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Ascent Management On Life Support

As 2000 drew near, Ascent Management, Inc. (Fort Worth)-a company that handles administration of productsunderwritten by its parent company, Ascent Assurance, Inc. (more than $174 million in assets)-felt the need for a more up-to-date policy administration system. With concerns that its antiquated mainframe, a batch-oriented system, would not comply with Y2K requirements, the company sought the greater functionality of an online system to handle its mostly health administrative needs.

After putting out numerous RFPs, Ascent realized that many policy administration systems on the market were for life insurance. "We are a health insurance company, mainly," says Ric Hilliard, vice president of information systems, Ascent Management, Inc. "We decided to find a life insurance administration system that would most closely meet our health insurance administration needs." After a lengthy process, an Ascent steering committee-headed by the vice president of IS at the time-narrowed the choice down to six companies, which Ascent invited to demonstrate their product functionality. The committee chose Genelco's (St. Louis) Life Support Plus. Ascent hired Keane (Boston), a consulting company, to handle project management and technical tasks.

Ascent established a model office, complete with representatives from each of the company's business offices, for testing and the writing up of business specifics for customized modifications to the system. "We had a number of modifications that were required to process our business," says Hilliard. "We developed a steering committee which consisted of all of the vice presidents of each department within the company. That committee met on a weekly basis with the internal management of IS and the people from Keane."

The first level of training was given to Ascent's model office staff so they would be able to identify gaps in the system and develop modifications from their findings. "The initial training was given by Genelco to our business analyst in our model office," says Dianna Beckham, assistant vice president of application development, Ascent Management. "Genelco also provided technical training to our technical staff." The rest of the staff was trained on Life Support Plus' basic system.

Ascent's initial implementation plan had a scheduled completion before the Y2K deadline. Although the company did not go live with Life Support Plus until May 2000, Ascent had a contingency plan for the remediation of its old mainframe for Y2K compliance. Because this project was successful, according to Hilliard, Ascent was enabled to delay the Life Support Plus implementation to allow for additional training and testing.

Ascent had to convert its existing IBM (Armonk, NY) 390 mainframe to an IBM AS/400 set-up. The company also replaced its mainframe terminals with Dell (Round Rock, TX) desktop PCs. Although the Life Support Plus installation project took up half of Ascent's IT budget, significant cost savings were realized as a result of the conversion to the AS/400s. "Basically, there are less maintenance costs for the hardware on the AS/400, as opposed to the mainframe," says Hilliard. "The Life Support Plus system also requires less business and programming staff."

According to Beckham, the company's expectations for Life Support Plus have been met. Ascent's IS plans to implement new releases of Genelco's product in the future and expand its vendor partnerships. "We also plan on forming partnerships with vendors that Genelco has partnered with in order to outsource checks and do automated adjudication," says Beckham.



COMPANY NAME: Ascent Assurance, Inc., Ft. Worth, more than $174 million in assets.

LINES OF BUSINESS: Accident, health, life and supplemental.

VENDOR/TECHNOLOGY: Dell (Round Rock, TX) desktops; Genelco (St. Louis) Life Support Plus; IBM (Armonk, NY) AS/400; Keane (Boston).

THE CHALLENGE: Find a Y2K-compliant policy administration system with more flexibility that would reduce maintenance costs.

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