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How Admiral Insured Itself Against Excessive Time to Value

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How Admiral Insured Itself Against Excessive Time to Value

Admiral Insurance have progressed their data modeling methodologies from manual coding to a repeatable, automated framework in just a few months of working with WhereScape.

The Challenge

Admiral’s digital ambitions, combined with the increasingly disparate and complex nature of its data ecosystem, had outgrown waterfall methodologies. While the C-level needed fast, accurate data to inform and shape strategy, a reliance on hand coding meant requests took an unacceptable time to complete.

Aside from hand-coding restraints, Admiral also had the following challenges:

  • Building and executing of database deployments were slow and inaccurate
  • Technical and business documentation creation delayed and out of date
  • No lineage
  • No database change impact assessments
  • Problems in scheduling and managing component dependencies

The Solution

This clear gap in technical capability led the Admiral team to realize they could only achieve the agility they required with automation. They sought a tool to aggregate their data infrastructure into an efficient data warehouse, then enable them to model that data quickly to fuel custom BI reports.

While in the past this was done by developers writing custom lines of code by hand for each request, Admiral discovered that WhereScape automation software enables the same team to move data sets around to rapidly create new structures within a wizard-driven, drag-and-drop GUI. It then automatically creates the code needed to action these requests using industry best practices, without human error. WhereScape writes thousands of lines of code in seconds to drastically accelerate development. This allows IT to react to end user requests in a fraction of the time, significantly reducing time to value.

Proof of Concept 

Admiral’s IT team invited WhereScape to their offices in Cardiff, Wales, to see if their WhereScape 3D and WhereScape RED products could meet requirements around time to production, but also future-proofing their technology investment and strategy. The team knew that with constant disruption from new technologies, any change made must also be adaptable in future in case (or perhaps when) the rules change again. The Admiral team wanted to avoid having the same problem as they were facing in a few years’ time.

During the POC, WhereScape demonstrated:

  1. Time to Production

While Admiral’s demand was for WhereScape code to be deployed into production within a week of development, they found this can now be done in under a day. This includes dev to test and test to deployment.

  1. Performance Testing 

The time taken to refresh a new dashboard (showing three months’ worth of data) takes 50 seconds compared to multiple hours previously. Data can be loaded daily rather than weekly, and this ingestion process takes just nine minutes.

Delivering requirements around a web statistics project took a single two-week sprint, which was half of the time Admiral expected. Key features requested were a flexible design and self-service capabilities, both of which were fully enabled.

  1. Futureproofing

The futureproofing of Admiral’s architecture was confirmed with a demonstration of WhereScape RED’s ability to manage migration from Teradata to SQL Server from one database to another. WhereScape’s platform agnostic capability gives Admiral the agility to switch technology quickly and easily should the team need to. “WhereScape is database agnostic, compatible with multiple platforms. This has become very important to us recently,” said James Gardiner, Data Warehouse Technical Lead at Admiral Group.

The WhereScape Journey Begins  

After excellent feedback from Gardiner’s team, the POC was deemed successful and Admiral signed up to WhereScape’s agile philosophy. This started by arranging all data sources, from various silos, into a cohesive data warehouse structure. Rather than relying on a warehouse built by hand-coding and prone to human error, IT and business stakeholders agreed on the ideal architecture and modelled it using WhereScape 3D, then built it by automatically creating faultless code that follows industry best practices using WhereScape RED.  

Admiral chose a third normal form enterprise data warehouse on Teradata. The switch to this architecture was attempted previously but changes, bug fixes and deployments took far too long to implement, which didn’t suit Admiral’s agile delivery mechanisms. By using automation to speed up these processes, including complex change management, WhereScape has enabled agile development on Teradata.

Gardiner said: “WhereScape is very rapid to develop, very easy to learn. Even junior members and graduates with little experience can learn how to use it.

“Quick turnaround of deployments is very important. Running through all the checks and generating a deployment package is really straightforward and quick – we’ve been able to run multiple deployments and reconcile environments in hours rather than days.

