With 22,000 employees and a turnover of €12 billion in 2005, Achmea is the largest insurance company in the Netherlands. It wanted to increase the responsiveness of its IT department by improving the transparency of development projects. Partnering with Avanade and Microsoft, Achmea successfully implemented Microsoft® Visual Studio® 2005 Team System, which provides administrators with access to detailed, accurate information across multiple systems. Projects can now be tracked from beginning to end, making it easier to maximise efficiencies in the development process. And with Visual Studio 2005 Team System, the company’s 200 developers have increased productivity.
Achmea—the largest insurance provider in the Netherlands, with 60 offices around the country—operates in a changeable business landscape. Mergers take place in quick succession to meet increasing market demand for rapid delivery of low-cost, custom-built solutions. This makes economies of scale crucial for any service provider. In addition, agility and customer-focus play a vital role in delivering operational excellence in the insurance and pensions market.
Group ICT Services at Achmea is the company’s nerve centre, providing vital in-house technical support to the entire organisation. Remco Jorna, Head of Competency Management Development at Achmea, says: “Achmea places IT at the core of the business, and having our development environment in-house is an important part of this. As a customer-driven organisation, we concentrate on delivering the solution that is most relevant for our internal customer—the in-depth understanding required to do this can only be found within the company. This is a key guiding principle in our business.”
Being the result of a merger, Achmea is facing several new challenges:
- Aligning its IT environment with partner systems.
- Adjusting to changes in the legal, regulatory, and market environments.
- Establishing a faster, more flexible and reliable IT base.
For the company to achieve these goals, the IT department needed to make its existing systems accessible and migrate to a new, service-based IT architecture, a major operation. “One key difficulty was tracking projects,” Jorna says. “For example, there were IT projects where we didn’t have sufficient insight—to the point that we were often unable to predict completion dates. This lack of transparency affected the efficiency of projects across the whole business—from time-critical sales projects to back-office operations.”
To gain deeper insight into its IT processes, Achmea wanted a solution that would provide objective reporting, including scores and measurements. Although a number of suppliers offered tools with these capabilities, few of them were able to deliver the crucial element: integration with the existing platform.
Achmea has a successful track record using Microsoft® solutions, and it is company policy to consider Microsoft solutions before others. Jorna says: “Microsoft came up with a solution—the Microsoft Visual Studio® 2005 Team System—at the right time. It was clear from the start that this was the best solution for us. It integrated with our Microsoft .NET platform and closely matched our requirements.”
Achmea chose Avanade as the systems integrator. “Avanade was the ideal partner for us, providing in-depth technical expertise that stretches over and above a basic knowledge of Microsoft technology,” Jorna says. “We also used other parties wherever additional support was required.” The set-up and development process was completed within two months.
Erik Lamers, Business Development Executive, Avanade, was responsible for the implementation. “Visual Studio 2005 Team System makes it possible for IT personnel to access information at a personal level,” he says. “This is crucial for the development process, which involves dealing with many individuals—project leaders, functional designers, testers, developers. They are all dependent on one another. It’s like building a house. If one developer is not ready on time, the other person can not start on their work. For seamless coordination, you need monitoring points within a single IT environment.”
For the first phase, Achmea selected an important project to evaluate the use and value of the tool in a realistic situation. Jorna says: “Visual Studio 2005 Team System is essentially a monitoring system. It allows us to see the quality of our projects and helps us identify inefficiencies. Because of this, the developers sometimes feel as if they are being monitored, which, quite naturally, gives rise to resistance.”
Lamers says: “The rollout was successful fairly quickly. For the first project, we focused on allaying the developers’ fears by making the benefits of the system as visible as possible. It was not a pilot phase—it was clear from the start that the developers would be working with the new system, and we wanted them to learn how to use it as effectively as possible.”
Achmea set a target to move all projects to the new environment within a year. Seventy per cent of them have been transferred. Jorna says: “We can now make objective assessments and we expect to have the first measurable results at the end of 2007.”
Developers are already reaping the benefits of the new system, which allows them to pinpoint trouble spots and create accurate project timelines. Jorna says: “Where previously four upgrades were necessary, there are now projects where one is sufficient.” For administrators, having access to a single information flow for all projects is proving valuable for managing the company’s existing systems. This increased efficiency positively affects projects at all levels of the business, helping boost the operational excellence Achmea delivers to its clients.
Developers Boost Productivity with Monitoring System
Since deploying the solution, Achmea has seen an enormous rise in productivity as developers rise to the new challenge, using the new solution to help improve the way they work. For example, the solution makes it easier for developers to see where errors are likely to occur.
Jorna says: “For us, Visual Studio 2005 Team System is primarily a development tool rather than an assessment tool. For example, we immediately noticed a much higher error score among our most experienced developers, but that is to be expected because they are working on the projects with the greatest complexity. This shows how crucial it is to interpret the figures correctly. We view the solution as an aid to improving our effectiveness and transparency. It gives developers the opportunity to perform even better than before by reviewing the processes used for each project. This has already turned out to be very successful.”
Administrators Benefit from Detailed, Accurate Information Flows
With the new solution’s transparency, the IT team can identify key areas of need. For example, administrators can now see the points at which the schedule of requirements for a project is at its largest or smallest. This helps them to provide for these needs and increase the quality of service they deliver.
The solution has also made it possible to meet the challenges posed by the company’s existing systems, bringing together data from diverse sources for easy accessibility. Additionally, information from Visual Studio 2005 Team System can be used to answer questions about new applications and products. Jorna says: “Before, we couldn’t provide accurate timeframes. Now, we can predict with greater certainty the quality and timeframe within which certain projects will be completed.”
Hands-On, Collaborative Approach Delivers Business Benefits
In addition to the immediate results, the collaboration with Microsoft has longer-term, strategic benefits. “We work as a team,” says Jorna. “Microsoft talks to us about content and gains insight into our business needs. This helps us develop a joint strategy. Microsoft also tells about new technologies and products before they are released on to the market.”
This is important to ensure that the solution grows with the company’s business and develops in tune with the market landscape. Lamers says: “What Microsoft is doing is deploying the tool from its own development environment at the customer. Six thousand developers work with Visual Studio 2005 Team System, and they use their own best practice processes for the customer’s benefit.”
For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234 in the United States or (905) 568-9641 in Canada. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to: www.microsoft.com
For more information about Avanade products and services, visit the Web site at:
For more information about Achmea products and services, visit the Web site at:
Microsoft Visual Studio 2005
Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 is the world’s most popular development environment for designing, developing, and testing next-generation Windows®-based solutions and Web applications and services. By improving the development experience for Windows, the Web, mobile devices, and Microsoft Office, Visual Studio 2005 helps organisations deliver a variety of solutions more productively than ever before. Visual Studio Team System expands the product line with new software tools that enable greater communication and collaboration throughout the development life cycle. With Visual Studio 2005, businesses can deliver modern service-oriented solutions more efficiently.
For more information about Visual Studio 2005, go to:
All rights reserved. This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
Document published August 2007