EcoHub – An exemplary large-scale IT project to digitize an entire industry
Digital ecosystems facilitate collaboration and streamline business processes. They also help empower employees by ensuring that market participants are concentrating on their core competencies. Lower transaction costs bring greater prosperity to providers and their customers.
More often than not, project implementations at the scale of an entire industry fail.
Launched in May 2020, EcoHub, the central online platform in the Swiss insurance, pensions and brokerage market, proves that when efficiently implemented, even a large, complex and multifaceted digital ecosystem such as EcoHub can work extremely well and effectively digitize an entire industry.
What is EcoHub?
EcoHub is the new digital ecosystem of the insurance, pension and brokerage industry in Switzerland, with over 6,000 registered users. The platform was launched by Interessengemeinschaft B2B (IG B2B), a leading Swiss organization for insurers and brokers.
Led by Beat D. Marbach, CEO of nabooh GmbH, the project was executed in close cooperation with the international software house SELISE, whose technological implementation included state-of-the-art cloud functionality from Microsoft Azure.
EcoHub’s goal is to bring more uniformity and efficiency to the industry’s processes and interfaces, promote exchanges between different market participants, and exploit synergies within the industry.
The total business volume (GMV) supported and facilitated by EcoHub in the areas of insurance and pensions amounts to several billions of Swiss francs, annually. Participants have responded extremely favourably and given highly positive feedback. The platform is already being used extensively – for example, nearly 2,500 Swiss business users log into EcoHub on an average business day.
The main features of EcoHub include:
- Core functionality: Central identity and access management for various broker portals of Swiss insurance companies.
- Exchange of customer or policy related DXP data: Every hour, between 5,000 and 10,000 DXP data are transported between broker systems and insurance companies via EcoHub. DXP is an interface developed by IG B2B for the exchange of standardized information, such as insurance policy information.
- Highly flexible interface for specialized software producers: A central focus during the construction of the new platform was put on the numerous software producers. Thanks to EcoHub, both large and small providers have received access to standardized interfaces. The platform provides integrators with a comprehensive API management portal on request, allowing all integrations to be established by a third party system. Integrators on the insurance side, as well as on the broker side, can test their implementations against a high performance integration environment.
- “Software as a Service” novelties: EcoHub offers process validation, malware scanning and application auditing as services. This enables third-party manufacturers to guarantee the legal and industrial conformity of their software. Program manager Beat D. Marbach explains: “From the very beginning, the vision was to open the market for new, innovative providers with this project.”
EcoHub was developed on the basis of the latest platform technologies of Microsoft. The application core consists of various microservices written in C#, containerized and orchestrated over a Kubernetes cluster (AKS). The various identity processes that connect third-party applications to EcoHub are controlled via AD B2C. Both latest and older access protocols are supported.
EcoHub thus parallely communicates with various third parties, at all times, via OIDC/OAuth2 or SAML 2.0. “The cloud technology used by SELISE is not only robust but also extremely flexible. This enables a degree of integration for all connected participants – independent of their own systems – that is probably unique in the industry,” says Marbach, who is also responsible for the architecture of the solution.
The entire platform is event-based, i.e. it records transactions instead of states. This means that for each object, all transactions can be traced back to their creation. Based on this event store, a high-performance audit trail was also developed, which, in addition to malware scanning and process validation, is also made available to the systems of more than a thousand members. CosmosDB is used as an event store for this purpose. With its change feed concept, the No-SQL database offers the ideal basis for event-driven architecture. Issued events are distributed via Azure Service Bus, which is also used for queuing identity provisioning in third-party systems.
The platform has been designed according to the principles of proportionality, which means that each microservice has been scaled according to its needs. Thus, three types of microarchitectures are used:
- Serverless with Azure functions for transaction services, such as DXP, that scale up and down almost continuously.
- CQRS for high-availability business objects, such as service agreements, which require significantly different loads on read and write operations.
- Classic MVC architecture for longtail functions, such as member export for administrators.
Since the entire platform is also used as a provisioning engine, changes to users and organizations are distributed to third-party systems via the Azure Service Bus.
The EcoHub project was tendered by IG B2B in the fourth quarter of 2018 and awarded to SELISE in March 2019. “SELISE convinced us with their experience with complex cloud applications, their prompt implementation, their innovative team and their fair price-performance ratio,” said Michael John, President of IG B2B.
The project management was directly overseen by the top management of both IG B2B and SELISE. SELISE executed the developments with teams based in Zurich and Dhaka. The development was carried out by SELISE InsurTech and the entire platform is supported 24/7 by the SELISE ITSM crew.
“For us, ITSM does not only mean technical support and DevOps, but also the continuous extension of our applications on the code level,” says Julian Weber, CEO of SELISE. The complex IT project was completed on time and within budget. For Michael John, this is a clear sign that they “have chosen the right partner” during their large-scale RFP phase.
The platform, which went live in June, was not built on a greenfield, but is based on BrokerGate’s ten-year old legacy. This means that the effective go-live on May 5, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, was preceded by a migration phase lasting over several months. For this phase, the program management conducted numerous workshops with more than 300 IT managers. It also commissioned and monitored thousands of tasks digitally, via a specially created program management website. This was necessary to prepare all 1021 member companies of IG B2B for the big bang system change.
Numerous ETL processes were prepared for the big bang, which extracted data from the legacy systems and transferred it to the new solution via EcoHub API. This migration process also ensured data validation. “We had a window of five days, including the weekend,” recalls Beat Marbach, who also introduced new support processes and systems with the migration.
As expected, IG B2B’s first-level support team was already under extraordinary pressure during the migration and was able to keep the technical team’s back free, thanks to the use of modern chat tools and agile methods. In its operating module, SELISE follows the classic application management model and has distributed the competencies of design, transition and support to different key personnel. The steering team already established during the development, with representatives from both organizations, will now act as a change advisory board.
From the perspective of IG B2B and SELISE, EcoHub is a model large-scale project for the digitization of an entire industry. Similar attempts in other sectors of the economy have rarely been crowned with success. However, the business leadership of IG B2B and the technological experience and advanced system architecture of SELISE played decisive roles in the successful implementation of EcoHub. Thanks to the joint, closely interlinked project management between these two partners, and their combined strategic assets, EcoHub was launched successfully in the Swiss insurer, pensions, and brokerage market.
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About IG B2B
IG B2B for Insurers + Brokers, founded in 2003, combines the interests of insurers, brokers and software manufacturers with regard to the design of electronic business transactions in the broker market. With over 1000 members, it is the largest Swiss association of brokers and insurers.
More about IG B2B: www.igb2b.ch