“The turnaround of our bugs has been incredible. It takes two hours now where it used to take us two weeks. The autonomy the developers have over deployments means a quicker turnaround for performing re-tests.

“We have up to date technical documentation and mapping that testers use as a baseline, and lineage out of the box so it’s very easy to maintain and debug because you know exactly where everything is derived from.”

Where Admiral Is Now 

Admiral was fully self-sufficient on WhereScape shortly after a successful five-week pilot scheme. “We very rarely hit an issue where we need support from the WhereScape guys. We can usually work things out as a team if there is something we are struggling with,” said Gardiner.

The service IT can offer the business has been transformed – Admiral can deliver new projects at the speed demanded by today’s digital marketplace. This means the IT team can now enable agility and reduce time to value, moving from short consultations with business users to rapid prototyping and into production in just a few weeks using Collaborative BEAM (Business Event Analysis and Modeling) meetings.

Now the business can communicate exactly what they want, directly to the developers. In the past, closed silos and communication through a third party sometimes led to demands being misinterpreted and hours of work wasted on projects that weren’t exactly what the business had in mind. This cost valuable time and money, which is now being channeled properly with minimum wastage.

Using WhereScape, the Admiral team can now:

  1. Prototype data models in WhereScape 3D to check requirements have been understood and can be actioned technically
  2. Convert agreed prototypes to working data models with WhereScape RED
  3. Deliver working functionality to end users at a fraction of the time it took them previously
  4. Have vastly improved faith in the numbers, as automation removes the potential for human error
  5. Automatically produce perfect documentation and full lineage to accompany every action committed

In the six months since the company started using WhereScape, Admiral has delivered four full projects to production in four different subject areas, and have leveraged the flexibility of WhereScape’s scheduling tools to prioritize EDW loads depending on business need.

What the Future Holds 

Admiral is now expanding its data platforms by implementing SQL Server and Cloud technologies. The idea is to run the whole infrastructure under the common framework that WhereScape provides. Rather than specialized knowledge being held by just one team member, the whole team is now trained in WhereScape.

The full data lineage WhereScape creates automatically enables Admiral to be prepared for GDPR well before the regulations hit EU law. “There were huge benefits gained from the automatic documentation generated. We use the track back and forward functionality a lot for accurate impact analysis. We know exactly what we have to change in the model and where it is because we can track it all. It’s all dependency tracked too.”

Gardiner has been so impressed he has accepted an offer to speak about the project on WhereScape’s behalf at one of their Test Drive events, and at the Gartner Data and Analytics Summit in London.

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Sunak gives British economy a boost to see out COVID crisis, tax rises ahead

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Sunak gives British economy a boost to see out COVID crisis, tax rises ahead 1

By David Milliken, William Schomberg and Andy Bruce

LONDON (Reuters) – Finance minister Rishi Sunak gave more aid to Britain’s economy and offered companies a big incentive to start investing again, but also announced a future tax squeeze on people and businesses as he began to focus on the COVID-19 hit to the public finances.

Sunak said in an annual budget speech on Wednesday that the economy will return to its pre-pandemic size in mid-2022, six months earlier than previously forecast, helped by Europe’s fastest coronavirus vaccination programme.

But it will be 3% smaller in five years’ time than it would have been without the health shock and extra support was needed as the country gradually lifts restrictions over the next few months, he said.

Sunak’s early warning that he will demand more money from companies and individual taxpayers in the coming years makes him one of the first policymakers from rich countries to address the state of public finances.

Britain’s first rise in corporation tax since 1974 will see big, profitable companies pay 25% from 2023 compared to 19% now.

But Sunak first offered firms an immediate two-year “super-deduction” tax break in a bid to snap them out of their pandemic deep-freeze and invest to boost short-term growth.

The government’s budget watchdog said the move was more than 10 times more generous than an equivalent incentive in 2009.

Sunak repeated his plan to do “whatever it takes to support the British people and businesses”.

“Second, once we are on the way to recovery, we will need to begin fixing the public finances – and I want to be honest today about our plans to do that,” he told parliament. “And, third, in today’s budget we begin the work of building our future economy.”

