A commercial that's been airing a lot lately shows two men in a leaky fishing boat with the Aflac duck arriving just in time to plug its many holes. In many ways, IT systems are like leaky boats, and Aflac is doing a pretty good job of sealing the leaks in its own IT infrastructure.
When it comes to application and systems integration, “There’s no free lunch,” as Keith Brown, VP of enterprise applications and architecture at Aflac, puts it. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Brown in preparing the latest special report on enterprise architecture for Insurance Networking News, who spelled out the advantages his company is seeing as a result of its EA foundation.
Planning and bringing together multiple systems across the enterprise is no small task. In carriers that have acquired many business lines through acquisitions, the challenge is even greater. As Brown points out: “even with strong platforms, you must integrate them into the corporate environment and integrate the messaging and the flows and the interactions between business systems, so that business processes work from end to end and data is accessible and can be successfully used in analytics on an ongoing basis.”
However, the good news is that addressing the business-readiness of 100 different systems doesn't require 100 different architectural approaches. It only takes one good enterprise architectural approach to make things click. “The enterprise architecture does not need to change for separate lines of business,” he observes. “Aflac itself has entered the group insurance market, and we now have more lines of business than we had in the past. Our enterprise architecture serves all of those—though we may apply technology differently, depending on the business process or the business model.”
A strong enterprise architectural framework—driven by an enterprise team that consists of technology, data and enterprise architects—is helping to guide Aflac's adoption of commercial software solution versus building its own. “We are moving more and more toward buying software instead if building it,” says Brown. “And where possible, we'll procure a commercial software platform and configure it, as opposed to writing our own. That requires internal guidance to scale new solutions, as well as “reuse and leverage work from the software industry to benefit Aflac, which is an insurance company and not a software company.”
Having a well-developed enterprise architecture also helps business lines manage new product design and launches, Brown says. “A sound design of the components that make up a product allow us to configure new products thoroughly and have them launched with minimal issues,” he says. “Because we have a design that we reuse, we’re able to run any new product configuration through a very robust but repeatable and familiar testing harness, and a whole set of test scripts that ensure that product is ready for production to be sold to new policyholders.”
Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.
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