In collaboration with Alliancy
Shared experiences around strategic and business issues of ecosystems and APIs
Axway offers a series of interviews and meetings to facilitate both testimonials and analyses, with access to expertise and inspirational visions, for CIOs/DDOs/Transformation Directors who are reinventing their role in their company.
Interview Frédéric Girardeau – Henner Group
“We have trained ourselves in new methods, new ways of doing business and a completely different philosophy.”
Frédéric Girardeau joined the Henner Group, a life and health insurance management and brokerage company, in March 2018 with the mission of supporting the urbanization of the information system. The French company, which is growing rapidly and with significant ambitions, including internationally, has initiated a major investment cycle in its information system in order to make it a digital and open platform capable of facilitating exchanges with all the players in its ecosystem.
Olivier Daniel, COO in charge of IT at the Henner Group, who joined the executive committee in mid-2017, believes that the strategic missions of the IT department are as follows: digitalize, dematerialize and urbanize. Why is this last part so important for your group today?
The Group’s information system is structured around an internally developed management software package, to which all our departments are attached. Its overall design and progressive strengthening have enabled the Group to grow by perfectly meeting the most specific aspects of our business needs. This has continued with the development of all our websites, which have been based on that foundation. But today, the monolithic nature of this system, which has been and continues to be the Group’s strength, could become a disadvantage as the company goes digital. When Olivier Daniel took on his duties, he spurred the transformation to move towards modularity, generic processing, and computer development factories that could be duplicated at will. And this provides an opportunity to carry out a global technological overhaul and to rethink the urbanization of the information system. It is essential that it responds to the new challenges of our activities.
What are they?
The group must continue its growth and internationalization in competitive sectors. It must also be innovative in its services offering, improve its digital offering both internally and externally and support its customers towards the use of self-service and all of this in a multi-channel model. This means that from an IT point of view, our solutions must be much more user-centric and that we must be able to better exploit our data and share information. We must offer high-performance, intuitive sites or apps, capable, for example, of simulating extremely flexible rates.
What has pushed modernization is therefore both this “business-driven” vision and, to a certain extent, financial concerns. This transformation should also allow us to deliver our projects/evolutions (time-to-market) faster while, and it is a real challenge, combining this digital transformation with a decrease/control of operational costs. When you stay with aging technologies, the costs – of licensing, maintenance – keep increasing over the years.
Your transformation roadmap starts with redesigning your websites and apps. Why?
For several reasons. Transforming websites allowed us to show to our customers and partners a rapid change by immediately providing high value-added services. Then, changing any IS requires time and fine-tuned expertise. The redesign of web portals is thus an opportunity to proceed step by step, by transferring to them some of the functionalities previously provided by our Management tool. This investment effort also makes it possible to start thinking about the IS from now on based on generic components (authorizations, microservices, etc.) which make us greatly improve our adaptability, and therefore economize for the future. This also explains our interest in system APIization.
Is this what convinced the general management to go for transformation?
The presence of our CIO on the Group’s Executive Committee has been a strong accelerator in raising their awareness and onboarding around these issues. Thus, our entire management team is fully committed and is the driving force behind all these projects. Everyone feels concerned: which makes it possible to act.
Business impacts/demands are seen on a daily basis anyway. To illustrate this, we see a fundamental trend among our most important clients/partners: some of them have also engaged in digitalization, have also acquired an APIzed platform and are therefore looking for a partner, including in the health coverage domain, who, like Henner, is able to offer them services in “pick and choose” mode and which are more easily interoperable with their ecosystem. It is therefore essential that we adapt to interconnect much more easily with these partners and not be a blocking factor for their own transformation. For them, APIs really make a difference. And for us, this reflects our commitment to providing quality, flexible and responsive services to our customers.
Were the teams under the CIO ready for these practice changes?
We have trained ourselves in new methods, ways of doing our jobs differently and a completely different philosophy, particularly around micro-services and APIs. It’s a very big change, but we’re bringing it along gently. We first solicited our most expert employees, who are well acquainted with the specificities of our IS so that they can themselves express the constraints we face when confronted by new requirements. The three-year re-urbanization plan highlights the skills and knowledge of these teams. We have recruited architects to create a brand new architecture unit within the IS department, and its work is based mainly on the modeling done by our experts. In general, the new dynamic within the IS department has enabled us to address many new topics: cloud, DevOps, development factory, etc. Everything is linked. In 18 months, we have truly discovered a new world of industrialization based on APIsation. We have been accompanied by our various service providers, but we are aware that we are still too much inside our own bubble. We must continue to open up. Our market is undergoing many transformations, with media examples such as La Parisienne Assurance in Open API mode. We now want to compare our experiences with those of other companies, share our challenges and also the ways in which we have met them. The testimonies on technology are interesting, but what interests us most today is to compare global visions of activity.
“We absolutely must adapt to interconnect much more easily with our partners and not be a blocking factor for their own transformations. For them, APIs really make a difference.”
2018 revenue: €190 million
Sidebar: A 3-year roadmap
The re-urbanization of the Henner Group’s IS being carried out over three years, in order to best serve the ongoing business transformation.
Thus, if we look only at web portals, the first “new generation” website, which went into production in September 2019, is dedicated to health partners (hospitals, healthcare networks, etc.). In 2020, we’ll transform the portal dedicated to our Wholesale Broker activity, which will host pricing simulations, and then the site dedicated to the HR of the group’s customers. Finally, at the beginning of 2021, the Affiliates site will complete the metamorphosis.
In parallel, “the Management system will also be re-urbanized in order to take up certain “excesses” and refocus it on the core business: contracts, services management, and contributions,” explains Frédéric Girardeau, Middle Office IT domain manager for the group. In the same way, the increase in skills on the APIsation of the system is done gradually. APIs have become the entry points to the middle-office abstraction layer that links the Management System and new websites. “We have not directly launched into the cloud for our API manager, but our APIs are hosted in the cloud, and we are therefore testing this operation, with regard to global re-urbanization. It’s an ongoing learning process,” he adds.
Learn more about API Management.