Among the support measures were a five-month extension of Britain’s huge jobs rescue plan, wider help for the self-employed and the continuation of an emergency increase in welfare payments.

A business rates exemption for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses will now run until the end of June, by when Prime Minister Boris Johnson hopes to have lifted most COVID-19 restrictions.

An existing tax break for home-buyers was extended by three months until June 30 and then for cheaper homes until the end of September.

Shares in housebuilders gained on the news, with Persimmon one of the top risers in the FTSE 100, up about 5%.

Pub firms JD Wetherspoon and Premier Inn owner Whitbread also rose about 5%, helped by an extended VAT cut for the hospitality sector.

But British government bond prices fell sharply after Sunak said overall borrowing will be much bigger next financial year than thought just a few months ago – 234 billion pounds, or 10.3% of gross domestic product, compared with a previous estimate of 164 billion pounds, or 7.4% of GDP.

The Debt Management Office said it planned to sell 296 billion pounds of gilts in the coming year, well above the 247 billion pounds expected in a Reuters poll.

“The UK’s fiscal stance has become much looser, and more focused on investment, more in line with its U.S. and euro area counterparts,” Morgan Stanley economist Jacob Nell said.

“This shift changes our view of the UK. Near term, we see a stronger and more investment-focused recovery bringing forward the return to pre-COVID-19 levels of output.”

To show he will get a grip on borrowing, Sunak’s future hikes will increase the tax burden to its highest since the 1960s, rising from 34% to 35% of GDP by the mid-2020s.

“The UK is thus to become the first major economy to consider such measures,” Valentin Marinov, head of G10 foreign exchange research at Credit Agricole, said.

Britain has suffered the biggest COVID-19 death toll in Europe and its economy shrank by 10% last year, its worst slump in three centuries.

Many companies are also under strain from Brexit after Britain left the European Union’s single market on Jan. 1, and the government faces the challenge of huge investment to meet its promise to create a net zero carbon economy by 2050.

UK EARLY MOVER ON TAX HIKES

Britain’s Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) said the economy was likely to grow 4% in 2021, slower than the 5.5% it had forecast in November, due largely to the current lockdown which began in January.

But the OBR raised its forecast for growth in 2022 to 7.3% from 6.6%.

Sunak has already racked up Britain’s highest borrowing since World War Two, with the deficit reaching an estimated 17% of GDP in the 2020/21 financial year that ends in April and set to fall to a still historically high 10.3% in 2021/22.

Announcing the corporation tax rise, he said: “Even after this change the UK will still have the lowest corporation tax rate in the G7 – lower than the United States, Canada, Italy, Japan, Germany and France.”

Rain Newton Smith, chief economist at the Confederation of British Industry, said the hike was “a huge jump” and that other G7 countries would be more competitive than Britain when state and federal level tax breaks were taken into account.

Businesses with profits of 50,000 pounds or less would pay a new Small Profits Rate at the current rate of 19%.

Sunak also said he would freeze the amount of money that people can earn tax-free and the threshold for the higher rate of income tax at the 2021/22 level until April 2026.

($1 = 0.7156 pounds)

(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, William James, Costas Pitas, James Davey, Estelle Shirbon, Elizabeth Piper, Paul Sandle, Alastair Smout and Sarah Young; Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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UK’s Sunak extends COVID rescue plan but companies to pay more tax from 2023

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UK's Sunak extends COVID rescue plan but companies to pay more tax from 2023 2

By David Milliken and William Schomberg

LONDON (Reuters) – Finance minister Rishi Sunak announced a costly extension of his emergency aid programmes to see Britain’s economy through its current coronavirus lockdown, but announced a tax hike for many businesses as he began to focus on fixing the public finances.

Delivering an annual budget speech on Wednesday, Sunak said the economy will regain its pre-pandemic size in the middle of 2022, six months earlier than previously forecast, helped by Europe’s fastest COVID-19 vaccination programme.

But it will remain 3% smaller in five years’ time than it would have been without the damage wrought by the coronavirus crisis and extra support is needed now as the country remains under coronavirus restrictions, he said.

