By Dawn Heckerd
MIGRATE TO THE CLOUD: MANAGE YOUR AGENCY’S WORKLOAD FROM ANY LOCATION
Cut costs, let employees work remotely, and quickly implement your disaster recovery plan
Cloud migration can help agencies become nimbler and address client needs expeditiously. Additionally, cloud applications and interfaces can be updated more quickly. As business analyst/project manager at the insurance brokerage Hylant, I handle both product support and use of Applied Epic and other products that support our client-servicing needs. I’m also tasked with helping others in the use of our agency management software. In this position, I played an instrumental role in the agency’s migration to the cloud—a process that took about 10 weeks from our preliminary discovery meeting to migration and implementation.
Why migrate to the cloud?
Here are some reasons why an agency should consider migrating to a cloud-based platform:
- Time savings in maintaining and upgrading hardware infrastructure. It may be worth the cost of higher online licensing if the agency does not have the expertise to maintain the necessary hardware infrastructure.
- Managing and allocation of server space for data and attachment storage backup.
- Disaster recovery and business continuity, providing accessibility from any location with internet access via the Epic (or other software provider) client or web interface.
- Our management system provider offers three different cloud environments to meet agencies’ needs. The dedicated platinum cloud environment is essential for agencies that require control of software updates.
Before migration begins, no matter the software, agencies must consider connectivity, third-party integrations, transfer of infrastructure, and server requirements, and must choose the cloud platform that will best meet their needs. Among other things, your agency should have a plan for moving data to the cloud as well as testing for data accuracy and user experience.
Although the SDK server—the server that drives writing and retrieving data in our Applied Epic database—is housed at Applied, it is important to note that some processes and services will remain on premises, like your fax server and bulk data extract (BDE) servers. As part of the transition, agencies should plan for necessary server updates or the consolidation of data that will remain on premises. Agencies must keep in mind that internally written integrations can be a challenge because of the physical location and access to the Epic database, resulting in the need for additional planning and testing.
Before migration begins—no matter the software—agencies must consider connectivity, third-party integrations, transfer of infrastructure, and server requirements, and must choose the cloud platform that will best meet their needs.
We have many internal and external third-party integrations that support our clients and service staff. Our primary areas of concern during the cloud migration were these integrations and changes to the replication process of our BDE servers. Applied’s transition team does a great job of working through the process of getting the data and connections moved over to the new environment. Meanwhile, our Exchange server also is cloud-based with another cloud provider. We worked with Applied to configure the connection and have not experienced any issues with the core functionality in either system.
Many benefits, few drawbacks
Working with your provider and your internal infrastructure team to understand the network and bandwidth requirements is essential for good response time and end user satisfaction. The test environments may not provide the same experience as post migration. Testing did not give us enough exposure to the real day-to-day effects of moving to the cloud.
Even so, we have experienced only minimal drawbacks in moving to the cloud. These include:
- A critical factor for the online experience is connectivity—maintaining a steady and reliable connection. As we have transitioned, we have noticed an impact on latency, which we are working to resolve.
- Loss of control when troubleshooting network issues can be frustrating. We no longer have the servers in house to help diagnose connectivity or latency issues when they occur. Depending on the level of your IT skillset and resources, this can be either good or bad.
- If you have a lot of in-house or third-party integrations, issues with SDK/BDE are more difficult to troubleshoot without direct access.
Overall, moving to the cloud environment has been a positive experience for our IT staff. The IT department manages the escalated product support and business analysis, data analysis, presentation of Epic data to our clients, and management of third-party integrations. Although support and business analysis processes have seen virtually no impact, we experienced a slight impact because of the lack of direct access to the SQL databases and SDK servers.
Before moving to the cloud, our IT operations team managed backups, disc storage, and overall connectivity among our 16 locations. Migration to the cloud had the greatest impact on this team, and it has been mostly positive. We were able to reduce the expansion of our server infrastructure to accommodate growing disc storage, reduce the time and associated space for backup processes, and consolidate our existing SQL server infrastructure, which reduced the expense of servers and SQL licensing. But while the cloud environment is extremely reliable, we have struggled with internet traffic surges that can cause latency issues.
Post-migration, the response times for our remote offices improved. However, our main location logged a noticeable decrease in response times, felt primarily in the upload/download of large file attachments and proposals. Even so, our staff members for the most part do not notice the change from an on-premises platform to the cloud and have experienced very little impact on their day-to-day activities.
The diversity and scope of a large agency can be challenging, but bringing all parties together to work toward a common goal, like cloud migration, is rewarding. A huge positive impact of this effort has been the ability to log in to Epic from anywhere outside of Hylant’s offices. Cloud access proved useful during a fire at our main location last year that made it critical to our disaster recovery plan. With Outlook and Epic as cloud-based programs, our employees can manage their entire workload from any location, making them more responsive to client needs.
Dawn Heckerd is a business analyst/project manager for Hylant. She is a member of the Applied Client Network IMPACT Committee and a past president of the Applied Client Network, Large Agent Alliance chapter.