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Global insurer builds foundations for digital transformation with Azure AD

Summary

Our client, one of the largest global insurance companies, was undergoing a significant digital transformation.

With over 100,000 staff working in more than 60 countries, the organisation was very complex, with a series of unique challenges.

The company’s digital transformation strategy was driven by two specific needs. One was to stop the company from being disrupted by potential new entrants to the market. The other was to improve relationships with customers, and to actually enable more contact with them throughout their lifecycle.

The company was looking for an upgrade to their current FIM connector, DirSync, following Microsoft’s decision to withdraw support for the tool in April 2017. Our ThirdSpace consultants had an in-depth level of knowledge of the company’s infrastructure, and following previous successful projects around the FIM platform, ThirdSpace was chosen to scope and design the architecture required and complete the upgrade to their identity management platform.

"The design was well thought out, and we are very happy with how the project has progressed."

The problem

Companies wanting to take advantage of the latest mobility and collaboration technologies, like Office 365, will need to make sure they have the right foundations in place to be able to enable user adoption of the tools. One such foundation is the connector between an on-premises FIM directory with an Azure Active Directory, to provision access to cloud apps like Office 365.

Up until now, this has been facilitated with Office 365 Directory Synchronisation, also known as DirSync. This tool has been a popular method for linking cloud identities to an on-premises active directory. However, Microsoft withdrew support for DirSync in April 2017, and as such, companies using this synchronisation tool are strongly advised to upgrade.

News of an Office 365 DirSync replacement was hardly surprising. Microsoft had been making changes to the Office 365 environment at an unprecedented rate. While the majority of these updates have not affected the services, the way that identities synchronised did change. After December 31 2017, Azure AD stopped accepting connections from DirSync, leaving companies with little choice but to move away from the platform.

 

The solution

The adoption of Office 365 was crucial to the success of the client’s digital transformation strategy, to enable improvements to employee productivity and collaboration, in a secure environment. And as such, it was vital that the right tools for the job were selected.

As companies adopt and enable mobility of employees, data and devices, they are turning to identity and access management providers to provision the secure access required to make mobility a safe and secure reality.

This customer was looking to build the foundations to underpin their digital transformation strategy. In order for the organisation to be able to adopt Office 365, one of the key elements of the strategy, they needed to review their options following the withdrawal of support for DirSync.

Although the existing FIM connector was originally installed by another IT company, due to the complexity of the company, and the complex nature of the new platform they decided to work with a tried and tested partner, ThirdSpace.

The project started with a Vision Workshop with one of the ThirdSpace Senior Architects, David Guest. “Dave quickly understood what we were looking to achieve,” says a spokesperson from the company. “We were impressed with the way he considered the business needs, the infrastructure and the unique challenges, and presented a solution that would satisfy our requirements.”

The option to upgrade from DirSync to Azure Active Directory Connect was selected, which not only offered a replacement for DirSync, but also provided a series of improvements. There followed two days of envisioning and design, after which the customer was ready to proceed to the implementation phase.

While the removal of support for the tool was a key driver for upgrading, the new synchronisation tool, Azure Active Directory (AD) Connect, also offered some new features:

  • Password write back: enables password self-service, and therefore the reduction in manual service desk password reset, and productivity improvements for users.
  • Device write back: visibility of registered devices in the active directory, providing additional security over device access.
  • Group write back: changes in group membership in the cloud are synced to the active directory, so users with on premises Exchange mailboxes can send and receive from those groups.

Azure AD Connect was more capable, easier to configure, supported more scenarios and offered greater flexibility than DirSync.

The customer was delighted that they were able to choose a partner that’s based in the UK, with close links to their architectural team. The lead ThirdSpace consultant on the project, Andy Duncan, was experienced in the customer’s infrastructure, which helped the project to run smoothly, and more quickly than if they had chosen another partner.

Overall, the upgrade to Azure AD Connect gave the client the ideal solution to support their digital strategy.

“We were very impressed with the way the ThirdSpace team took time to fully understand our digital transformation strategy,” says the Solutions Architect leading the project for the customer. “The design was well thought out, and we are very happy with how the project has progressed smoothly.”

“We wanted to support our digital transformation strategy by improving the productivity and collaboration across our 100,000+ users by deploying Office 365. The work completed by ThirdSpace has given us the foundation to underpin the transformation.”

 

The future

Following the completion of the Azure AD Connect project for the UK and rest of the world, the customer is replicating the update in the US. The US directory is held on a separate server for compliance purposes, and therefore needs to be brought up to the same standard of the rest of the company’s environment.

The company is also looking to further simplify its provisioning infrastructure by condensing the number of FIM servers by half, in conjunction with evolving their digital workplace processes and procedures.

 

Conclusion

Azure AD stopped accepting connections from DirSync after December 2017 and businesses have had to upgrade to Azure AD Connect. The upgrade provides organisations with a long-term solution to the synchronisation of on premises and cloud directories, crucial in the roll out of Office 365.

IDC expects that the percentage of enterprises creating advanced digital transformation initiatives will more than double by 2020, from 2016’s 22% to almost 50%. Many of these will include the adoption of collaboration tools such as Office 365.

ThirdSpace specialises in laying the foundations for digital transformation projects, ensuring security is built in from the start. Such security elements are designed to adapt as threats evolve.

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