A leading provider of insurance and annuity products serves the lifelong needs of customers. To manage its information-driven business, the company relies on many different information systems, ranging from decades-old mainframe applications and databases to the latest workflow programs and Web applications. To integrate its mainframe with its numerous distributed systems, the company relies on HostBridge as its corporate standard for Web services-based integration.
Challenge: Integrate Legacy Systems with New Technologies
- Support decades-old policies by maintaining CSC LIFE-COMM, CSC VANTAGE- ONE®, and other legacy applications
- Integrate legacy assets with new systems, including CSC’s Customer Service Accelerator®
- Modernize applications and interfaces to improve business processes and meet changing user needs
Solution: Implement HostBridge Web Services Software
- Support the ACORD XML schema, the insurance industry’s comprehensive standard for system-to-system communication and interoperability
- Integrate anything mainframe with anything distributed
Benefits: Objectives Achieved with HostBridge
- Implement a single, flexible Web-services solution for enterprise-wide integration
- Improve process efficiency, employee productivity, and customer service
- Build a true partnership with responsive vendor providing development assistance, full support, and team training
- Establish a new corporate standard for mainframe integration
The Full Story
A highly regarded life insurance company has been a leading provider of insurance and annuity products for more than one hundred fifty years. Serving the lifelong interests of its customers, the company often maintains policies and accounts for fifty years or more – and manages tremendous volumes of information. Over time, this has led to the multiplication of information systems and the need to integrate and synchronize. As part of a recent initiative, the company chose HostBridge as their corporate standard for Web services-based integration of mainframe applications and data assets.
Serving lifetime insurance needs, the company faces a challenge. To meet customer expectations, they must keep pace with technological innovation, implementing new communication and information systems as they emerge. Yet to serve their legacy customers, they must also maintain existing systems that run critical operations.
For these reasons, customer information at the company resides on multiple mainframe systems implemented over many years. These include a policy administration application developed in house; LIFE-COMM, a legacy policy administration application from CSC; and CSC’s VANTAGE-ONE. Each houses information on policies and accounts established in different decades, and many customers have products managed on multiple systems. To help organize this application portfolio, the company uses a DB2-based system to store data on all customers, policies, and management systems. All of these applications continue to perform exceptionally well, but as systems have multiplied, increasing complexity has impacted people and processes.
The problem first became apparent several years ago in the call center. On a normal business day, customer service representatives answered thousands of calls from customers and agents across the country. During a call, a rep often had multiple policy administration applications, workflow management software, office programs, email and messaging systems, and other business applications open on the desktop. Every time the company added to its application portfolio, desktops got busier and employees spent more time juggling resources. The company’s IT team knew that if they could provide reps with a single, unified view of these diverse systems, they would improve efficiency, streamline processes, reduce call times, boost customer satisfaction, and improve profitability.
The team found their front-end solution in CSC’s Customer Service Accelerator, an enterprise Java-based software application that allows the company to efficiently bring together all information assets and present them effectively in a single, unified agent desktop interface. Powerful as it is, however, Customer Service Accelerator needed middleware integration to communicate with the mainframe-based policy applications. The company launched a search for such an integration solution.
A select team from the IT division defined critical objectives:
- Avoid building yet another new environment between the front end and the mainframe – and putting together another IT team to manage it
- Find a solution that could interact seamlessly with any mainframe application or data asset
- Guarantee the highest possible performance with sub-second response times
- Ensure support for the ACORD XML schema, the industry’s comprehensive and complex standard for system communication and interoperability
- Find a vendor partner that would help the team through learning and implementation processes
The team investigated integration methods and products, studying different Web services/SOA techniques, consulting with industry analysts, and searching the Internet for the right solution. Short-listing a handful of vendors, they began to test. One product would have necessitated adding mainframe programmers to the team. A middle-tier product employed screen scraping, raising concerns about reliability and performance. A third solution, from HostBridge Technology, emerged as the right choice.
“HostBridge came up pretty quickly in our search,” says a key member of the team, “and after the first demo we knew we were on the right track. Our key stakeholders gathered in a room, and James Alexander, HostBridge Technical Director, conveyed all the key Web services concepts, showed how they aligned with our objectives, and ran through a live demo. The demo worked perfectly. It was a really good first meeting, and everybody agreed we should move to the next step.”
HostBridge then went on site to conduct a proof of concept in the company environment, using their own data in backend systems. Through this engagement, the insurer’s team determined that HostBridge worked well in their environment and handled required ACORD XML formatting. In the two-and-a-half-day visit, the HostBridge technical team proved the concept, writing Web services that carried out an integration process between the mainframe and front-end systems.
They also demonstrated one of the HostBridge founding principles – working one-on-one with customers to solve tough integration challenges. “We knew there would be challenges to this integration,” the team member remarks, “so we really appreciated that HostBridge would come in and do whatever it took to make things work. It’s great to be able to work with somebody who was willing to tune their product to work in our environment. Not every vendor would do that.”
* HostBridge can alternatively run inside z/OS but outside of CICS. In this case, all HostBridge processes and HostBridge Web services/integration scripts are eligible to run on the System z Integrated Information Processor (zIIP).
Integrating LIFE-COMM, VANTAGE-ONE, and More
The HostBridge capability that most appealed to the company was its Web services support for all of the company’s mainframe assets. Today, HostBridge integrates the home-grown policy application, CSC LIFE-COMM, CSC VANTAGE-ONE, and the DB2 system with Customer Service Accelerator and other distributed resources.
