Willis Group Adopts Innovative Approach to Resilient Risk Analytics

Willis Group is one of the world's leading risk advisors, insurance and reinsurance brokers. As part of an ongoing review of system performance, Willis Group identified the need to improve the speed, reliability and performance of the core Risk Analytics systems. The Global Analytics team researched a number of NoSQL database technologies to improve application performance and selected Couchbase.

The Needs

The Willis Group's Global Analytics team is charged with providing best-in-class analytical tools, data and knowledge to help both staff and clients understand risk and place the appropriate insurance. The team is also responsible for managing the Willis Research Network (WRN), a unique engagement between private sector and public science.

With 400 offices in 120 countries, the Risk Analytics systems are accessed globally by analytical specialists and also by Willis Group clients. The team is tasked with making data and analytics accessible to all, helping to promote innovation and share best practices and standards throughout the group.

As part of their ongoing review of system performance, the team identified the need to improve the speed, reliability and performance of the core Risk Analytics systems.

The new solution had to be able to manage frequent requests for a large number of cached items, and be scalable enough to support the needs of the application. In addition, it had to be quick and easy to implement within the existing Microsoft development environment.

Beyond performance, reliability is a critical factor. “Any downtime has an adverse effect on day-to-day operations because these are business critical applications,” said Nigel Davis, Managing Director, Head of Platforms and Delivery, Global Analytics at Willis Group.

Why Couchbase

The Global Analytics team researched a number of NoSQL database technologies to improve application performance and selected Couchbase for the following reasons:

  • Provides high availability through replication and auto-failover 
  • Can handle millions of data items 
  • Provides the best performance for caching 
  • Commercially supported and managed NoSQL product 
  • Provides a flexible data model for ease of storing unstructured data 
  • Easily integrated into the existing Microsoft development environment

Couchbase’s open source model enabled Willis to fully test, evaluate and implement Couchbase prior to making any commitment to the technology.

Couchbase at Work

Couchbase was initially implemented in a few critical projects and, as a result of its consistent high-performance and flexible data model, has now become a mainstay of Willis’s risk platform.

“Couchbase is used for in-memory, intensive and rapid computations to power Willis’s risk analytics. It provides a robust and easy to deploy alternative to a standard database option,” said Rob Harty, senior developer.

Willis is now using Couchbase as the de facto NoSQL database solution for a number of business critical and customer facing applications, including: 

  • GIS application for analysing risk associated with geographic locations 
  • Core part of Willis’s Risk Analytics platform 
  • Aggregation of third party unstructured data feeds 
  • High performance datamarts for analytics 
  • Cache for SQL server databases

Couchbase’s flexible data model, coupled with its high performance has enabled the creation of the Willis Data Mart, a central library comprising of over 200 risk datasets for easy access and consumption via the Willis Intranet.

“We found that Couchbase handles the volume and velocity of big data very well. It has enabled us to optimize performance by moving operations previously conducted in a database, into pure memory thereby maximizing the speed of throughput,” added Davis.

Couchbase is used as a fundamental part of Willis Group's risk analytic systems. The in-memory computing it enables has provided Willis Group's risk analytics system with the high-performance, reliability and scalability to tackle big data challenges.

– Nigel Davis, Head of Platforms and Delivery, Global Analytics at Willis Group

Willis Group provides a range of insurance brokerage, reinsurance and risk management consulting services to its clients worldwide.

It is recognized in providing specialized risk management advisory and other services on a global basis to clients in various industries including aerospace, marine, construction and energy.