February 14, 2019
What Amazon, Netflix Can Teach Insurers
Here are five key challenges for insurers, with examples of how Amazon and Netflix used microservices to address similar issues.
What insurers face now, digital giants like Amazon and Netflix faced when they moved to operate exclusively in the digital marketplace: transactions increasingly shifting to digital, and operations affected by an unprecedented wave of automation. Let’s explore the lessons these companies learned as they confronted the challenges that insurers face as they adapt to the digital marketplace.
One critical change for Amazon and Netflix was making a fundamental shift in the way their core systems and architecture were developed: they evolved – out of necessity – to migrate to a more flexible and responsive architecture by incorporating microservices. The factors that led to this shift sound strikingly similar to those affecting the insurance world. Here are five key factors for insurance companies to consider when planning their future technology directions, with examples of how Amazon and Netflix addressed similar issues.
- Availability is a fundamental need when designing a digital user experience. Streamlining customer journeys depends on having technology and data at the point of the transaction. Netflix’s big availability issue was with its video library – which is a key selling point of the service. From a customer perspective, being able to watch thousands of movies and other content is less attractive if the customer can’t access the catalog any time. Netflix brought microservices to bear on this challenge, isolating the library functionality and running it independently from the rest of the user experience. This provided the capability to continually and frequently upgrade the catalog. For insurers, intermittent outages – especially on nights and weekends, when consumers and small business owners shop for insurance and digital agents are still working – are equally unacceptable.
- Scalability and availability go hand in hand. When the volume of transactions goes up, processing power must be able to scale up, too. Monolithic tech stacks struggle here, especially because the points of failure can be so small – as insurers well know! Amazon’s shopping cart functionality had plenty of capacity for regular traffic but was challenged when required to scale up for the incredible volume of purchases on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Inventory control is critical because you have to understand what products are in shoppers’ carts, what inventory can still be offered and when to cut off the sale of a specific item. Amazon decoupled the cart functionality from its monolithic tech stack and deployed a microservice that ran alongside the rest of their tech environment. The shopping cart microservice had the much simpler task of checking the inventory and maintaining customers’ carts. It could access additional processing power as the volume went up without relying on the same servers running the rest of the Amazon architectural stack. And because the shopping cart service was decoupled from the main system software, it could be continually updated and enhanced.
- Speed is critical for scalability, and microservices have a lot to offer here. Both Netflix’s library and Amazon’s shopping cart experience are changing rapidly, with requests coming from thousands of users at a time from different front ends. Digital giants are known for providing a responsive user experience that is highly scalable without the need for serial data processing. Using microservices to support multi-threaded requests have given both companies an edge. For insurers, the support of an increasingly complex maze of distribution outlets requires rating capabilities that can consistently deliver sub-second responses. The ability to decouple this from core processes while dynamically scaling based on the needs of the front end is critical, regardless of line of business.
- Maintainability and upgradability are significant areas of consideration for all insurers, based on the current state of their technology environments. As we look to the policy, billing and claims systems or the front-end user experiences, etc., insurers need the ability to increase the speed of software upgrades to be a more continuous, less disruptive and therefore higher-value undertaking. As we look at the dynamically changing user experiences needed in today’s digital world, the ability to upgrade these components and reuse discrete services at a greater frequency than back-end functionality is becoming a critical capability.
This is where microservices really shine. Each isolated process supports a small, discrete function. Therefore, it is easier to focus on a very specific capability with an update. There is flexibility gained in adapting to new integration points and integrating new services. The magnitude of the testing effort decreases significantly.
See also: What if Amazon Entered Insurance?
These are game changers for insurers that have been struggling with a monolithic architecture where everything affects everything else. And microservices give insurers the ability to ease pain points in their current technology environments and add capabilities without going through a full rip and replace.
We have much to learn from other industries’ successes and failures within the digital marketplace. But, let’s not reinvent the wheel. Let’s look at the lessons learned by the leaders in other markets and apply the knowledge they have gained.