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Hollard guarantees system upgrade performance

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Hollard, South Africa’s largest privately-owned insurance company, has initiated a major software system upgrade and migrated its direct and partner insurance operation’s software platform from physical servers to a virtual environment following a successful performance testing project with software and solutions specialist DVT.

Ahead of a major upgrade to the latest version of its core line of business system, Hollard enlisted DVT’s Quality Assurance team to determine the performance impact of the upgrade on Hollard’s call centres, claims agents, branch network and customers. At the same time DVT was also tasked with troubleshooting performance issues on Hollard’s physical server infrastructure and determining the long-term performance and stability benefits of a virtual environment.

“As an insurance innovator, software is at the heart of everything we do,” says Bruce Robertson, IT manager for Hollard’s direct and partner operation in South Africa. “We rely on our software for everything we do – from the pre-sales stage to post claims and everything in-between –. We continually strive to improve our internal and customer-facing services through regular upgrades of our core systems.

“This continuous improvement cycle carries some risk, from integrating new software with legacy systems to maintaining statutory and industry compliance, and to potential downtime due to unforeseen technical issues,” says Robertson. “In our industry, downtime is unacceptable and loss of performance translates directly to lost revenue, so we work closely with domain experts like DVT to maintain a rigorous testing process for all our software systems prior to and during implementation.”

Founded in 1980, Hollard attributes its success to the establishment of long-term partnerships with corporate customers in a way that allows these customers to share in the benefits of improved group risk management.

“Performance testing is completely aligned with risk aversion, because customers want the peace of mind that comes with knowing a software upgrade or new physical or virtual infrastructure won’t adversely affect the level of service their staff and customers depend on,” says DVT’s quality assurance practice head and Hollard project leader Bruce Zaayman.

“It’s a critical part of software testing that’s becoming increasingly important for medium to large organisations in performance-sensitive industries like insurance, healthcare and financial services,” says Zaayman.

He says Hollard was making a necessary two-version jump of a major software system its call centres, claims agents and branches use for administering new and existing customer policies.

“Any degradation in performance – or worse, prolonged downtime – would have serious financial implications for the company,” he says. “In an industry where time really is money, if a call centre agent is limited to taking on 70 new policies rather than 100 due to software performance issues, it translates directly to lost revenue. If a claim cannot be paid on time, because of system issues, this has a direct impact on our customer and brand reputation.”

As part of its performance testing process, DVT identified a number of issues with Hollard’s physical server infrastructure, leading to an investigation of virtual machines as a viable alternative for future business.

“With business process information from Hollard and industry-standard performance testing tools from NeoTys we were able to rapidly develop performance testing scripts to accurately simulate user and website behaviour modelled directly from Hollard’s production environment,” says Zaayman.

“By overcompensating for the anticipated load on the system from a wide range of users and a number of different business case scenarios, we could clearly isolate and remove any bottlenecks in the system, ensuring that the live production environment would be fully operational once the upgrade was complete,” he adds.

“We could also show the performance benefits of virtualising the production environment, giving Hollard a predictable and measurable upgrade path for future business services.”

Robertson says the efficiency of the DVT team and the clarity of the results meant that Hollard avoided significant downtime in pursuit of its twin objectives.

“Performance testing gave us the confidence we needed to pursue an ambitious upgrade and system reengineering process designed to significantly raise an already-high service bar for our call centre agents and customers,” he says.

“The benefits to the business are measured in business continuity and revenue terms, as well as the benefit to our clients and the brand that comes from maintaining exceptional service levels through system availability and responsiveness. Regardless of how you measure things, the benefits are ultimately greater than the cost,” concludes Robertson.

Hollard has subsequently engaged DVT for additional cycles of performance testing for major system upgrades in the future.