Howden Insurance Brokers India ( www.howdenindia.com ) wanted to reduce IT infrastructure costs and adopt secure collaboration tools. To maintain compliance with data and privacy regulations, Howden India also needed to decouple its Active Directory from the global directory managed by its parent company. Besides, it also wanted to deploy State of the Art Data Loss Prevention and Threat Protection Solutions.
In May 2019, Chhaya Mishra, Head of Technology at Howden India reached out to TechGyan, the company’s local Microsoft Partner, for ideas on upgrading the IT infrastructure. Her initial goal: meeting a December 2019 deadline for decoupling Active Directory and Microsoft Exchange from its global umbrella company, Hyperion Insurance Group in the UK, to comply with industry regulations on keeping customer data local.
As the lead of the technology team responsible for IT infrastructure and business applications, she saw a need to tackle additional challenges, like upgrading the company’s IT infrastructure and modernizing its communication tools.
“We used to top the list of vulnerabilities because of our old Exchange and data center set up. And all of our end-user machines were still running Windows 7. Our infrastructure wasn’t great because we were using end-of-life systems with disparate security solutions,” says Mishra. She also had her sights set on making it easier for employees to collaborate in real time and access all the files they need from anywhere.
Upgrading to best-in class solutions
Mishra asked TechGyan to create a solution architecture, and within a month the global IT team signed off on the design. Mishra then directed TechGyan to start moving all applications and data to the cloud and to upgrade to collaboration and security solutions in Microsoft 365. Mishra spearheaded and coordinated the effort of upgrading devices, migrating back-end systems, boosting security, and rolling out and training users on Microsoft Teams to make it easier to collaborate and communicate with anyone in the company.
“After this migration, we won’t have any more sleepless nights worrying about our vulnerabilities and outdated systems,” she says. “Everything we needed fell in place. This migration and upgrade to Microsoft 365 with the help of Techgyan has given us a competitive edge.”
Throughout, Mishra kept business teams informed on the progress of the project. “From the time we started this project to the time we went live, I regularly sent out updates so that everyone was aware of what to expect next. We also collaborated with our partner TechGyan to train employees on the new solutions,” she says.
In phase one, Mishra’s IT team, in collaboration with TechGyan, upgraded all employee laptops to Windows 10 and migrated accounts to Microsoft Azure Active Directory. Microsoft Exchange 2010 was replaced with Exchange Online and disparate on-premises security solutions made way for integrated Microsoft 365 security solutions, including Windows Defender Antivirus, Intune for mobile device management and mobile application management, and Office 365 Data Loss Protection. The company also deployed Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) across the organization and decided to roll out multifactor authentication. These security features now keep communication and collaboration secure as employees use their registered Windows 10 laptops while working remotely.
In phase two, Howden India decommissioned eight on-premises servers, migrated corporate data to Microsoft SharePoint Online, and employee documents from folders on local machines to Microsoft OneDrive. Employees now access files via Microsoft Teams, which has fundamentally changed how business units work together. “As Head of Technology at Howden, I can say Teams is one of the best tools that I have ever used. We spend a lot less time sending files back and forth. In my team, we’re sending 75–80 percent fewer emails than before.” says Mishra.
Providing business continuity with Microsoft Teams
Collaboration is the heart of many business processes at Howden India, and with all employees working remotely, everyone is using Teams. Collaboration has become more efficient. For example, the Howden India operations team gets quotes from insurers, which it passes to the sales team and then senior consultants for review. The company tabulates all data into a Quote Comparison Rate (QCR) sheet. This process used to take at least half a day but now can be accomplished in just an hour or two by collaborating in real time.
Using Teams, employees can co-author and edit the QCR, and provide background information via chat, calls, and meetings. They can also easily hand off tasks so there’s no time lost while files go back and forth. As a result, Howden India responds to customers faster—a significant competitive advantage. “We set a benchmark with Microsoft 365 that other brokers in the market will have to match,” says Mishra.
Having the ability to stay in close touch has become even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit at an especially important time of the year. With the fiscal year ending on March 31st, clients needed to finalize their insurance policies, which in the best of times was a cumbersome process with large files sent back and forth. It was critical for Howden India to maintain access to internal data and continue to serve clients. “With everyone working from home, it would have been very difficult to collaborate and get work done if not for Teams. It is one single platform where we can do everything,” says Ananth Prabhu, President and Regional Head for South India at Howden. Having all the files on SharePoint and accessible via Teams made it possible to continue business as usual at a critical time—and the process of finalizing insurance policies was even smoother than before.
That Teams saved the day didn’t come as a surprise to Mishra, who is thrilled with the impact it has had on her organization. “If there’s one word for collaboration, it’s Teams. It’s made our work so simple,” she says. “Before Teams, collaboration was all face to face or done by email or calls. With Teams, we save time and get work done faster.”
Peace of mind and cost savings
Howden India moved all applications to Azure, which has given Mishra confidence that information is not only secure but always accessible. When on-premises servers went down in the past, employees couldn’t access email. “Now there’s absolutely no worry something will go down,” Mishra says. And with auto archiving, the IT team no longer needs to perform manual backups, she adds.
Moving to the cloud and decommissioning on-premises servers has also saved Howden India money. “We’ve seen more than an 85 percent reduction in infrastructure cost,” she says. This will be a boon for the company, especially when in the face of uncertain economic conditions.
All employees have continuous access to all the files they need from anywhere, which has been especially helpful during the COVID-19 crisis. But even in regular times, this easy access to information has been valuable. “Having access to tools that allow you to stay connected wherever you are is absolutely critical. With Microsoft 365, emails, important documents, calendars, and contacts are all at your fingertips in a completely secure environment,” says Girish Mantri, CFO at Howden India. When an in-office team needs data for a quote, for example, a salesperson who is on the road can share information quickly and securely through Teams on a mobile device instead of coming into the office (or using WhatsApp, which is cumbersome and not secure).
“Before we had Microsoft Office, our salespeople had to come to the office if they needed a document for a client presentation. Then they had to copy it onto their laptops before they could take it on the road. Now that problem is solved. Today they have 24/7 access to whatever they need, like presentations and sales pitches. That’s a big thumbs up for business productivity,” says Mishra.
The reduced need for travel means cost and time savings and a lower environmental impact, she adds. She expects salespeople to have more time for connecting with customers and prospects. “They’re doing what they should be doing—selling. I’ve received feedback from almost all of the regions that it’s been a huge plus.”
“Having a best-in-class platform like Microsoft 365 addresses multiple challenges in one go, something that was missing earlier. Today, I can say that we have all the tools in place for significantly improving business productivity and collaboration while providing a much higher level of security,” says Praveen Vashishta, Chairman and CEO at Howden India.