How the cloud gave Direct Line Group an appetite for innovation

Abstract image showing figures sat on light bulbs surrounded by clouds

Direct Line Group accidentally turned its marketing, finance, and HR departments into their own tech support teams by moving to Amazon Web Services (AWS).

The insurer initially adopted AWS for dev and test workloads, believing it was making mostly a technology decision, said Ash Roots, Direct Line's director of digital.

Speaking at the AWS Enterprise Summit in London today, he added: "The bit that I've observed most is how it has been a catalyst for organisational change."

The company comprises Direct Line insurance, but also Churchill, Privilege and Green Flag breakdown assistance. Issuing 13,000 car insurance quotes a day, the group sells a new policy every 10 seconds and manages a total eight million policies.

When it first looked at the cloud, Direct Line was trying to find faster technology while still operating in a regulated environment.

"When we started looking at how AWS could help the focus was on tech because that's where we thought the right place was to start," Roots told delegates.

Direct Line experimented with running some services in dev and test environments, and this year moved its customer FAQs, Direct Line for Business, and Green Flag websites into production on AWS.

But Root saw more benefit in how AWS empowered non-technical departments to experiment and innovate.

"Your marketing department, your finance department or even your HR department, they could be involved in spinning up a server," he said. "AWS takes eight clicks to set up a server compared to the previous processes we used to have where you'd have to fill in a form, then meet someone, then have an SLA, and then something might happen."

That technical improvement had a knock-on effect on the people and services around it, too.

"The person who's requesting something has to respond quicker because the actual activity happens much faster," Roots said.

"It changes all of the support mechanisms around it. We're used to being an organisation where change is pretty [slow], you know the cycles; they can be monthly, quarterly, weekly. But if you can get to a continuous delivery stage the whole organisation can change at pace ... it could be your budget cycles have to change because the whole organisation has changed too."

Roots said it was the cloud's cultural impact on Direct Line Group that has had the biggest effect.

"If you want an experimentation-type mindset and people to fail fast and you want to encourage that, Amazon's that safe place to go because you know it's safe, you know if your thing works, it will scale."

Technology will remain a chief area of focus for Direct Line's future use of AWS, but Roots also wants to use the cloud's agility to continue to change the pace of Direct Line's culture of innovation.

"For me, the biggest opportunity is how we can use this as an intervention to make the organisation faster and smarter," he concluded.