Among the new support measures was a five-month extension of his huge jobs rescue plan and more help for the self-employed, the continuation of an emergency increase in welfare payments, and an extension of a VAT cut for the hospitality sector.

A tax cut for home-buyers was also extended until the end of June.

“First, we will continue doing whatever it takes to support the British people and businesses through this moment of crisis,” Sunak told parliament.

“Second, once we are on the way to recovery, we will need to begin fixing the public finances – and I want to be honest today about our plans to do that. And, third, in today’s Budget we begin the work of building our future economy.”

Announcing forecasts by the Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR), Sunak said the economy was likely to grow by 4% in 2021, slower than a forecast of 5.5% made in November, reflecting the current lockdown which began in January.

Looking further ahead, the OBR forecast gross domestic product would grow 7.3%, 1.7% and 1.6% in 2022, 2023 and 2024 respectively. In November, the OBR had forecast growth in those years of 6.6%, 2.3% and 1.7%.

Sunak promised to do “whatever it takes” to steer the economy through what he hopes will be the final months of pandemic restrictions.

He has already racked up Britain’s highest borrowing since World War Two, which hit an estimated 17% of GDP in the 2020/21 financial year that is about to end and should fall to a still historically high 10.3% in 2021/22.

In a first move to raise taxes, Sunak announced he would raise corporation tax to 25% from 19% from 2023, by which time the economy should be past the pandemic crisis.

“Even after this change the UK will still have the lowest corporation tax rate in the G7 – lower than the United States, Canada, Italy, Japan, Germany and France,” he said.

Businesses with profits of 50,000 pounds or less would pay a new Small Profits Rate, maintained at the current rate of 19%.

Sunak also said he would freeze the amount of money that people can earn tax-free and the threshold for the higher rate of income tax until 2026.

(Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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Renewable diesel boom highlights challenges in clean-energy transition

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Renewable diesel boom highlights challenges in clean-energy transition 3

By Rod Nickel, Stephanie Kelly and Karl Plume

(Reuters) – For 17 years, trucker Colin Birch has been hitting the highways to collect used cooking oil from restaurants.

He works for Vancouver-based renderer West Coast Reduction Ltd, which processes the grease into a material to make renewable diesel, a clean-burning road fuel. That job has recently gotten much harder. Birch is caught between soaring demand for the fuel – driven by U.S. and Canadian government incentives – and scarce cooking oil supplies, because fewer people are eating out during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I just have to hustle more,” said Birch, who now sometimes travels twice as far across British Columbia to collect half as much grease as he once did.

His search is a microcosm of the challenges facing the renewable diesel industry, a niche corner of global road fuel production that refiners and others are betting on for growth in a lower-carbon world. Their main problem: a shortage of the ingredients needed to accelerate production of the fuel.

Unlike other green fuels such as biodiesel, renewable diesel can power conventional auto engines without being blended with diesel derived from crude oil, making it attractive for refiners aiming to produce low-pollution options. Refiners can produce renewable diesel from animal fats and plant oils, in addition to used cooking oil.

Production capacity is expected to nearly quintuple to about 2.65 billion gallons (63 million barrels) over the next three years, investment bank Goldman Sachs said in an October report.

Rising demand is creating both problems and opportunities across an emerging supply chain for the fuel, one small example of how the larger transition to green fuels is upending the energy economy. A renewable diesel boom could also have a profound impact on the agricultural sector by swelling demand for oilseeds like soybeans and canola that compete with other crops for finite planting area, and by driving up food prices.

Local and federal governments in the United States and Canada have created a mix of regulations, taxes or credits to stimulate more production of cleaner fuels. President Joe Biden has promised to move the United States toward net-zero emissions, and Canada’s Clean Fuel Standard requires lower carbon intensity starting in late 2022. California currently has a low-carbon standard that provides tradable credits to clean fuel producers.

But the feedstock supply squeeze is constraining the industry’s ability to comply with those efforts.

‘SPINNING FAT INTO GOLD’

Demand and prices for feedstocks from soybean oil to grease and animal fat is soaring. Used cooking oil is worth 51 cents per pound, up about half from last year’s price, according to pricing service The Jacobsen.

