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Sanitas: Driving innovation and improving access to healthcare with Google Cloud

About Sanitas

The Sanitas Group (www.sanitas.com) runs both a basic insurance (Sanitas Grundversicherungen AG) and supplementary insurance business (Sanitas Privatversicherungen AG). With around 849,000 customers and a premium volume of over CHF 3 billion, Sanitas is one of the biggest health insurers in Switzerland.

Industries: Financial Services & Insurance, Healthcare
Location: Switzerland

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With its customer-facing applications on Google Cloud, Sanitas is better able to provide the best possible online experience for its users.

Google Cloud results

  • Accelerates time to market with Google Kubernetes Engine leading to more mature products, and improved customer experiences
  • Empowers developers to take responsibility for the whole development cycle and engage with strategic business objectives
  • Reduces the total cost of ownership with increased cost transparency compared with traditional on-premises infrastructure

Reduces server provisioning from four weeks to two hours

Everyone wants to be innovative, but some companies are simply better at it than others. In the heavily regulated, traditional world of healthcare insurance, Sanitas stands out. One of Switzerland's largest insurers with 849,000 customers and decades of experience Sanitas health insurance, is far from a startup, but innovation and a willingness to break with conventional wisdom are core to its mission of customer-focused service.

Sanitas's goal is to be number one for customer convenience, ensuring that customers get the access to the healthcare they need as quickly and easily as possible by continually developing new products and features.

This commitment to innovation also helps to motivate the company's employees. "The great thing about working here is that we're always looking for new challenges and new projects," says Martin Sanjic, Cloud Transformation Lead, Sanitas. "We have the freedom to go beyond dry analyses and tackle problems and find new solutions to them and that keeps me passionate about working here."

In 2020, Sanitas took on one of its biggest projects yet by migrating its customer-facing technology infrastructure to the cloud. After years of working with on-premises servers, the company wanted to help its developers to innovate faster. For Sanitas, that meant migrating to Google Cloud.

"We wanted to modernize our infrastructure for our employees as they were not able to innovate as fast as they wanted to on our existing platform," explains Sanjic. "With Google Cloud, we could not only simplify and expand our operations, but we could also enhance our capabilities for innovation."

"We wanted to modernize our infrastructure for our employees as they were not able to innovate as fast as they wanted to on our existing platform. With Google Cloud, we could not only simplify and expand our operations, but we could also enhance our capabilities for innovation."

Martin Sanjic, Cloud Transformation Lead, Sanitas

Overcoming the limits of on-premises infrastructure

Since 2012, Sanitas has made large investments in its technology platform with a managed service provider. However, by 2020, Sanitas had reached a scale that was beginning to overwhelm its on-premises infrastructure. Complexity was an issue and IT operations could often be a bottleneck to development. If an application needed to scale up to meet increased demand, then provisioning and configuring new hardware could take weeks while developers were left dependent on external service providers.

A cloud-based infrastructure would help solve these challenges but Sanitas could not simply shift its entire infrastructure into the cloud. For one thing, its core business applications were highly customized for the company's particular needs and for stability's sake, they were best left in the existing infrastructure. Secondly, as a healthcare insurance company, Sanitas has to comply with the highest standards of data security and keep all its data in Switzerland, which excluded the use of many cloud providers.

When Google Cloud unveiled its Swiss cloud platform region, however, Sanitas saw an opportunity. The company ran a Proof of Concept (POC) and compared the results with another leading cloud provider. "Over the course of our POC, we found that Google Cloud had a flexibility that we hadn't found elsewhere. We had very specific needs and the Google Cloud team was willing to help us meet those," says Sanjic. "We felt that they understood our mission and how much emphasis we place on the customer experience. That's why we chose them."

Adapting the Google Cloud environment for Sanitas' individual needs

Sanitas chose to build a hybrid infrastructure, maintaining its core business applications on the on-premises servers, while migrating its customer-facing applications, such as its web portal, to Google Cloud. This represented around half of the company's technology infrastructure, and needed to be handled with the utmost care. Working closely with Google Cloud, Sanitas completed the migration within a year and with minimal disruption. "Considering how much we migrated to Google Cloud, I was really pleasantly surprised at how simple it was," says Sanjic. "It was almost like plug and play."

