July 15, 2013

[This article is the last in a series on ACM -- architecture for continuous migration. Click here to read Part 3, What Matters in IT: Part 3, Business Impact of Architecture for Continuous Migration]

Scott McNealy famously coined the slogan, "The network is the computer." Bill Gates proclaimed victory by saying that the PC and Windows provided information at your fingertips. These were good marketing strategies to surround the mainframe legacy but did not deal with the fundamental issue of application architecture that would be sustainable across technology platforms like mainframe, PC network and mobile computing.

Let us now look at ground reality as various technology storms have now settled and PCs, mainframes, networks, internet and mobile devices co-exist in most corporations.

New personal and group productivity tools drove the growth of computing. Word processors, spreadsheets and email were the new genre of killer applications, as opposed to accounting and operational automation of the 60s and 70s. The growth was so rapid that organizations swept the legacy issue under the carpet. The focus of computing shifted from the mainframe to the desktop and later the network. In the last few years we have seen this shift to post-PC devices like mobile phones and tablets.

The mainframe and server-based computing that it represented has survived these storms and has actually gained strength with the growth of the internet and mobile devices, which now offer a personal platform other than PCs and desktops. The mainframe has long ceased to be a burning platform. IBM has improved the technology and pricing models to make mainframes effective workhorses for transaction processing. There is therefore no compelling need to lift, shift and move applications to server-based environments running more modern languages like Java.

There is however a need to access these systems to improve the customer experience and enable real-time decisioning and analytics that require incremental migration of business logic and rules so that these can be more easily executed in context. Enterprises are run on business rules and the ability to maintain/modify these easily is an important aspect of future IT strategies and planning.

The other compelling reason for modernizing legacy systems is the data structure that the applications are built on. Access to data for decision making and data mining is a key competitive factor and if the data access is difficult due to proprietary or inefficient structures like sequential files used in batch systems, then these would have to be migrated.

Architecture for continuous migration (ACM) solves the problem as "federation" allows for systems to be accessed using a business service layer, and the data from disparate systems and technologies are mapped to the canonical model insulating the user from having to know "how" data is stored in the different systems. ACM has delivered results and the example of a federated search and 360-degree view of customer as described below is an excellent case of business benefits delivered with this approach.

Gaining Real-Time, 360-Degree View of Customers

A mid-sized multi-line carrier located in the Midwestern United States with farm, auto, home and life offerings wanted to empower the agents with a single unified system where they could manage all of their tasks across several lines of business. These agents are in the field and required a better, more-efficient way to access the customer information with a real-time, 360-degree view of the customer in order to up sell and cross sell among other lines of business.

It was also important that the solution be able to maintain a comprehensive history of the customer to increase sales and customer experience. The carrier wanted the agents to transform from a transactional role to more portfolio/risk managers for their customers.

A Common Agent Desktop solution, which consisted of single customer and household view, common order entry and Enterprise WIP (work in progress), was implemented by using business services across disparate systems, including CRM and policy administration systems -- an essential element of the ACM approach.

The federated search went across approximately 4 million database records to retrieve customer and policy information. The CRM system was chosen as the source of truth for customer information. The solution also improved data quality of the customer information by identifying duplicate customer information and then merging and setting up the household information as necessary. The Common Agent Desktop solution provided the agent the ability to work in both connected and disconnected modes with an option to synchronize the information with the corporate work in progress database.

The carrier has seen increased sales, and improved agent productivity and customer experience, along with a reduced cost of ownership. The Merge Customer capability provided more accurate customer data, saving time when performing customer and policy transactions.

Overall, the solution has benefited the carrier in three ways:

  • Faster -- Results in half the time.
  • Better -- Flexible SOA solution with consistent process and user experience.
  • Lower Cost -- A 50% saving over packaged or custom-build solutions.

Ravi Koka is CTO, Insurance & Portals, of Polaris Financial Technology Limited, a provider of enterprise software for the insurance and banking industries.