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Lisa Valentine
Lisa Valentine
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An Eye Toward the Future

Aggressive delivery of self-service functionality enables VSP to focus on building a service-oriented architecture that will enable the carrier to react to market changes.

Change Management

As with any widespread technology change, staff reaction has been a mix of excitement and anxiety, according to Scott. The staff is excited about learning new technologies, but there always is the underlying fear that staff lacking appropriate skills may find themselves out of a job. This is the greatest challenge of the rearchitecture, Scott adds. So having a good communications plan is critical to a successful implementation.

"There is a lot of good technology out there, and there are lots of different ways to implement those technologies. When an IT project fails, it's not due to the technology itself, but because of the implementation," asserts Scott. "IT needs to understand the business and adoption challenges - it's not just a matter of overcoming resistance, but to understand why that resistance exists. It requires IT people to focus on more than just technology itself."

To assuage fears and prepare its staff of about 235 IT professionals to work in the new environment, VSP relies on contractors and consultants only where necessary and creates formalized training programs that will move its own staff into these new areas. "We've approached SOA in a positive manner and rely primarily on in-house staff to get the work done," says Scott. "We are not looking for contractors to carry the load but to augment our staff and affect the knowledge transfer."

VSP also has created a management tool, which it will roll out in 2006, that enables managers to map out individualized development programs for each IT employee. "We are working very hard to retain our staff. The people taking care of our mainframe know our business very well," says Scott. "We want to get them where they need to be with the new tools and show them the road map for how we intend to get them there."

Infrastructure First

With all this focus on the underlying infrastructure, VSP has not focused as much on building out new applications. But the insurer has the luxury of resting on its laurels: VSP has been a leading adopter of self-service applications, having offered online claims to its member doctors for more than a decade.

The carrier's development focus now will shift toward specific applications. "We're at a point where we've laid most of the foundation and are getting more business-centric in our projects," explains Kelt. "As we roll through those, we'll have a better idea of how it will impact the business areas."

However, since the insurer previously had done a lot of work on its business processes, Kelt and Scott don't expect any major process changes in the near term. But when those changes are needed, SOA will allow them to be made quickly and easily, the executives assert.

When asked when the project will be completed, Kelt's short reply is, "Never." He explains: "While the underlying architecture and infrastructure is nearly complete, we'll change it. New technologies will come along and the business will change, and we'll need to adapt. The key is to stay in tune with the business, understand its needs and remap the plan. It will never stop - it's just steps along the road."

Many of the legacy customer information control systems (CICS) will remain as is within the new architecture, and some will be retired in favor of distributed environments, Scott relates. "It's a mix," he says. "Our legacy systems have worked very well to serve our business over the years, and we've been able to layer on top of those applications. We see SOA as an opportunity to improve upon that and further support the business and offer our customers more self-service offerings."

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