Three Innovative Approaches for a Cost-Effective IT Infrastructure
By Julia Davis, SVP and CIO, Aflac [NYSE: AFL]
Companies are challenged to provide the most stable and viable infrastructure, while controlling the overall cost. Any investments in technology are made as prudently as possible and must be tied to the value proposition which a given solution of service enables.
Here are three critical elements exemplifying how Aflac’s infrastructure aligns with the corporate strategy to support a low-cost delivery model. These components vary in nature from core networking designs to strengthened business connections and the adoption of videoconferencing throughout the company’s U.S. operations.
Minimizing Cost of Operation:
As Aflac continued to grow, so did the costs to connect the company’s additional sales offices throughout the U.S. Along with the increased scale of the network, the bandwidth, availability and performance requirements grew as well. Cost associated with the metro area network (MAN) circuits continued to rise, and the operation’s ability to grow was restricted by budget constraints as well as the communications providers’ capacity and processes.
In response to these challenges, the Aflac network team proposed a project to implement a private fiber infrastructure. Its purpose was to provide agile, redundant and resilient network architecture capable of responding to business needs. Along with the technical advantages, this proposed architecture would provide, the recurring costs of the existing communications circuits would also be eliminated. The solution was implemented relatively quickly in 2015 over a six month timeframe, and the capital investment yielded the following benefits:
• Network capacity was increased by 4,000 percent.
• ROI provided in 18 months through reduced annual communication costs.
• Data and voice network resiliency improved.
Enabling Business Partners:
Investments in the infrastructure have also positively impacted internal business relations with the adoption of video and collaboration platforms across Aflac. It has proven to be a highly effective and more personable communications channel.
Aflac’s IT videoconferencing services consist of numerous offerings designed to suit the business’ needs. From the highly immersive experience built on Cisco’s Telepresence platform, to the cloud-based offerings—servicing large and widely dispersed audiences, to the more individualized conversations using Microsoft’s Skype for business platform, video continues to become increasingly pervasive throughout the company.
Continual evolution of the insurer’s infrastructure also influences the company’s social responsibilities, as well as controlling the impact on the bottom line
As the company’s geographic dispersion continues to increase, video is becoming even more vital to maintaining the strong interpersonal relationships across the leadership teams.
The positive impact of video was seen in a recent realignment of Aflac’s state sales operations. Clear, frequent communication was required to ensure the new structure was properly introduced. Additionally, the availability of an effective communications channel was vital to the initial coordination of marketing strategies and performance discussions. The practice of recurring performance calls continues to this day across the entire marketing operation.
The use of Skype for business is essential to the success of IT’s emerging agile development and as a means to effectively connect with third-party partners. Aflac’s adoption and resulting benefit from Cisco’s Telepresence platform was recently featured in a Cisco customer success story. In fact, the story was used internally within Cisco to drive their own adoption of their product.
Continual Modernization to Drive Flexible and Efficiency:
Virtualization is not new to the industry. Like most, Aflac has been leveraging virtualization for its mainstream distributed infrastructure for over a decade. This journey began with a mission to simplify disaster recovery practices and ensure availability of critical business systems. Fast-forward to the present and virtual servers now represent 88 percent of the overall distributed server landscape. The investment in virtualization and the innovative manner in which Aflac’s infrastructure teams have leveraged is being game changing.
One key benefit has been seen in the ability to support the needs of Aflac’s growing agile practice. The ability to provide distributed computing capability to our lines of business has increased tenfold as compared to the traditional physical server architectures, so what once took days to provision can now be achieved in just a couple of minutes. Additionally, capacities inherently designed into our infrastructure allow for rapid and elastic provisioning for increased usage patterns during periods of enrollment and to support increased development and quality assurance testing workloads.
Aflac is also well-positioned to readily adopt cloud services. By standardizing on virtual platforms, workloads can seamlessly be migrated to leverage the capabilities of a hybrid cloud model. This capability eliminates infrastructure restrictions from influencing the decision and allows those decisions to be based on value, risk and appropriateness of design. Key efforts such as the development and introduction of Aflac’s new containerized micro services architecture and strategic efforts to deliver tomorrow’s systems of engagement benefit directly from the virtualized environments.
Continual evolution of the insurer’s infrastructure also influences the company’s social responsibilities, as well as controlling the impact on the bottom line. Aflac strives to maintain the status of a green company, and virtualization has provided an overall power reduction of 10 percent and a data center floor-space reduction of 30 percent. Moreover, even with an average year-over-year server growth of 10 percent, virtualization, combined with converged infrastructure, is allowing for a continued reduction of power, cooling and floor-space needs.
Impact of Infrastructure Development:
Infrastructure development can be easily viewed as an overhead expense– cost of doing business that should be minimized as much as possible. However, businesses should adopt prudent risk management practices that foster continual innovation of the systems and technology comprising its infrastructure. As a result, it can turn this perceived overhead expense into a value-added investment. At Aflac, we continue to invest in our infrastructure to control costs, enable the business, and support innovation and change.