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UK Insurance Firm Uses Mobile App and Cloud Platform to Track Driving Behavior
Aviva, a leading provider of financial services worldwide, wanted to help customers save money by basing auto insurance quotes on the behavior of individual drivers instead of statistics. To better understand potential customers, Aviva needed to collect telematics data from moving vehicles, but deploying on-premises infrastructure was too costly and complex. That changed when it implemented a hybrid-cloud solution based on Windows Azure. The solution uses smartphones to collect telematics data that it stores in the cloud on Windows Azure SQL Database. It also integrates with an on-premises quote system and social media such as Facebook and Twitter. With this highly scalable, extensible and secure cloud platform, Aviva can bring innovative solutions to the marketplace with a rapid lifecycle, help customers save up to 20 percent, and reach customers through the devices they use every day.
"With Windows Azure, we can build on capabilities that were unavailable in the past. As a result, we can offer our customers cutting-edge solutions like never before."
A leading provider of insurance, savings, and investment products, Aviva serves 43 million customers worldwide. Based in London, England, the company is the largest insurer in the United Kingdom with 40,800 employees and annual revenue of £50.7 billion (US$76.8 billion).
Aviva continuously strives to offer lower rates and personalized service, and its auto insurance division is no exception. The company wanted to design an innovative pricing model that would reduce premiums for the right customers, but first it needed a better understanding of driving habits. Traditionally, car insurance premiums were determined not just by the driver’s history, but also by statistical probabilities including age and gender. Aviva sought a better approach. “We wanted to give people an individual price,” says Jason Vettraino, Application Architect at Aviva. “We didn’t want to say ‘You’re in your forties, so you must drive like my dad.’ It’s all about being able to prove that you are different from the mold that people created in the past.”
Telematics is the convergence of telecommunications and information processing, which allows information to be captured remotely. Historically, it was necessary to construct and install devices known as black boxes to gather telemetry data. It was also necessary to hire an external vendor to transfer the data, and to invest in extensive back-end infrastructure capable of storing and analyzing multiple terabytes of information. However, in today’s market, telematics devices come in all shapes and forms including the classic black box design, smart meters, and more generic devices such as satnavs and mobile phones.
Advances in consumer mobile devices and cloud computing opened up new opportunities, and Aviva realized it had alternatives to building out its data center. “Suddenly in 2012, all of the constraints we faced before had eased,” says Vettraino. “Storage and processing costs had gone down, and the power of mobile phones was amazing compared with what was available in 2004.”
A new regulation provided additional incentive. In 2004, the European Communities (EC) issued a Gender Directive that made sex discrimination illegal. However, some countries, including the UK, were allowed to use gender as a factor in deciding auto insurance risk. In practice, this meant that women were offered rates up to 50 percent lower than the premiums paid by men. That changed in December 2012 when the EC ruled that the Gender Directive would also apply to rate calculations for auto insurance. “We were eager to tell drivers not to worry about gender,” says Steve Whitby, Solutions Delivery Center Director at Aviva. “Instead, rates would be determined by how you conduct yourself in the car.”
Technology had also moved forward, and advances in consumer mobile devices and cloud computing opened up new opportunities. “Suddenly in 2012, all of the constraints we faced before had eased,” says Vettraino. “Storage and processing costs had gone down, and the power of mobile phones was amazing compared with what was available in 2004.”
So instead of building out its data center, Aviva looked for a hybrid cloud-based solution that would meet multiple requirements. The company needed a flexible, highly scalable infrastructure that would integrate with its existing, on-premises quote system as well as external, web-based services and applications running on mobile phones. It also required a secure solution that would be easy to implement and manage.
Although Aviva looked at various options for cloud services, it decided that the Windows Azure platform was the best choice for Aviva Drive. Besides providing the technical features the company’s development team required, Windows Azure was also attractive to business leaders, who realized that the highly secure, scalable solution would reduce implementation cost and complexity. “We needed infrastructure that we could scale out or back quickly as needed,” says Vettraino. “Windows Azure seemed like the ideal solution for getting servers up and running quickly and efficiently.”
Aviva began refining its rating algorithm and strategy for integrating social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Next, the company worked with the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Professional development system and the Microsoft .NET Framework 4 to build its Aviva Drive app for mobile phones. The development platform included Windows Azure SQL Database and the Windows Azure Table storage service. Developers also used tools in the Windows Azure SDK—including Windows Azure compute emulator and Windows Azure storage emulator—to test the solution.
