The 2021 Enterprise Architecture Awards

The 2021 Forrester and InfoWorld EA Awards contest winners focus on agility and enabling innovation.

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Country Financial

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Country Financial is a group of US insurance and financial services companies with customers in 19 states. The group of companies offers a range of insurance and financial products and services, including auto, home, life, commercial insurance, retirement planning, investment management and trust services.

Country’s EA team has been in existence for six years, using a federated structure with seven enterprise architects, a program manager, and an analyst, plus about 25 solution architects distributed across delivery teams.

Country’s legacy technology ecosystem with accumulating technical debt had introduced complexity and inefficiencies, inhibiting the speed to market and the delivery of modern customer experience improvements to enable business growth. In addition, Country lacked foundational plans for some high priority capabilities such as cloud, CI/CD, and testing automation to embark on a modernization journey.

To tackle the challenge, Country’s EA team dramatically changed its operating model to guide the enterprise through modernization and optimization initiatives. It reinvented the EA function by focusing on the following five areas:

Technology modernization. Country EA focused on identifying several gaps and opportunities for improvement across the technology landscape. They delivered: 1) a plan to modernize monolithic applications into cloud-native microservices applications; 2) an integration strategy that introduced MuleSoft platform into the organization to modernize integration and API management capabilities; 3) RPA technology to automate manual business processes across the enterprise; 4) a cloud strategy with guiding principles that drove cloud adoption; 5) data and analytics capability improvements, standing up a number of data transformation programs to modernize data warehousing/data lake, data science, data quality, data governance, and MDM capabilities; 6) adoption of CI/CD and testing automation capabilities to accelerate the solution delivery process.

Technology optimization and simplification. Country EA focused on opportunities to rationalize and consolidate applications and infrastructure across the technology landscape. Country EA developed a multiphase technical debt decommission strategy. Phase 1 included core mission-critical applications and resulted in an establishment of multi-year decommission plans to decommission 33 core systems to realize $7.5 to $10.75MM in annual cost savings. Phase 2 included top platform technical debt around operating systems, databases, integration, and messaging infrastructure. Phase 3 included the applications that were not part of Phase 1. Phase 4 included infrastructure and security technology portfolios including telephony, audio/video conferencing, identity and access management, firewalls, and remote access.

Strategic planning and shaping investment decisions. In 2017, Country EA and ITS planning co-led the development of an enterprise-wide technology strategy and roadmap. This resulted in the formulation of key strategic technology programs covering cloud, data and analytics, platform modernization, data center modernization, devops, agile methodology, cyber security, and more. Country EA most recently developed a technology parity dashboard to compare core business solutions with the insurance industry. The dashboard provided insights into whether Country’s technology solutions are on par with, lagging, or leading the industry, helping shape portfolio priorities and investments.

Enabling innovation. Country EA partnered with the enterprise innovation team, digital lab, and multiple business and technology teams to explore emerging technologies and deploy the solutions. Country EA introduced an innovation framework to identify opportunities for innovation, plus an auto telematics vendor solution to deliver the telematics solution to customers. Country EA developed a number of cloud POCs exploring containers, databases, and cloud storage with production workloads running in the cloud. They partnered with a third-party blockchain consortium to explore proof of insurance (POI) and first notice of loss use cases with its other member insurance companies. The partner awarded Country their 2020 innovator award for Country’s work on the POI use case.

Architecture governance. Country EAs are aligned with the different lines of businesses and are embedded into major initiatives to help guide the technology and architectural decisions. This provided the EAs with visibility into major initiatives across the enterprise and allowed them to exploit synergies across those initiatives. They created an architecture community of practice, made up of enterprise architects, solution architects, and technical leads, to develop and approve technology standards, design patterns, and best practices. Country EAs are also an active partner in governing and shaping the strategic technology programs around cloud, platform modernization, devops, data and analytics, cyber security, and ITSM.

Results for the above initiatives included development of an enterprise-wide technology strategy and roadmap; the identification of opportunities to modernize the technology portfolio; adoption of technologies that resulted in testing automation speed and stability with self-healing capabilities and zero-downtime deployments, scalability, and developer productivity; the establishment of multiyear decommission plans to decommission 33 core systems to realize $7.5 to $10.75MM in annual cost savings; and the enablement of innovation that has led to the production deployment for several emerging technologies.

Andy Kopp of Lexmark commented: “Well structured, excellent balance of execution, strategy, and innovation. Really interesting approaches to strategic planning and innovation enablement (that I might borrow from). You can really visualize the flow from strategy, through innovation, execution, and into decommissioning. Very comprehensive, great results.”

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