Power, speed, flexibility with Google Cloud Platform

For a business to succeed in the long term, it needs to learn not just to adapt to inevitable change, but to harness it. South Africa-based PPS has been an insurance company since 1941 and today is the biggest mutual insurance provider in the country. As a mutual company, PPS is owned by more than 200,000 members, making them shareholders. In recent years, PPS and other companies like it have been affected by a number of external factors. "For one thing, technology platforms have brought in a new gig economy that has all kinds of implications for insurance," says Avsharn Bachoo, CTO at PPS. "What we've been seeing is basically a disruption of the South African insurance industry. We chose to see that as an opportunity."

In early 2018, faced with an uncertain economic environment that was squeezing growth and profitability, PPS decided to transform itself from a traditional broker-based business into a digital insurance provider. A key pillar of this new strategy was to overhaul the company's technology infrastructure. To turn the strategy into reality, Avsharn and his team chose Google Cloud Platform (GCP).

"Our servers were at the end of their life cycle and we had to decide whether to refresh them or switch completely," says Avsharn. "To embrace the world of AI and machine learning (ML) effectively, we knew we needed a cloud-based infrastructure. We've found the answer in Google Cloud Platform."

"It's the speed of GCP that really impresses us."

Previously, PPS maintained an on-premises IT infrastructure, which worked for its traditional business but was unsuited for its new way of working. In early 2018, the company started working on new products for its members but this required large amounts of compute power that proved prohibitively expensive with on-premises servers. Even existing products were starting to require more than the infrastructure could deliver. Aging equipment meant that it's testing and quality assurance environments bore little resemblance to the actual production environment.

"We had no pre-production environments at all," says Avsharn, resulting in more work for developers after products had been released. Meanwhile, the capital required to buy and configure more servers for new projects meant fewer resources available for innovation, and left the company less able to react to changes in the market. PPS knew it had to find a cloud-based alternative.

Shortly after devising a new digital strategy, PPS engineers attended a training session on cloud infrastructure given by leading South African Google Cloud Partner Siatik. Impressed with the presentation, PPS engaged Siatik to help run a proof of concept for a cloud-based infrastructure, running on GCP. With on-site engineers and constant communication, Siatik formed a very close working relationship with PPS. "The team at Siatik was exemplary," recalls Avsharn. "They were well-organized, with cutting-edge technical acumen and very creative solutions to our problems. They were real game-changers."

The proof of concept was successful, with GCP outperforming the existing infrastructure in terms of how it handled compute demands, databases, and storage. "It's the speed of GCP that really impresses us," says Avsharn. PPS saw that GCP wasn't just an opportunity to migrate its existing infrastructure to the cloud. With Siatik's help, it redesigned its monolithic core architecture to one based around microservices using Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE). For data processing and storage, Cloud Dataflow and Cloud Datastore proved invaluable, while Stackdriver helped the IT team stay on top of logging and monitoring the system.

The infrastructure runs 70 percent faster than before with fewer cores and less memory

For developers and engineers at PPS, working with Google Cloud gives them access to high performance technology and automation options with GKE. As a result, the infrastructure runs 70 percent faster than before with fewer cores and less memory. Developers can also work in mature testing environments, and for the first time, are able to build pre-production environments, leading to better quality products. More strategically, moving to a serverless, cloud-based infrastructure has helped PPS take control of its budget, moving away from intermittent, large capital spends to more manageable, project-to-project flows of operational expenditure.

"We have a lot more flexibility with our resources thanks to Google Cloud," says Avsharn. "When we have a new idea, we don't have to outlay new capital such as servers before we can even start working on it. We just spin up instances when we want and spin them back down when we're done."

About PPS

Founded in 1941, PPS is the largest financial services company in South Africa that still embraces an ethos of mutuality, which means that it exists solely for the benefit of its members.

Industries: Financial Services & Insurance

Location: South Africa