Like many of its mid-size insurer counterparts, Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance Co. understands that overhauling legacy information systems is a costly proposition. As a result, the carrier continues to conduct business from multiple and disparate systems.But what if an insurer could eschew the high cost of a comprehensive systems conversion and reap the operational benefits of an effective but less-expensive alternative?

Executives at the Indianapolis-based insurer in fact identified a cost-effective "bridge" solution to streamline policy processing within its $500-million book of business, a book that includes life, auto, farm and homeowners insurance lines.

Legacy wrapping

In 2001, Indiana Farm Bureau put itself on a path to better processing and customer service when it implemented legacy "wrapping" technology, a rapid, low-risk method to legacy integration that entails, among other things, design of user-friendly Web screens to replace legacy-based green screens.

In support of its life insurance lines, the first phase of Indiana Farm Bureau's program is providing significant traction for the carrier's 450 captive agents who conduct business out of 135 branch offices across the Hoosier state.

"It was important that we find a way to make all the users of our systems feel as though they were operating from one unified system, when in fact there were multiple systems being accessed 'under the covers,'" explains Greg Clancy, chief information officer for Indiana Farm Bureau, a 70-year-old company.

In 2000-three years before Clancy arrived-Indiana Farm Bureau laid the groundwork of an IT project to enhance policy processing. This team left a legacy, so to speak, that Clancy and his team were only too glad to advance to the next level.

"The first step (in 2000) was to purchase a packaged software solution that combined all the personal lines businesses under one," says Clancy. "As this occurred, the thinking was that older legacy systems could (eventually) be retired."

The second goal was to update the technical architecture. "While the packaged system isn't currently Web-based, it is client/server-based," he says. "This was an advance from the green-screen systems that existed previously. We view this project as an umbrella-a common gateway to all policy systems."

As the company moves more of its personal lines to the new packaged system-and as the packaged system becomes Web-enabled, the need for the um-brella will lessen, Clancy says. "At some point it will go away. The wrapping application is really a 'bridge', so to speak."

Until the time comes to tackle a legacy system conversion, the "umbrella" is wide open.

Jacada Ltd., an Atlanta-based developer of solutions designed to integrate and connect legacy applications to other systems, as well as Web-enable legacy applications, was enlisted to design and implement the wrapping application to provide Indiana Farm Bureau agents with a common gateway to all the company's policy systems.

Although using legacy wrapping unifies multiple legacy systems, it's an IT strategy that is not always viewed as advantageous by insurance IT staffers, says David Holmes, executive vice president, sales and marketing, for Jacada.

"Perhaps it's the last option they consider," he explains. "IT people like to build things, write integration code and have ownership. But doing these things can be very costly as well as risky."

Replacing a mainframe system can't always be justified from a cost perspective. So, insurers often adopt a wrapping approach, he adds. "Many insurers implement wrapping, visualizing it as a stop-gap measure. Many vow to eventually replace their legacy systems. But invariably, some don't act on it because they find the wrapping solution addresses their problem very effectively."

Regardless of the approach taken, it's become incumbent on insurers to improve their policy processing efforts. Indiana Farm Bureau's legacy wrapping initiative started with its two-decade-old life insurance processing system.

Training new agents to use legacy systems was not an option worth considering, so the company explored ways to create user-friendly screens for its two life insurance systems. Rather than build new systems, Indiana Farm Bureau decided to explore ways to extend the current legacy life application through Web technology.

"We operate multiple home-grown, transactional host-based AS/400 systems to support multiple lines," Clancy explains.

"From a transaction standpoint, instead of navigating user-friendly graphical screens to pull up quick and accurate information on customers, agents had to enter multiple codes. We had to find a way to eliminate the codes and spell out these details in plain English. We needed to provide a front-end interface that could shield agents from all these systems' complexities."

VISTA vision

Carried out with an initiative called VISTA--Visually Integrated Software for Today's Architecture--business users at Indiana Farm Bureau created a "wish list" for the new interface design, and then proceeded to convey the requirements to the carrier's e-business team.

Once technology factors were determined, a prototype of the system was rolled out to select offices to solicit feedback regarding the look and feel of the new system. To prove its worth and return on investment, the system was subjected to additional testing prior to the complete rollout.

After a successful round of field testing, the system was made available to all 450 Indiana Farm Bureau agents in 2001.

Within four weeks, the company had a 25-screen CICS application re-engineered and deployed to agents. The new presentation layer-which included only two different screens-made workflow far more efficient than in the past.

As Indiana Farm Bureau conducted due diligence on selecting a legacy wrapping technology, one essential prerequisite was the emergence of a technology that "could implement easy hooks to our mainframe," says Goutam Kundu, director of corporate technology for Indiana Farm Bureau.

"We also wanted a system that could provide flexibility to support XML and Java," he explains. "We wanted a system that would be intuitive, with a dynamic knowledge base and dictionary to support business rules. And we wanted to make it simple for agents, who would be able to activate drop-down menus, and wouldn't be forced to memorize business processing codes anymore."

Jacada's analysts and programmers have developed an expertise in evaluating a carrier's front-end processing capabilities before charting a course of action to implement a compatible legacy wrapping strategy.

The duration of a project is often predicated on a company's scale, and also hinges on its workflow. That is, how many screens does an agent regularly click through in order to perform a particular task, says Holmes.

For Jacada, which is accustomed to taking on projects at insurance companies where agents must navigate through hundreds of screens in a workflow process, the Indiana Farm Bureau project didn't require much heavy lifting. "We take the commonly used screens on a PC and apply an interface to each one, and in turn make content much easier to understand," Holmes explains.

Managing workflow

Agents tend to view some screens more frequently than other screens. But it's the infrequently activated screens-from a navigational standpoint-that nevertheless put a crimp in their workflow, says Holmes.

It might be a case where an agent only has to log a couple numbers on one particular screen. What Jacada performed at Indiana Farm Bureau was the consolidation of screens that were categorically similar-such as screens for policy administration or those for claims.

The wrapping technology can position infrequently used screens in the background of the front-end interface-to be viewed for reference but not disruptive to an agent's workflow process.

"The technology is designed with an automated development tool that analyzes existing green screens before they are remastered within a graphical user interface environment," Holmes says.

Knowledge-based technology is also part of the equation. The knowledge base contains rules that consolidate several screens that have similar functionality, and perform automated conversion of green screens into a sophisticated interface.

Indiana Farm Bureau plans to expand the legacy project this spring to its commercial lines, with an emphasis on claims and the collection of first-notice-of-loss data. Four of its Indiana branch offices will participate in this pilot.

When the commercial lines project is complete, it will involve many more screens than those in the life insurance business since commercial lines represent a larger share of Indiana Farm Bureau's overall written premium.

As for measuring return on investment, Clancy says that because life insurance represents a smaller piece of the carrier's overall business, he can't accurately calculate the benefits of the legacy-wrapping project.

But he does anticipate that the commercial lines' project will produce significant improvements, such as freeing up personnel to concentrate on other tasks.

"Overall, Jacada is enabling our company to achieve much better results with less risk, time and money than would have been required to complete this key project manually," says Clancy.

"We were able to leverage the value we already had in our existing legacy systems while improving them for our current and future business needs and objectives."

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