The extensive interdependencies formed by service-oriented architectures (SOA) can prove a double-edged sword: The resulting dynamics drive up performance but also make glitches difficult to locate. Such was the challenge for ultra-high net worth insurer AIG Private Client Group, a division of New York-based American International Group (AIG; $1.06 trillion in total assets). "It could take a couple of hours for our help desk to reproduce an issue from a user's description of events," recalls Karl Uphoff, CIO and SVP. "But it wasn't burdensome until we started planning to extend our Web-based policy platform externally to brokers. Then we realized we needed a better way."
Late in 2003 the solution hunt began. "We wanted to track activities on knowledge workers' desktops and create event logs transparently, in the background, whether the users were internal or external," Uphoff explains. "But everything we found was targeted at development troubleshooting, with the exception of some emerging companies that we disqualified as too young."
Eventually, in 2005, Uphoff investigated the AppSight Problem Resolution System from BMC Software (Houston) by leveraging contacts at a former employer. "They were using the BMC product, but not as extensively as we envisioned," notes Uphoff. "So we brought in BMC and discovered AppSight offered traceability from [Redmond, Wash-based Microsoft] Windows and Java at the front end, all the way through back-end servers and dropping off into the COBOL path."
By early 2006 the AppSight implementation within the policy platform was underway. "A Windows-enabled server was acquired and deployed for the application, with recording agents loaded onto each supported application server," Uphoff says. Once AppSight was incorporated into the next release build and load tested, it was rolled out to all 450 internal users across three geographically dispersed U.S. locations, he reports.
"We included about a page of documentation on the new error reporting process," Uphoff says. "In short, a popup window appears that provides users with directions to follow. Then the information is automatically e-mailed to tech support."
Although AppSight deployed smoothly, some tweaking was required. "Initially, we set up the solution aggressively, causing event logs to be about 10MB," recounts Uphoff. "Users consistently said it was taking too long to release their machines. So we fine-tuned the number of recorded activities, which reduced the logs to about 5MB. After about eight months of internal use, AppSight was included when the new policy platform was released to our brokers."
Last May, AppSight also was rolled out within the development process, where developers scattered globally maintain more than nine million lines of code. "Previously, whenever a tester found a bug, it required several interactions with a developer to clarify the issue," Uphoff says. "Now developers can simply play back the recording of the failed test case."
Given the carrier's multi-layered utilization of the solution, AppSight payoffs span the spectrum. "In develpoment, the number of tester/developer interactions has dropped from an average of three to one," reports Uphoff. "Plus, we're reducing productivity barriers inherent to working across time zones, cultures and languages because developers keep working rather than taking a day or two just to understand a testing issue."
The solution also has enabled AIG Private Client Group to reduce help desk staff to half the number otherwise needed to support more than 6,000 users. "Diagnosing problems now takes only minutes," Uphoff explains. "Also, we've discovered about 25 percent of incidents are actually training issues. This eliminates sending out analysts to locate reported system outages at business units only to determine that a new user has failed to click the proper screen tab."
Perhaps most important, AppSight has provided the carrier with competitive advantage, asserts Uphoff, who points to a recent broker survey that attributed significant gains to the new policy platform, including issuing AIG policies at a higher rate than before.
Case Study ProfileCompany
AIG Private Client Group, a division of American International Group (New York; $1.06 trillion in total assets)
Lines of Business
Property and casualty for high-net-worth individuals
BMC Software's (Houston) AppSight Application Problem Resolution System
Speed resolution of system malfunctions in a service-oriented architecture (SOA) environment
Anne Rawland Gabriel is a technology writer and marketing communications consultant based in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. Among other projects, she's a regular contributor to UBM Tech's Bank Systems & Technology, Insurance & Technology and Wall Street & Technology ... View Full Bio