Building Software Solutions in the Cloud at Scale: Learnings from Milliman

Paul Maher, Principal & CTO, Milliman - Life Technology Solutions
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Paul Maher, Principal & CTO, Milliman - Life Technology Solutions

Paul Maher, Principal & CTO, Milliman - Life Technology Solutions

Around the world, most companies and organizations either already have a cloud strategy, or are having ongoing conversations about moving to the cloud. In the early days of the cloud, there was concern and anxiousness about moving to the cloud for various reasons. But for many, those concerns have been addressed, and companies are starting to think about a cloud-first initiative for their information technology (IT) investments.

Much has been discussed about the role of internal IT in the move to the cloud and shifting company assets to the cloud, citing a reduction in CAPEX expenditure cost as a primary motivator for change. But what about software vendors who are building solutions targeting the cloud, or even companies doing their own internal software development targeting the cloud?

At Milliman - Life Technology Solutions, we provide actuarial services and software solutions for companies in the global life insurance market. We are a world-class software vendor, and have built an industry-changing technology platform for actuarial modeling and financial reporting, all running at scale in the cloud as a managed service. Needless to say, the journey we had moving to the cloud and the experiences we gained from building mission-critical solutions in the cloud has afforded us lots of learnings!

 Using the cloud can bring tremendous benefits, which will vary on a case-by-case basis 

The move to the cloud can have extreme benefits for any business, but the motivation to move should be clearly understood, so you have a measuring stick to help gauge your success against.

Knowing your Motivation to Move to the Cloud and its Challenges

In order to deal with the challenges you will face related to your decision to move to the cloud, it is important for you to understand what your motivation is. The best way to be able to respond and defend your decision is to be prepared. If you take a data-driven approach to the discussion as opposed to an emotional one, it will drive much more productive conversations and produce an effective outcome!

Typical concerns that get raised about cloud solutions are around ownership, control, cost, data, and security in particular, as well as comparing a cloud vendor’s capabilities versus your own IT hardware investment—is yours really better than theirs? You will also face the question of which cloud vendor to use, and of course, everyone has their own personal opinion.

At Life Technology Solutions, building our solution for actuarial modeling and financial reporting in the cloud made perfect sense. Our clients are being faced with increasing pressure to do more with less, within condensed timescales, and in a cost-effective way. The cloud allowed us to build a solution that provides almost unlimited scale to handle large and unpredictable workloads, store and manipulate data of all shapes and sizes efficiently, and perform dynamic Business Intelligence (BI) and reporting, all in a pay-as-you-go pricing model.

Building the Right Team is Key to Success

As with anything, having a great team around you will help you be successful. Whether you are moving your internal assets to the cloud, or building solutions targeting the cloud, it is important that you have experienced people on your team who can lead, make decisions, and help up skill others.

At Life Technology Solutions, we have a well-established multi-discipline team who are all dependent upon each other for success. Some of the key functions that we have to build, deploy, and support the software that we release to the cloud include: Product Development (developers, QA, and in-house customers), Operations, and Client Support.

For those of you in traditional IT roles today who are concerned that you may not have a role to play in a move to the cloud, I would encourage you to look at the cloud as an opportunity. It may be a slightly different or evolved role, but there is opportunity for everyone. Embrace it—your skills are needed for a successful transition within any company or organization.

Architecting a Solution to Run and Take Advantage of the Cloud

While a move to the cloud may be perceived as being easy, architecting a secure, scalable, and performant solution can be difficult. This is where bringing in experienced people to help, whether full-time staff or contracting consultants, and following best practices, is essential. This is exactly what we did when we built our cloud solution. We partnered closely with our preferred cloud vendor to ensure that we were delivering a best-of-breed solution to market.

The good news is that there is a proliferation of cloud solutions that have been built across industries that you can learn from, as you look to the cloud within your own company or organization.

Supporting Cloud Solutions

It is important to clearly understand the support and Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that need to be in place when you run business-critical solutions in the cloud. The cloud provider that you use to run your solution will have an impact here, and will also impact the overall SLA that can be achieved.

If you decide to build an internal solution deployed to the cloud for your company, it will be your responsibility to define support and SLAs. When you use a solution provided by a software vendor, such as Life Technology Solutions, it is the vendor’s responsibility to define support and SLAs. For example, Life Technology Solutions has well-defined SLAs detailed in our contracts with our clients, and, in addition, we have dedicated Operations and client support teams.

Defining the Role of DevOps

DevOps (software Development and information technology Operations) has become one of the most-discussed job functions, and should be thoroughly understood, whether you are a software vendor or you are building internal solutions for your company. It is certainly a critical team component for us at Life Technology Solutions as we build software solutions in the cloud.

DevOps focuses on ensuring good collaboration and communication between software developers and IT. DevOps is all about automating software and infrastructure tasks, so that building, testing, and releasing software can happen rapidly, frequently, and more reliably.

Changing your Business Model to Pay-as-you-go Pricing Model

It will be important for you to get comfortable with moving away from familiar traditional pricing models to a pay-as-you-go pricing model used in the cloud. This can have tremendous benefits, but can also cause some anxiousness, until you have a solid foundational knowledge of how cloud pricing works.

Because you will be asked about how much cloud solutions will cost, you will want to leverage existing pricing calculators, or build your own to help answer this question. Of course, after you run a solution in the cloud over a period of time, you will have data points built up that can help you become more effective at understanding overall costs.

Building a solution in the cloud, you will have to understand the cost that is incurred to develop and test a cloud solution pre-release, as well as what it will cost to run live when it is released. Not being in control of your costs is a recipe for disaster that you want to avoid as best you can.

Benefits of Moving to the Cloud

Using the cloud can bring tremendous benefits, which will vary on a case-by-case basis. For Life Technology Solutions, the benefits of building our solutions in the cloud can be summarized as follows:

• Quicker time to market
• Reduced IT cost and management
• Massive scale on demand
• Innovation by leveraging cloud services
• Security and reliability
• Pay-as-you-go pricing

The Cloud Revolution is Already Here

At Milliman—Life Technology Solutions, we have seen tremendous value in embracing the cloud revolution as we look to transform the way life insurance companies work. Legacy systems are being pushed to the brink by increasingly complex regulations and compressed reporting timelines, revealing that the old way of working is fundamentally flawed.

Are you ready for the cloud revolution? Now is the time to understand and define your cloud strategy if you have not already. You may miss a significant business opportunity if you do not!

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