How to become an accidental cloud service provider

At actuarial firm Milliman, adoption of Windows Azure public cloud became an adventure that transformed the business and deepened relationships with customers

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But a funny thing happened along the way. According to Beach, rather than simply porting MG-ALFA to the cloud, Milliman saw new opportunities to "elevate" various functionality to the cloud as the project progressed:

We started down a path, and we've just continued to evolve. At each point we've asked ourselves, "What's the problem we're trying to solve?" and "What can we do with the cloud?" And we've continued to build more and more cloud-based solutions. The first problem we addressed was capturing the scale, the compute power of Azure. Once we had that problem solved, then we were faced with: We've got all these projections, all these runs that we need to execute, how do we get them to the cloud efficiently? So we developed a workflow automation and scheduling system. Once that problem was solved, we dealt with all the assumptions, all the inputs, all the people who need to come together to get these projections constructed before you can execute. That's highly collaborative, needs to be centralized, needs to be version-secure -- so use the cloud. When our clients move to MG-ALFA in the cloud, we've set it up so they need to do a lot less work. It's really just a matter of making the business case and flipping the switch.

The net effect, Beach says, is that moving to the public cloud has changed the game Milliman is playing: "We've gone from providing a single solution through a product to really a broader solution set, and tackled the problems that our clients faced at a much broader level rather than just specific calculations. Now we're talking about infrastructure and really a more complete package."

Elevating to the public cloud
Beach calls this comprehensive approach the "industrialization" of the entire actuarial workflow from end to end. He cites an impressive payoff for one Milliman customer in particular. "That first client we worked with, based in the U.K., went through a process to deliver results that used to take 165 days; now it takes 10. The man-days were in the neighborhood of 180, which is now 5. The calculation time was 50 days to get all their models to process; now it's 2½ days."

In Milliman's case, what began as public cloud approach to address a problem of variable workloads quickly morphed into an opportunity to take multiple activities related to the actuarial process -- previously scattered across client desktops -- and centralize and secure them in the public cloud. As a result, Beach said, Milliman can now offer a solution that exists nowhere else in the industry today.

That full-service scope has enabled Milliman to become a more valuable partner for its clients, and Beach isn't done yet: "If we've learned anything it's that we have to keep a really open mind to every challenge, because the pace the technology is evolving so quickly and we have to stay nimble."

This article, "How to become an accidental cloud service provider," originally appeared at Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog. And for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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