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Principal Financial Group Accelerates Innovation

Principal Financial Group Accelerates Innovation on AWS by Upskilling 1,650 Employees in Less than Eight Months

Principal Financial Group (Principal®) has a long history of reinvention. Since 1879, the global financial services company has evolved to meet changing customer needs. Responding to new market opportunities, Principal accelerated the migration of significant pieces of its infrastructure to the cloud in 2020.

As part of this digital transformation, Principal needed to advance employees’ cloud skills. Alongside AWS Training and Certification, which offers both digital and classroom training, Principal developed centralized training initiatives to upskill its employees on AWS. By improving organizational cloud fluency, Principal accelerated internal collaboration and speed of innovation while supporting employees’ professional growth.

Kathy Kay

With the support of AWS Training and Certification, our teams are collaborating across business units to deliver innovative solutions faster.”

Kathy Kay
Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Principal Financial Group®


Assessing and Addressing Cloud Skills Gaps

Principal helps over 49 million customers manage their assets and has a mission of making financial security more accessible for individuals, families, and businesses. With multiple business units, product lines, and customer segments, its teams previously developed solutions in silos. These systems created communication barriers, impacting speed to market and customer experiences. “As people witness the speed, customization, and simplicity that technology can facilitate, they’re demanding more from us,” says Kathy Kay, senior vice president and chief information officer of Principal. “We had to untangle our spiderweb of legacy systems and invest in modernization to create a simpler, seamless customer experience.”

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the need for Principal to activate a digital transformation due to rising demand for remote services. “Our customers faced new challenges, and we could not meet them in person,” says Kay. “We needed to develop and deliver innovative tools and resources much faster. We needed to migrate to the cloud.”

To complete the migration, Principal required in-demand cloud skills that weren’t readily available or simple to hire. Putting its commitment to professional development into action, it chose to upskill and reskill existing staff on AWS while recruiting cloud talent. Principal turned to AWS Training and Certification and used the AWS Learning Needs Analysis, a self-assessment tool, to identify cloud skills gaps. “This assessment told us where our teams were starting from and what level of AWS skills proficiency they needed to achieve,” says Kay. “Using the AWS Learning Needs Analysis, we could strategize ways to modernize our engineering practices and embrace a DevOps culture.”

Principal and the AWS Training and Certification team built a training initiative to teach foundational cloud knowledge. “We knew this program was a good start,” says Kay. “However, we wanted to invest more in our people and accelerate our upskilling efforts so that we could address industry challenges as quickly as possible.” Next, Principal turned to AWS Skills Guild, a comprehensive enablement program that uses a systematic approach to accelerate cloud fluency. Working with the AWS team, the company created a cloud skills training program that connects global employees to sharpen their skills together.


Gaining Agility and Efficiency to Drive Innovation

The program at Principal is based on the AWS Skills Guild framework and provides space for employees to learn how to use cloud-native AWS services to develop innovative, customer-centric solutions. “We used the AWS Skills Guild framework to create a culture around cloud learning, which accelerated our cloud adoption,” says Kay. “We’re providing our employees a community to hone their cloud skills, including a network of informal events to layer on top of formal training.”

Principal offered nine courses and saw the highest demand for AWS Technical Essentials, Developing on AWS, and Architecting on AWS. Employees completed these courses through AWS Digital Training, which offers self-paced digital training, as well as AWS Classroom Training, which offers live classes with instructors who teach in-demand cloud skills and best practices. In addition to AWS-led training, the company hosted lunch and learns, hackathons, and other events to teach employees how to use the cloud at Principal.

Previously, access to training differed between business units at Principal. Now, global teams have flexibility to learn their own way through training delivered in their local languages and during their workdays. “We’ve seen unprecedented global collaboration and knowledge exchange that have contributed to our strong employee retention metrics,” says Kay.

In less than eight months, 1,650 individuals globally participated in the program. “We’ve exceeded our goals around sandbox account usage, demo attendance, and classroom training participation by 200 percent,” says Kay. “It’s clear that our teams are excited about developing their cloud fluency and that the AWS Skills Guild framework is making an impact on our mission-driven culture.” Over 60 Principal teams have also migrated workloads to AWS using its cloud coaching program.

Within the first year of training, employees have used their cloud skills to develop innovative solutions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, business owners in the United States struggled to understand how to apply for federal stimulus programs. Principal deployed a microsite in only 1 week to help its over 170,000 small and medium-sized business customers navigate the challenges and volatility of the crisis.

Principal employees can share and access code, patterns, and documentation for new innovations through a cloud enablement knowledge hub. “With the support of AWS Training and Certification, our teams are collaborating across business units to deliver innovative solutions faster,” says Kay. “We can provide our customers with consistent experiences, regardless of location, and deliver the service quality they expect.” Now, teams can adopt solutions quickly, safely, and with the appropriate controls, accelerating speed to market. In fact, the cloud enterprise team at Principal developed 41 reusable services over the last two quarters of 2021. For example, it created an automated solution that provides teams with the tools they need to quickly build an application on AWS, such as centralized logging and change management.

Driving a Culture of Continuous Learning

Using the AWS Skills Guild model, Principal has increased speed to market, enhanced employees’ cloud skills, and empowered teams to innovate. “We’re fueling a sense of accomplishment that generates excitement with our employees, which helps us attract and retain the best industry talent,” says Kay.

Following its cloud-first strategy, Principal will continue to invest in new technologies, reduce its data center footprint, and create global business opportunities in the cloud. “We’re inspired by the momentum we’re seeing working with AWS Training and Certification and using the AWS Skills Guild framework,” says Kay. “By building a community of cloud innovators on AWS, we are driving digital transformations across all our business units.”

About Principal Financial Group

Founded in 1879, Principal Financial Group® is a global financial investment management company with a net worth of $18.79 billion. It helps more than 49 million customers plan, insure, invest, and retire.


Benefits of AWS

  • Empowers employees to innovate
  • Accelerated speed to market by advancing employees’ cloud skills
  • Deployed a microsite for CARES Act loan applicants in 1 week
  • Facilitates global employee collaboration through cloud enablement knowledge hub
  • Drove cloud centricity by migrating workloads for 60+ teams to AWS
  • Beat sandbox account usage, demo attendance, and classroom participation goals by 200%
  • Developed 41 reusable services over the last two quarters of 2021

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