Vault Insurance Senior Technical Lead Christopher Pangrace builds end-to-end systems from scratch with speed and ease of use in mind
Before joining Vault Insurance as their Senior Technical Lead, Christopher Pangrace was at systems integration and technology consulting firm, Inforce Technologies, for over six years. At Inforce, he was tasked with aiding Vault with the massive effort of transitioning off their legacy insurance policy administration system. Christopher had never even heard of Unqork before using Unqork’s no-code capabilities to build a completely new system from scratch.
We spoke with Christopher about what it was like building what he believes to be one of the largest applications developed on the Unqork platform.
What was the scope of this policy admin system project?
Christopher: This project has been our main focus for the past two and a half years—it’s “the” project. The system handles everything from the moment a client calls their agent and asks for a home insurance quote to managing that policy’s life cycle through multiple terms. It also serves as the underwriter’s workstation, with journal functionality, tasking, and document management.
The initial scope of the project was to build it for one state first—in this case, New Jersey—and then scale out to make it applicable for each additional state. Vault needed a functional homeowners product, a functional automobile product, and an umbrella product to sell this insurance as quickly as possible. Our team delivered that for New Jersey. Since then, those three products have been delivered in around 23 states, so we've definitely been moving quickly.
Another requirement was handling complexity. For one, each state can have totally different requirements that need to be implemented for that state. There were various third-party solutions required to support rating, renewal capabilities, and state regulatory reporting requirements.
We went from having blank modules to being in production in around six to eight months. It was pretty incredible.
How long did building a new system from scratch take?
We've been live for about two years. We went from having blank modules to being in production in around six to eight months. It was pretty incredible.
How long would this have taken using a traditional coding approach?
Much, much longer.
Previously, Vault was using an out-of-the-box policy administration system. It was advertised as a quick, customizable low-code system, but it was pretty hard to maintain and build new things with it. Once you start coloring outside the lines, that whole illusion of ease-of-use kind of falls apart.
It was also a slow process. Getting just a single product to market took more than a year-and-a-half. I think Vault realized this system just wasn’t fast and agile enough to survive in a competitive market where insurers need to get a product out as fast as possible.
As a developer, what is your favorite thing about using Unqork?
To me, it'd have to be how fast you can do things and how flexible it is. You start with a blank page and you can literally do anything with it. Your idea can be a proof of concept in a matter of minutes—that’s huge.
I remember going into the few hours of training we actually had where we used Unqork hands-on. I think in the first 30 minutes I was there I built a little weather app. I was just astounded that I whipped this up in 30 minutes.
Any specific features you like using?
I like the tie-ins with known development tools like Lodash and Moment. I also enjoy Data Workflows as a way to represent your program logic in a nice visual way.
How has it been building an Unqork-based team?
It’s been great building up a team. It’s really easy to get people onboarded. With the previous low-code system Vault was using, new developers had a very specialized six-month-or-so training program to get somebody to a point where they’re competent on the platform.
Now, with Unqork Academy and all the self-paced learning, we could really just throw somebody in there and be like, “Hey, go do this stuff. Come back in two weeks and we'll throw you right in the mix.” And they’re good to go.
You spoke on how much this system relied on integrations. What was implementation like?
Interacting with any modern API is outrageously easy. Talking to any other system where it is JSON-in/JSON-out is one of Unqork's specialties. Old-school XML-type calls can be a little trickier. For the most part, I feel like making the connection, sending a request, and pulling data back is probably the easiest part.
Interacting with any modern API is outrageously easy.
With your past experience with low-code tools, how would you compare them to Unqork?
With Vault’s legacy system, any time you wanted to do something interesting or unique, you often ended up writing large custom database procedures and it could very easily become a mess.
Even when you're not coloring outside the lines, that tool is not nearly as fast as Unqork. It's slow, and the front-end looks very dated. Unqork definitely blows it out of the water in terms of being fast and modern.
What advice would you give to teams just beginning their Codeless journey? Anything you wish you had known when you started building in Unqork?
From a technical perspective, I would say to develop with an API-first mentality and keep a clean separation of the UI and controlling logic. Unqork is flexible and won't stop you from mixing your data manipulation logic into your front-end modules, but you will likely face scalability and performance challenges down the road.
From a maintainability perspective, make sure to keep things streamlined and standardized from the beginning. Unqork offers you the ability to build something a hundred different ways, which is great, but when you're in a big team and you're trying to maintain this large application that can become problematic. I recommend really nailing down your team's development approach and best practices, and to take advantage of the things Unqork provides. There are good templates and snippets such as the Schema or API spec. That’s what the Unqork Marketplace is for!