One reason for this was that most of Sanitas' applications run on Kubernetes, the open source container technology developed at Google. Migrating to Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), which Sanitas uses to orchestrate its services, was therefore very simple. Similarly, transferring the relevant databases to CloudSQL for PostgreSQL was a quick and painless process. Apigee for API Management ensures that the company can easily connect to its existing infrastructure using APIs. Meanwhile Anthos Service Mesh helps to monitor workloads and manage traffic between its environments.

Given the unique nature of Sanitas' environment and the critical nature of its services as a health insurance provider, the company chose to take on a Google Cloud Technical Account Manager. "Getting a technical account manager was one of the best decisions we made," says Sanjic. "If we ever try to implement something new, or we have issues, we can always reach out to him and he’s always supportive. It’s like he's a part of the Sanitas IT department."

"Getting a technical account manager was one of the best decisions we made. If we ever try to implement something new, or we have issues, we can always reach out to him and he's always supportive. It’s like he's a part of the Sanitas IT department."

Martin Sanjic, Cloud Transformation Lead, Sanitas

Helping developers help themselves

Migrating to Google Cloud has proven to be a great success for Sanitas. One of the clearest gains for the company has been the speed at which it now operates. With GKE, developers can work faster, spinning up and shutting down environments as they need, for a much improved employee experience.

Scaling up applications with GKE means that developers have the ability to add and take away resources themselves, without having to wait on external technology partners. On the previous infrastructure, provisioning new servers took between two and four weeks and required four hours of effort from Sanitas employees and a further 10 hours from its technology provider. With GKE, the process requires only five minutes of effort from Sanitas' developers, with new servers ready to deploy within two hours.

Without the distraction of infrastructure management, developers are working more efficiently, and they also have the time to properly engage with the business instead of firefighting problems. "With Google Cloud, we are much faster than before," says Sanjic. "But the real benefit is that developers properly engage with the work. We're no longer a bottleneck but an enabler for other parts of the business. In some cases, we can even lead those strategic discussions."

Now that they are no longer dependent on external providers, developers can self-serve and take responsibility for the whole development life cycle. This way of working has helped to accelerate a wider decentralization process within Sanitas as the IT department transformed itself from a traditional top-down workplace into a more agile one, organized into "squads" working alongside one another. In this new agile organization, management roles are more like "IT coaches" according to Sanjic, focused on enabling teams rather than issuing them orders.

Another benefit of the migration has been cost transparency. With managed services on a fully on-premises infrastructure, granular costs can be hard to track. But with Google Cloud, keeping track of how much is spent and for what purpose is greatly simplified, allowing developers to optimize their builds and save resources when they can. "We moved to Google Cloud for the technology rather than for financial reasons," says Sanjic. "But we have definitely made improvements in the total cost of ownership compared to an on-premises infrastructure."

Ultimately, this has resulted in a much smoother online experience for customers. Working with GKE, developers can build a more stable environment for its customer-facing applications that can autoscale at need. Meanwhile, with faster times to market, they can test and ship more mature products that better meet the needs of customers.

With its customer-facing applications on Google Cloud, the first phase of Sanitas' technology transformation is complete. The next will bring the core business applications into the cloud. Once the cloud transformation is complete, Sanjic and his colleagues are looking forward to exploring the range of data analytics and AI tools that Google Cloud offers. "There's a lot of scope for us to really dive into the data analysis side of things," he says. "We want to use all the tools that Google Cloud has to understand our customers' needs in greater detail than we've ever been able to."

"With Google Cloud, we are much faster than before, but the real benefit is that developers properly engage with the work. We're no longer a bottle-neck but an enabler for other parts of the business. In some cases, we can even lead those strategic discussions."

Martin Sanjic, Cloud Transformation Lead, Sanitas

Tell us your challenge. We're here to help.

Contact us

About Sanitas

The Sanitas Group (www.sanitas.com) runs both a basic insurance (Sanitas Grundversicherungen AG) and supplementary insurance business (Sanitas Privatversicherungen AG). With around 849,000 customers and a premium volume of over CHF 3 billion, Sanitas is one of the biggest health insurers in Switzerland.

Industries: Financial Services & Insurance, Healthcare
Location: Switzerland