Getting an insurance quote from an independent insurance agent used to be a very manual process. Agents began by acquiring the latest rate information, which was mailed to them on disk by each insurance agency.
Agents would load these updated rates onto their desktop, where their rating program would recalculate the most accurate quote. The independent agent would scour prices from multiple insurance agencies.
If the client accepted a quote, the agent would print out the application, fill it out, put all the materials in the mail and send it to the insurance agency. When the insurance agency received it, it would key the information into the mainframe, print out the results and send it back to the agent via the mail.
The whole process took a long time, and, along the way, there could be any number of mistakes, such as improper data entry, said Dan Pitcher, vice president of IT for Western Reserve Mutual Casualty Company, one of the companies in the Western Reserve Group, of Wooster, Ohio.
"Even though the quotes were close, they always were different, say, off by a couple of bucks," said Pitcher. "That was universal to the industry."
And, as Pitcher said he had noticed since his consulting days, the industry was shifting to real-time rate information.
"Anybody who spent any time in the industry said youve got to be easy to do business with, youve got to improve services and youve got to manage expenses," said Pitcher. "And extending mainframe applications to agents via Web services was just the mantra. Everybody knew they needed to do that."
WRG wanted to end diskette-based mailings and move to live rate information via the Web, Pitcher said.
But Pitcher said he didnt have the time or money to redevelop the WRG systems. He has 14 IT people on staff, and theyre mostly COBOL programmers. Given WRGs location, Pitcher claims its tough to get and keep Java programmers.
WRG data and logic was entrenched in the mainframe. So Pitcher said he began looking at SOA (service-oriented architecture) structured solutions that facilitate communications between two services (for example, a mainframe and the Web).
"The emergence of SOA is actually providing a lifeline to the mainframe business," said Dana Gardner, principal analyst for Interarbor Solutions, of Gilford, N.H.
"If you have assets that you can already tap and reuse, it actually allows you to decrease your risk and you get more value out of what youre already using, obviously, and it increases your productivity," said Ed Peters, CEO of Dallas-based OpenConnect Systems.
Pitcher said he wanted a solution that would isolate all maintenance on the mainframe and take advantage of WRGs existing mainframe business logic. So he began researching a handful of vendors that could offer some type of Web interface with their mainframe and selected OpenConnect, an SOA vendor that came to his attention through a piece of direct mail.
OpenConnect had a tool, eXtremeVista (since rebranded as Configure), that enabled a developer to easily configure a Web service from mainframe business processes.
The product looks at each field on a mainframes green screen, creates a connector for it to the Web and then automatically programs the Web code so users can populate the field on the mainframe from the Web, Pitcher said.
The major advantage OpenConnect had over the competition, said Pitcher, was time to market.
According to Alex Moulas, OpenConnects senior vice president of business development and marketing, it takes on average 18 to 24 months to complete a mainframe project.
When OpenConnect and WRG built the prototype, a farm owners policy, it took only six weeks to roll out, Pitcher said. The prototype was necessary because Pitcher wanted to make sure that eXtremeVista could work with WRGs system.
OpenConnects vice president of product marketing, Chris Houck, said the company had done projects like WRGs many times before. "Youre not creating anything; youre just repurposing it in the Web world," said Houck. "The hard part has already been done on the mainframe."