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How First American Leverages Camunda to Modernize Business Operations

Nicki Todd, SVP of Technology at First American, discusses her organization's journey from simple to complex workflows.
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We had the great pleasure of hosting Nicki Todd, Senior Vice President of Technology at First American, at CamundaCon Berlin in May 2024. With enlightening insight into the automation and orchestration journey, Nicki spoke about how First American is leveraging Camunda to transform and modernize business processes and deliver configurable solutions for her organization.

A banner image showing Nicki Todd's presentation: "One story of conducting business through orchestration"

First American, a 135-year-old financial services leader, embarked on a transformative journey in early 2019 to modernize its commercial processes. By adopting process orchestration with Camunda, Nicki discussed how First American has revolutionized its workflows to deliver highly configurable solutions to its financial services customers. Additionally, First American now achieves greater flexibility with an agile, microservices-based architecture; traceability through comprehensive monitoring and visibility; low impact with a lightweight, easily embedded engine; and ease of design, allowing in-house non-technical users to configure and manage workflows independently if desired.

The legacy issue: Limited flexibility and excessive inefficiency

First American faced significant challenges with its legacy systems. Established processes were no longer sufficient to meet the demands of modern business operations.

Key issues included:

  • Lengthy time to market for new features.
  • Vendor lock-in that limited flexibility.
  • Extensive manual intervention and lengthy regression testing.
  • There was a growing need to align human and automated tasks efficiently.

The business “wanted to consume technology rather than create it,” requiring immediate solutions to customer problems without lengthy and expensive development cycles. First American needed a trusted, familiar platform to avoid introducing unnecessary complexity during this transformation, which was configurable and adaptable to potentially unknown future requirements.

Simplifying complex workflows

First American’s journey began with the adoption of Camunda’s open-source version in late 2018. The initial focus was on replicating existing processes in a black-box manner, creating end-to-end workflows that mirrored current operations.

“We created a series of processes that absolutely met the needs of that business line and absolutely did what we needed them to do.”

While this approach met immediate needs, it led to redundancy and bloat as variations of the same processes multiplied.

In 2022, the team shifted to an a la carte approach, breaking down tasks into smaller, configurable components. This transition allowed for more flexibility and efficiency. Critical business demands required a robust solution, prompting the move from the open-source version to Camunda’s enterprise version, which provided better support and integration capabilities.

During this period, First American also began migrating off three additional legacy platforms. This shift was not without challenges, as it required a significant change management effort. Employees accustomed to older technologies had to adapt to new GUI-based applications and workflow-driven processes.

The design objectives

The primary design objectives of First American’s transformation were:

  1. Flexibility: To allow for an indefinite number of new resolution paths, enabling the system to adapt to various products, divisions, and platforms.
  2. Minimal business model changes: The business had to ensure that technological and process changes did not disrupt existing SLAs, business expectations, or critical regulatory compliance.
  3. Ease of design, troubleshooting, and support: Naturally, the team wanted the system to be easy to design, troubleshoot, and support, leveraging Camunda’s monitoring capabilities.

By 2023, Nicki and her team at First American had developed a nested workflow system. Processes could now be broken down into smaller tasks, each with its resolution paths and dynamic configurations. This approach enabled product owners to orchestrate new workflows without constant engineering involvement, truly empowering the business to consume technology independently.

Challenges and learnings

Throughout the transformation, First American encountered several challenges and valuable learnings:

  • Change management: Moving from legacy systems to modern platforms required significant change management. Employees had to adjust to new technologies and processes, which was initially met with resistance.
  • Engineering bottlenecks: Initially, the engineering team was seen as a bottleneck, even though they were great partners. The goal was to transition from being creators of technology to enablers of business solutions.
  • Consumer vs. creator: The business wanted to consume technology that was readily available and configurable, rather than waiting for new developments. This shift required a change in mindset and approach.
  • Common language: Implementing a common language across the business and engineering teams was crucial. Using BPMN for workflow modeling ensured that all stakeholders could communicate effectively, reducing misunderstandings and rework.
  • Data-driven insights: Constantly analyzing data and identifying patterns of behavior helped optimize workflows. Understanding where processes were getting stuck or performing well allowed for continuous improvement.

Tangible benefits of using Camunda

In her presentation, Nicki detailed how using Camunda in First American’s process automation and orchestration evolution has delivered several key benefits:

  1. Flexibility: Camunda’s platform supports an agile, microservices-based architecture, allowing for rapid adaptation to changing business needs.
  2. Traceability: The ability to monitor and have visibility into every process step ensures compliance and provides valuable insights for continuous improvement.
  3. Low impact: Camunda’s lightweight engine can be embedded in various microservices, reducing the overhead and complexity typically associated with large-scale systems.
  4. Ease of design: The platform’s user-friendly interface allows non-technical users to configure workflows, enabling the business to take ownership of their processes.

Looking to the future

For Nicki and her team, First American’s transformation is ongoing, with several future plans in the pipeline:

  • Exploring new applications: The company is looking to apply workflow orchestration to areas such as employee onboarding and training, aiming to enhance efficiency across the organization.
  • Launching new products: Two new products are set to launch on Camunda in 2024 and 2025. Additionally, several legacy products will be migrated to the new platform, further consolidating and streamlining operations.
  • Facilitating sharing: First American is developing a model to facilitate sharing of workflows beyond individual business lines and divisions. This approach aims to promote reuse and collaboration across different parts of the company.
  • Migration to latest versions: The company plans to migrate to the latest version of Camunda, ensuring that they leverage the newest features and improvements.

We greatly enjoyed learning more about First American’s journey in leveraging Camunda to orchestrate business processes and deliver configurable solutions, and we heartily recommend watching Nicki’s presentation. By addressing the initial problem head-on, First American has moved from simple, redundant workflows to a sophisticated, flexible system that empowers the business to meet customer needs efficiently.

The design objectives ensured the transformation aligned with business goals and regulatory requirements. Challenges along the way provided valuable learnings, highlighting the importance of change management, common language, and data-driven insights.

“It’s an exciting time. We no longer have a situation where we’re trying to convince the business that we need to do workflow automation. What we’re finding now is they’re coming to us saying, Hey, can Camunda do this? Can I use Camunda over here? And this thing that you built for this customer, can I apply it over there?”

–Nicki Todd, Senior Vice President of Technology at First American

Nicki says that Camunda’s flexible, traceable, low-impact, and easy-to-design platform has been instrumental in their transformation. As First American continues to innovate and expand its use of Camunda, the future looks promising for delivering even greater value to its customers and stakeholders as it further modernizes business operations.

Again, we’d like to thank Nicki for telling our CamundaCon Berlin attendees about First American’s transformation story. Her presentation is an inspiring testament to the power of modern workflow orchestration and the significant benefits it can bring to financial services organizations who are willing to embrace change and invest in technology, and it is well worth watching her presentation (on-demand) in full.

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