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State Auto Cuts Production Time to a Day Using AWS AppSync and AWS Amplify

2021

State Automobile Mutual Insurance Company (State Auto), a property and casualty insurer operating in 33 US states, provides insurance products covering personal, commercial, farm and ranch, and workers’ compensation risks. In 2019, State Auto decided to create a cloud-native version of its traditional technology stack using Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Using AWS services, State Auto built an application that fosters a culture of innovation and improves the user experience for insurance agents and their customers. “We are in a large-scale transformation, and the capabilities that AWS offers make our lives simpler,” says Ramu Lingala, chief technology officer of State Auto. “We’re changing the culture of how we develop and deploy software and continuously evolve. Using AWS services, we’ve been able to increase our developer velocity without building additional infrastructure. The services made it simple to adapt and learn.”

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“There are many efficiencies in how using AWS AppSync lets us deliver front-end solutions in a dynamic, reactive, and evolving way.”

Mark Skaggs
Information Technology Director of Platform Engineering, State Automobile Mutual Insurance Company

Experiencing Slow Production on Existing Systems

State Auto sells insurance products through independent agents and agencies that sell State Auto products through their own systems. For years, State Auto used a traditional three-tier architecture: on the front end, a web application with JavaScript frameworks supporting browser development; various middle-tier components; and core business systems and supporting databases on the backend.

When State Auto released a new product on the three-tier system, the process required hundreds of developers and took months to complete. Developers used more than 85 environments to develop, test, and deploy changes. “The effort to test and deploy updates was very challenging,” says Mark Skaggs, information technology director of platform engineering at State Auto. “It was difficult to manage and maintain consistent velocity with quality.”

Having used AWS for years, State Auto decided to use AWS tools to develop solution patterns. “Guided by AWS, we gained a better understanding of cloud-native tooling,” says Skaggs. “We were able to understand how to look at business problems, break them down, and approach them with appropriate technical solutions.” Then, directly inspired by an AWS Digital Innovation workshop, State Auto launched its SA360 initiative and built a new version of its web application. “The workshop taught the ‘Working Backwards’ mechanism and shared how using AWS services to develop products not only drives innovation and an innovative culture but also helps small teams implement product development,” continued Skaggs.

Facilitating Relationships with Customers through AWS Services

State Auto built a new version of its web application using AWS Amplify, a set of tools and services to help front-end web and mobile developers build scalable full-stack applications powered by AWS. The modernized application changes how agents use, view, and interact with data. “We’ve given agents another tool that is better, faster, simpler, and more intuitive to use,” says Skaggs.

Additionally, State Auto is using Amazon Connect, a simple-to-use omnichannel cloud contact center that helps users provide superior customer service at a lower cost. The new application, used alongside Amazon Connect, has reduced the number of billing-related calls to State Auto’s customer service department by 27 percent, based on internal data collected. By seeing the right information at the right moment, insurance agents can help insureds faster. “The whole idea is to make it simpler for agents to support insureds so that they can build an intimate relationship with their customers in a more comfortable way,” says Skaggs.

To accelerate the application’s development, State Auto used AWS AppSync, a fully managed service that makes it simple to develop GraphQL APIs by handling the heavy lifting of securely connecting to data sources directly or using AWS Lambda, a serverless compute service that lets companies run code without provisioning or managing servers. “There are many efficiencies in how using AWS AppSync lets us deliver front-end solutions in a dynamic, reactive, and evolving way,” says Skaggs. Because AWS AppSync is a managed GraphQL service and provides developers the flexibility to fetch only the data required for a view in the application, it has, based on internal data, reduced the amount of data going from the backend system to the browser. Based on internal metrics, this resulted in faster response times, which improve agent productivity and ultimately benefit State Auto customers.

AWS AppSync connects to Amazon DynamoDB, a key-value and document database that delivers single-digit millisecond performance at any scale, which means developers code less. “The more developers’ hands are removed from keyboards in creating a solution, the less chance of introducing errors and the quicker a solution goes to market,” explains Skaggs. Now State Auto’s development teams are smaller, with five or six people. Based on internal metrics, production time decreased from months to as little as 24 hours, so State Auto can release new features weekly or even daily. The company receives immediate feedback from its users and can adapt more quickly to their needs. “Our developers are free to take on new work for the same customer for the same product,” says Skaggs. “They become very efficient in delivering capabilities. When they finish one, they just pick up the next and start developing.”

Pursuing a Culture of Innovation on AWS

On AWS, State Auto created a modernized web application that provides a simpler and faster experience for thousands of insurance agents, helping them to better serve their customers.

State Auto also built an external rating system for customer quotes using a serverless pattern that uses multiple AWS services: AWS API Gateway, a fully managed service that makes it simple for developers to create, maintain, monitor, and secure APIs at any scale; AWS Lambda alongside AWS Step Functions, a serverless function orchestrator; and Amazon DynamoDB. Based on internal data, this solution decreased quote response time from 5–25 seconds to 200 ms.

“By using AWS, we are changing the way we think about solving business problems and about continuous evolution and improvement,” says Skaggs. “It’s not just about the technology or the cloud. It’s about State Auto delivering timely solutions to satisfy what customers want when they want it.”


About State Automobile Insurance Company

Founded in 1921, regional property casualty insurer State Automobile Mutual Insurance Company provides insurance in nine lines of business, including auto, home, and commercial. Serving 33 US states, it has assets of $4.6 billion and writes $2 billion in premiums.

Benefits of AWS

  • Reduced teams of developers from hundreds to five or six
  • Decreased production time from months to as little as 24 hours, based on internal State Auto data
  • Reduced number of customer service calls by 27%, based on internal State Auto data
  • Reduced amount of data going from the backend system to browsers
  • Helped developers code less

AWS Services Used

AWS Amplify

AWS Amplify is a set of tools and services that can be used together or on their own, to help front-end web and mobile developers build scalable full stack applications, powered by AWS.

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AWS AppSync

Organizations choose to build APIs with GraphQL because it helps them develop applications faster, by giving front-end developers the ability to query multiple databases, microservices, and APIs with a single GraphQL endpoint.

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AWS Lambda

AWS Lambda is a serverless compute service that lets you run code without provisioning or managing servers, creating workload-aware cluster scaling logic, maintaining event integrations, or managing runtimes.

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Amazon DynamoDB

Amazon DynamoDB is a fully managed, serverless, key-value NoSQL database designed to run high-performance applications at any scale. DynamoDB offers built-in security, continuous backups, automated multi-region replication, in-memory caching, and data export tools.

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