Erwin Kersten led his company through a revolution. As lead IT architect for Univé Verzekeringen, Kersten helped the Zwolle, Netherlands, insurance company adopt the very first pieces of what would become an organization-wide SOA.
But even as the project blossomed, Kersten recognized a problem. Five services became 10. Ten became 15. And soon management of his fledgling service-oriented architecture became as big a challenge as uprooting the legacy systems themselves.
His is a cautionary tale. "In my experience, the management portion of an SOA always comes later," Kersten said. "Thats the one thing I think most of us do incorrectly. My advice to anyone considering an SOA implementation now is to start looking for management tools as well, in order to keep everything steady."
Univés motivation differs from that of most conventional enterprise businesses. A not-for-profit cooperative, the insurance carrier is driven not by revenue goals but purely by providing the best service for member customers.
So it was fitting that in 2004, Univé began its IT systems metamorphosis. The organization took its first steps toward eliminating a dated, siloed approach to IT and started implementing an SOA. As with most SOA pilot programs, there was a strong business incentive for doing so. In the fiercely competitive insurance field, speed and quality of service are keys to customer retention.
In that respect, Univé typifies many insurance companies that have much to gain from SOAs, since most have large investments in legacy systems, as well as heterogeneous environments resulting from mergers and acquisitions. An SOA can often give an insurance carrier a critical business edge.
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Univé, which offers business and consumer insurance and financial services products such as life and property policies and mortgages, has 1.3 million customers and some 3.7 million insurance policies. The company employs more than 3,100 people across Europe.
The SOA efforts ultimate goal, Univé officials said, is to develop a standards-based system that helps the company automate and move away from traditional paper-based processes, as well as enable communication across all the companys heterogeneous systems. As a consequence, the change should help Univé find new ways for using and combining legacy data to unlock business opportunities and improve customer service, officials said.
Like most enterprises, Univé started small with its SOA. The effort began as a response to changes in Dutch law that allowed citizens to change health insurance carriers annually. "Our first SOA implementation was for health insurance registration and quotations. What we had normally been doing on paper, we took online," Kersten said.
That initial SOA project, which included about a dozen interconnected services, resulted in the automation of 60 percent of Univés 100,000 health insurance transactions annually. That sort of success fueled an expansion of the insurance carriers SOA efforts. Suddenly all parts of Univés legacy systems and practices were under review as the fundamental shift toward delivering better customer service through newly combined and collaborative offerings got under way.
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