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Allianz is one of the biggest insurers in the world, with 80 million customers and 140,000 staff. And like many large organisations faced with competition from digital upstarts, the ability to create applications at pace is crucial.

To address this, Dr Andreas Nolte, CIO of the insurance firm’s German operations, partnered with platform as a service specialist, Pivotal, earlier this year to find ways to modernise development processes.

Speaking at the Cloud Foundry Summit in Frankfurt today, Nolte explained that setting up an external digital development ‘garage’ where teams were co-located played a vital role in transforming working practices.

“I was pretty convinced that setting up these garages within the premise would fail,” he said. “Typically, we love being a traditional organisation, we love waterfall and we love having several layers of our steering committees. Everybody working in a large organisation knows that too.

“I said that [the ‘garage’] has to be a little bit away for the headquarters, not too far away that I couldn’t send people to that location, but far enough so that the line manager cannot influence the daily work of the team member.”

The organisation’s development practices had been overly complex in the past, said Nolte, juggling numerous projects at once.

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“Typically our developers, or business analysts or designer, work on five projects at the same time, and if you are good you work on ten. That is tremendously inefficient,” he said.

“So the first task was to get them out of their traditional environment and put them into the garage, concentrating on one project. That is mandatory that the team members work co-located - all disciplines from market management to analysts designers and developers.”

By changing its development practices and investing in a private cloud platform as a service, there have been clear benefits to the business. “Historically it would take two or three days for a deployment to go to production, with lots of manual production. Now with the apps in the garages we can do it on the basis of Cloud Foundry within minutes.”

Teams are typically consist of between 10 to 12 staff working in an agile fashion. This includes one product owner, two to three designers and five or six developers.

“They work in the agile fashion and there is an office stand up meeting every morning,” explained Nolte.

“Then there will be a team stand up and they will go into a pairing session and that is very important concept that we copied from Pivotal Labs. We pair the designers every day to get a better code quality and to do some knowledge sharing with junior and more senior developers.”

Crucial to the success of the initiative is the backing of senior staff, right up to the CEO.

“The whole initiative was driven by our CEO. I got a lot of buy-in from all parts of the upper management,” said Nolte. “They could really see that software developments are faster and the result is better.”

There are some challenges, however. While most developers will enjoy the freedom of the new approach, and senior staff can witness the advantages, middle managers can find the transition much more difficult.

“That is still in progress,” Nolte acknowledged. “That is one of the most difficult things because their role is changing. Just imagine the head of a group of 10-15 people. If this guy could send 10 of this best people to the garage and left with five doing the maintenance of the old applications, it is not the fun part of the work.

“Therefore we have to change the roles of these guys a little bit more distinctive - say one is a people leader and one has a role in the garage.”

Note said that the project has moved at a very fast pace. Following a visit to Pivotal’s London premise earlier this year, it now has almost 200 staff in its ‘garages’.

“At the moment are running at a pretty high speed. Our visit to London was in January, we opened in Munich and Stuttgart in July. In Munich there are nearly a hundred people  working and in Stuttgart it is 86.”