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October 5, 2009

Axa revamps mainframe line

But security fears are holding back cloud adoption

By Steve Evans

Axa Insurance has revealed that it is revamping its mainframe line to boost time to market in its commercial insurance arm.

Morgan Spillane, IT and change management director at Axa told CBR that the company was struggling to develop and deliver new products in a time- and cost-effective way on its legacy system. As well as product development within its commercial business, the new system will also be used by the underwriting team.

The company will be installing a system from Duck Creek Technologies, with hardware from IBM running Windows server in virtual fashion using VMware.

Spillane added that the project is expected to take three years to complete, from front to back, but that Axa is confident of launching its first product built on the new system around the end of Q1 2010.

“When the new platform is fully operational,” Spillane said, “we want the ability to launch a new product every 10 weeks, although it probably won’t be that frequent.” He added that with the old system, product development often took up to nine months.

Axa engaged Winchester White to look at the options available. It developed a shortlist of 15 or 16 firms, which was whittled down to six and then two before Duck Creek was chosen. “We wanted a highly configurable, off the shelf platform,” Spillane said. “We also wanted an agile approach, as we want to evolve the IT model to one that evolves around self-service, leading to a thinner, more agile IT department.”

Axa is currently moving its systems into one primary data centre, hosted in Switzerland.

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Spillane added that although the company is looking at the possibility of a cloud computing infrastructure, worries about the security of data held in the cloud was holding back adoption.

“We’re investigating cloud computing,” he said. “There is a strong push from business management to explore new technologies. But security is the biggest concern with cloud computing.”

He did however say that it will not be long before cloud adoption is more widespread in the financial services space. “There are always leaders and followers, someone will make the jump and then rest of the financial services industry will follow.”

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