secure and reliable foundation for growth. We wanted to support Z developers in achieving greater efficiency and speed but also help newer recruits feel comfortable on the platform, so that we can all work together across platforms to deliver rapid innovation."
Building on its success in implementing DevOps for distributed platforms, State Farm recognized that many of the same improvements could be applied to its IBM z/OS® systems. “Recognizing the maturity of our mainframe processes and the lessons learned from our distributed systems, we felt that we had a strong foundation for implementing DevOps and seeing real improvements,” says Moncelle.
To standardize development cycles across all enterprise systems, State Farm uses a mix of open source, homegrown and proprietary tools to provide a modern integrated DevOps system for maintaining existing core applications and building new functionality. By using popular open source tools, such as Git and Jenkins, State Farm has been able to leverage the broad knowledge of those tools, both within State Farm and in the industry.
The company also runs modern integrated development environments (IDEs), including IBM® Developer for z/OS, providing a more seamless, integrated experience for developers. "The fact that IBM Developer for z/OS has seamless integration into Git makes it easier for developers to make the transition," says Moncelle. " We remain agnostic about development tools, and we don't force developers to use a single solution. IBM Developer for z/OS is a great solution, and we continue to use others in parallel. For us, that's just part of the open DevOps mentality: we can swap tools in and out without needing to change the whole framework."
IBM Developer for z/OS includes an integrated debugger, enabling developers to immediately check and refine their code in context.
Moncelle says: "As soon as code leaves developers' fingertips, we can provide security tips and give them rapid feedback about potential issues. Even people who were initially skeptical are very supportive of the change, and we see it translating into shorter development cycles."
He adds: "In general terms, many tasks that were previously manual and dependent on human effort are now being automated. That saves time and effort for developers, who can then focus more on innovation, creating a positive cycle of continuous improvement.”
The replacement of rigid development cycles and batch-driven testing with continuous development and integration accelerates the delivery of new functionality in core systems, ensuring that they continue to evolve in line with the needs of applications on other platforms. Tools such as Git and IBM Developer for z/OS are helping developers adopt the agile DevOps practices that support these continuous approaches to development.
Moncelle remarks: “Developing modern DevOps tooling and practices is enabling a single high speed of development across the entire enterprise."
The addition of tools such as Git, Jenkins and IBM UrbanCode Deploy to IBM Z helps State Farm to extend DevOps practices consistently throughout the organization. In general terms, the availability of flexible and modern tools across all platforms enables product teams to keep pace with newer applications, cutting time-to-market.
State Farm is now working on using state-of-the-art techniques, including machine learning, static code analysis and the use of IBM Infosphere® Optim Test Data Fabrication to automatically produce realistic test data at an unprecedented scale for testing on z/OS as well as other platforms. This should help the organization ensure that new customer-facing applications will deliver the required stability with the high quality of service that can be achieved through continuous testing. “We expect to see really radical differences in how data-intensive applications can be tested, opening up new possibilities for DevOps improvement at a much larger scale,” says Moncelle.
Swami adds: “We want to eliminate any interfaces or tooling that were acting as barriers to making changes to systems running on IBM Z. One of the earliest changes we made was to replace our legacy SCM [Source Code Management system] for z/OS with Git.”
"Modern development tools will help open up enterprise servers to a new base of younger developers who currently have no experience of, or exposure to, the IBM Z platform”, says Swami.
Today at State Farm, many mission-critical workloads run on IBM z/OS across 250 active LPARs on 12 IBM Z servers, which provide services and data to ancillary applications running on distributed platforms.
Swami comments: “When we built our high-availability systems a decade ago, we started with a clean slate and worked closely with IBM to design a system that delivers continuous availability, using technologies such as GDPS, Parallel Sysplex, and Db2 Data Sharing. We also enforced application designs that would not have a dependency on a specific resource or require an application to be run on a specific LPAR. Features such as Sysplex Workload Balancing were critical in preventing applications from needing to know what system they were running on, and in allowing the system to move workloads as maintenance was performed.”
Looking to the future, standardizing development practices means that the business can choose the most appropriate platform for its workloads without concern about developers needing to get used to a whole new set of tools and approaches.
As State Farm begins to extend applications out into the cloud, the company anticipates that IBM Z will continue to play an important role in a new hybrid cloud infrastructure that combines on-premises and off-site computing resources. The standardization to DevOps will naturally facilitate this approach, supporting a platform-agnostic philosophy that will see workloads directed to the most appropriate platform in each case.
Swami concludes: “By bringing agile DevOps practices to IBM Z, we will continue to accelerate development cycles, ultimately delivering new services to customers faster so that we maintain our competitive edge.”
About State Farm
State Farm is a mutual banking and insurance company that services 83 million policies and accounts throughout the U.S. It employs more than 65,000 people, who handle 39,000 claims a day. Founded in 1922, the company is headquartered in Bloomington, Illinois.
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