In February 2012, Aviva began a 90-day trial project with a fleet of commercial vehicles. The vehicle operators used the app to compete against one another and evaluate performance, while Aviva tested scalability and data accuracy. Satisfied with the results, the company then worked on integrating the app with its on-premises quote system.
In July 2012, the company released Aviva Drive in a consumer pilot project that initially captured driving data from a phone, stored the information in Azure, and connected the mobile app to the company’s website for insurance quotes. Three months later, the app had real-time connectivity with Windows Azure so that it could collect telematics information for the quote process. Aviva officially launched Aviva Drive in November 2012.
Drivers in the UK can download the mobile app for free from an app store. Running on Android smartphones and iPhones, the app works with the phones’ built-in GPS technology and sensors to collect and send telematics data to Windows Azure, including braking, cornering, and acceleration behavior. After 200 miles, the app gives the driver a score that the quote system uses to calculate a personalized premium. Aviva uses web service integration for online service integration, and Open Database Connectivity (ODBC), an application programming interface that enables access to the stored data. The data is kept “at rest” within Azure to minimize onsite storage demands.
In addition to integrating with the on-premises quote system, the app also connects to Facebook and Twitter. Drivers can use the social media to share scores and compete with other motorists. The social media integration encourages drivers to use the app and also attracts attention to the project through channels such as the Facebook fan page, status updates, and Twitter feeds.
Aviva looks forward to broader use of the cloud platform. For example, the company plans to use Windows Azure to develop and test on-premises applications as well as cloud-based solutions.
Aviva is using a hybrid-cloud solution based on Windows Azure to deliver innovative solutions faster, provide more personalized and affordable service, and improve its marketing capabilities.
Improves Flexibility and Innovation
By implementing a hybrid-cloud solution based on Windows Azure, Aviva realized its goal to deliver personalized quotes based on telematics data. The extensible solution is not only highly scalable, but it also securely connects disparate applications and devices including an on-premises quote system, mobile phones, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The rapid development lifecycle is an additional advantage. “Certainly if it’s a new project, you have to ask yourself why you wouldn’t do it in the cloud,” says Jason Steele, Solutions Designer at Aviva. “With many projects, just adding on to existing, on-premises infrastructure becomes too problematic and limiting. But with Windows Azure, we’re looking toward the cloud for multiple different scenarios, including optimizing the development lifecycle as well as the final production system.”
The company can also benefit from new technology trends. “With Windows Azure, we can test and scale as needed,” says Whitby. “Our app is very much a product of its time, and we can build on capabilities that were unavailable in the past. As a result, we can offer our customers cutting-edge solutions like never before.”
Simplifies and Speeds Implementation
Now, developers have more time available for enhancing the solution. “Working with Windows Azure is a breeze compared with the hoops you usually jump through to get code running reliably on servers,” adds Steele. “We can concentrate on actual development of new features instead of worrying about security, managing the infrastructure, or procuring hardware.”
Aviva is also speeding deployment with an end-to-end development environment. The company took advantage of its existing expertise in the .NET Framework to design a solution that deployed easily in the cloud on Windows Azure. “One of the things that we loved about Windows Azure is that we could develop code with Visual Studio 2010, upload it, and have it running 10 minutes later,” says Steele. “We had a small development team, and we could get up and running without a complicated deployment.”
The company implemented a recent change in less than a week. “The agility we gain with Windows Azure is the future,” says Vettraino. “The agility we gain with Windows Azure is just what we need going forward for delivering a solution that exceeds our customers’ expectations.”
Personalizes Service and Reduces Customer Premiums byup to 20 Percent
Aviva expects to strengthen its competitive advantage by offering quotes based on the driver’s own capabilities rather than statistics. By proving they can drive safely, drivers can cut insurance costs regardless of age or gender. And because the solution runs on Windows Azure, Aviva knows that it will always be available for its customers any time they want to use it. “By using a Windows Azure–based solution to learn more about our customers’ driving, we can help them save money,” says Vettraino. “After drivers use our application and receive a score, we can give them up to a 20 percent discount on their premium.”
Provides New Marketing Capabilities
Aviva is also gaining more exposure by augmenting its solution with popular social networks. “We’ve gained amazing visibility by integrating our app with social media,” says Vettraino. “People are actively talking about the app on Twitter and Facebook. The more visibility we gain, the better our chances that people use the software. By taking advantage of these tools, we can be smarter about the way we market our solution.”