From an integration perspective, LIFE-COMM was the most challenging application in the company’s portfolio. Among 3270 “green screen” applications still in wide use, it is one of the most complex – for end-users and developers alike. Users such as call center reps must undergo weeks, if not months of training to learn its intricacies. And developers who are tasked with integrating LIFE-COMM similarly have to gain a thorough understanding of its complexity.
Within LIFE-COMM there are hundreds of screens corresponding to the wide variety of insurance products and policies. Universal life, term life, and annuity products all have unique sets of screens. Within these sets, there are unique screens for personal information, coverage information, policy face amounts, new billing, payments, transaction history, claims information, agent information, quotes, underwriting status, terminations, and so on.
Then there is the complexity of the screens themselves. Every screen and nearly every data point displayed on-screen appear as abbreviations or codes – thousands of codes in all. To complete any interaction, customer service reps had to complete many different steps by navigating through many different screens. Complicating matters, the LIFE-COMM application is not intuitively designed. Operators had to know the progression of transactions to find the information they were seeking.
For modern users, familiar with graphical interfaces and touch screens, this cryptic text-style application proved challenging, even after extensive training. Before they could work independently, employees went through a months-long training program to reach a level of mastery that allowed them to navigate the application reasonably rapidly during service calls with customers or agents. Even then, they had to keep a printed reference manual at hand to look up unfamiliar codes. And all this was happening while they had a half dozen other applications open on the desktop. For the company, the result of these multiple layers of complexity was lower productivity, slower customer service, increasing frustration, and mounting costs.
Today, when reps needs to access their legacy systems, they do so through Customer Service Accelerator, which talks to the mainframe via HostBridge. When an employee requests a policy overview, for example, Customer Service Accelerator requests that Web service from HostBridge. HostBridge receives the request and executes the sequence of mainframe transactions required to fulfill it, parsing the various screen parameters, navigating through the screen and down to deeper screens, pulling fields and values into an aggregated set, and then delivering the information as one Web service response. The navigation that reps used to perform by traversing screen after screen – sometimes as many as one hundred for a single service – is now automated and orchestrated by HostBridge.
During the development stage of the integration project, programmers likewise had to address the complexity of LIFE-COMM. They did so in part by “encapsulating” each LIFE-COMM screen as a single higher-order object that parses the screen’s complex field geometry, translates all codes and values to ACORD XML, requires navigation to deeper screens – objects in their own right – executes the appropriate transactions, and completes the business service. As a result of this object-oriented approach, the policy overview requested by a service rep now appears in a single, fully interactive desktop view – at sub-second speeds.
The insurance company’s VANTAGE-ONE application presented the integration developers with a different challenge. Whenever possible, HostBridge uses BMS maps, rather than screen geometry, to locate and interact with fields on screen**. VANTAGE-ONE, however, does not use BMS mapping. Unlike the other legacy applications, VANTAGE-ONE is still actively developed, which means screens and field locations could change. Rather than risk the “breakage” that occurs when interactions depend on specific row/column coordinates, or incur the cost of rewriting integration code every time VANTAGE-ONE changed, the company asked HostBridge to address the VANTAGE-ONE navigation and integration issue. HostBridge obliged with a solution that enables developers to name fields within the Web service and thus navigate VANTAGE-ONE without reference to specific row/column locations.
** Use of BMS maps eliminates reliance on screen geometry, i.e., row-column coordinates, which leads to unreliable integration and/or additional programming whenever field locations change.
HostBridge is also the integration engine for the company’s DB2 system. Years ago, as policy administration applications began to multiply, the company implemented this central database as a step toward unifying information on policies and policyholders. The system houses information about every individual policyholder and the policy administration systems that host the policies the individual owns. HostBridge provides the Web services interface to the system that combines 3270 screen, DB2, and COMMAREA program data for distributed applications that need to request and update the system.
The company has also modernized and streamlined synchronization between its applications and the DB2 system. Prior to HostBridge, synchronization of the database with distributed systems was primarily a batch process running daily during the overnight hours. But as customers and business practices have changed, so has the need for real-time synchronization so that all systems – and users – have up-to-the-minute client data. HostBridge provided an integration mechanism to capture the mainframe program event and synchronize it via Web services with other systems.
The company has realized a range of significant benefits from its deployment of Customer Service Accelerator and the HostBridge-driven integration of its mainframe assets. They have measured a 10 percent increase in productivity among customer service reps, who are able to take more calls and complete them faster.
Reps are also able to perform new processes, further improving efficiency and customer service. In the past, the insurance rep on the phone did not actually carry out a customer request – a transfer of money between annuity funds, for example. Instead they sent the request to a back-office employee for fulfillment. Now, however, reps are able to complete the transaction with the customer on the phone. Not only does this keep the customer happy and reduce the burden on the back office, it also increases reliability and accuracy, verifying that the trade was correct as soon as it is executed.
The Corporate Standard for Mainframe Web Services
In HostBridge, this insurance company has found a vendor-partner dedicated to helping achieve its business objectives. Thanks to the pairing of HostBridge and Customer Service Accelerator in front of its trusted mainframe investments, the company is experiencing continuing improvement where it matters most – in day-to-day operations, employee productivity, customer service, and the bottom line.
In light of these positive experiences, the company has named HostBridge its corporate standard for mainframe Web services. “If there’s any kind of mainframe integration we need, we’re going to use HostBridge,” says the team leader, “There’s no question. We’re not thinking about any other methods.”