Tallow, made from cattle or sheep fat, sells for 47 cents per pound in Chicago, up more than 30% from a year ago. That’s boosting the fortunes of renderers such as Texas-based Darling Ingredients Inc and meat packers such as Tyson Foods Inc. Darling shares have about doubled in the last six months.

“They’re spinning fat into gold,” said Lonnie James, owner of South Carolina fats and oil brokerage Gersony-Strauss. “The appetite for it is amazing.”

Clean fuels could be a boon for North American refiners, among the pandemic’s hardest-hit businesses as grounded airlines and lockdowns hammered fuel demand. Refiners Valero Energy Corp, PBF Energy Inc and Marathon Petroleum Corp all lost billions in 2020.

Valero’s renewable diesel segment, however, posted a profit, and the company has announced plans to expand output. Marathon is seeking permits to convert a California refinery to produce renewable fuels, while PBF is considering a renewable diesel project at a Louisiana refinery.

The companies are among at least eight North American refineries that have announced plans to produce renewable fuels, including Phillips 66, which is reconfiguring a California refinery to produce 800 million gallons of green fuels annually.

Once new renewable diesel production capacity comes online, feedstocks are likely to become more scarce, said Todd Becker, chief executive of Green Plains Inc, a biorefining company that helps produce feedstocks.

Goldman Sachs estimates that an additional 1 billion gallons of total capacity could be added if not for issues with feedstock availability, permitting and financing.

“Everybody in North America and around the world are all trying to buy low carbon-intensity feedstocks,” said Barry Glotman, chief executive of West Coast Reduction.

His customers include the world’s biggest renewable diesel maker, Finland’s Neste. A spokesperson for Neste said the company sees more than enough feedstock supply to meet current demand and that development of new feedstocks can ensure supply in the future.

SOYBEAN, CANOLA BOOM

Renewable diesel producers are increasingly counting on soybean and canola oil to run new plants.

The U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) is forecasting record-high soybean demand from domestic processors and exporters this season, largely because of soaring global demand for livestock and poultry feed.

Crushers who produce oil from the crops are also scouring Western Canada for canola, helping to drive prices in February to a record futures high of C$852.10 per tonne. Soybeans reached $14.45 per bushel in the United States last week, the highest level in more than six years.

Rising food prices are a concern if the predicted demand for crops to generate renewable diesel materializes, said USDA Chief Economist Seth Meyer. U.S. renewable diesel production could generate an extra 500 million pounds of demand for soyoil this year, Juan Luciano, chief executive of agricultural commodities trader Archer Daniels Midland Co, said in January. That would represent a 2% year-over-year increase in total consumption.

Greg Heckman, CEO of agribusiness giant Bunge Ltd, in February called the renewable diesel expansion a long-term “structural shift” in demand for edible oils that will further tighten global supplies this year.

By 2023, U.S. soybean oil demand could outstrip U.S. production by up to 8 billion pounds annually if half the proposed new renewable diesel capacity is constructed, according to BMO Capital Markets.

That same year, Canadian refiners and importers will face their first full year complying with new standards to lower the carbon intensity of fuel, accelerating demand for renewable diesel feedstocks, said Ian Thomson, president of industry group Advanced Biofuels Canada.

Manitoba canola grower Clayton Harder said it is hard to envision a vast expansion of canola plantings because farmers need to rotate crops to keep soils healthy. Farmers may instead have to raise yields by improving agronomic practices and sowing better seed varieties, he said.

British Columbia refiner Parkland Corp is hedging its bets on feedstock supplies. The company is securing canola oil through long-term contracts, but also exploring how to use forestry waste such as branches and foliage, said Senior Vice President Ryan Krogmeier.

The competition to find new and sustainable biofuel feedstocks will be fierce, said Randall Stuewe, chief executive at Darling, the largest renderer and collector of waste oils.

“If there is a feedstock war, so be it,” he said.

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Stephanie Kelly in New York and Karl Plume in Chicago; editing by David Gaffen, Simon Webb and Brian Thevenot)

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