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Better Business, Naturally

AmCOMP's IT staff is structured to reflect the processes through which the industry does business, allowing completion of technology projects with a team-oriented business model.

At North Palm Beach, Fla.-based AmCOMP, the belief is that the best approach to technology initiatives is to avoid forcing square pegs into round holes. Accordingly, the carrier develops project business plans by studying how business would best happen in the marketplace on its own, and then making sure the tools are in place to allow it to happen.

To this end, the IT department at AmCOMP ($457 million in assets) is structured into four cross-functional teams: a policy management group and a loss control team on the front end, and the corporate support group and a technology infrastructure team on the back end. The model "is ideal because the insurance company structure naturally lends itself to these distinct areas of IT deployment," explains Marina Popovetsky, AmCOMP's vice president of IT.

With what Popovetsky calls a customer relations management model, the "front-end troops" are deployed in the two main customer care areas - the policy life cycle, and claims or loss management. This organizational structure frees up one faction of the "back-end troops" to support corporate functions, including HR, regulatory affairs and financial administration.

The technology infrastructure team consists of AmCOMP's "highest-level network engineers," Popovetsky relates. "They don't have to worry about the day-to-day support of the corporate network infrastructure," she says. Instead, this team is exclusively responsible for developing plan visibility, studying conceptual implementations and eventually rolling out the company's largest IT projects. "In this way, IT is more holistically intertwined with the business community in terms of structure and reporting, avoiding silos and providing a dependable IT network."

The IT team system was put to the test in early 2003, when IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) closed its business recovery center in Tampa, Fla. The facility was the closest business recovery solution (BRS) center to AmCOMP's headquarters in North Palm Beach and served as the carrier's backup recovery center.

"Once we found out that the Tampa BRS site was closing, we felt that we could no longer rely on our IBM BRS," Popovetsky relates. "We also found that implementing our own customized proprietary backup solution would be less cost-prohibitive," she continues. Consequently, it was left up to AmCOMP's IT teams to establish a new business interruption and backup recovery center. The challenge was to have the facility up and running before the start of the hurricane season in 2004.

Popovetsky explains that, having decided to establish a "warm" backup site, or one that is synchronized with the main site by receiving replicated transactional data in real time, AmCOMP retooled its main infrastructure at its North Palm Beach headquarters to a thin-client model. Now, both sites have an updated thin client so the bulk of the data processing occurs on a centralized server, not an isolated hard drive.

With the thin-client model in place, remote offices can now access the main system over an expanded Citrix (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Infuse server farm, with IBM storage area networks uniting the servers. The main system architecture was then recreated in an Orlando-based office using the iTera (Salt Lake City) data-change solution for transactional synchronization between the two IBM storage area network systems.

"We chose iTera because of its flexibility and support, as well as cost," Popovetsky notes. Using Double-Take's (Hoboken, N.J.) real-time data replication software to synchronize transactions at both sites, AmCOMP gained the ability to "repoint system access from our locations in the Midwest, Texas and the Atlantic region, as well as at headquarters, to the backup site," Popovetsky says. "They can continue like nothing happened." Double-Take's solution was chosen over a Microsoft (Redmond, Wash.) SQL replication tool because of Double-Take's comprehensive design scheme and the support offered by the vendor, Popovetsky adds.

When the 2004 hurricane season hit, what initially was considered field-testing for the new system became a full-blown trial by Mother Nature. During Hurricane Charley, AmCOMP's Orlando center lost its office telecommunication access for an extended period. The staff took advantage of the flexible thin-client technology and rolled out a number of thin-client desktops, serving as a temporary office in a nearby hotel. Then, the North Palm Beach facility lost power during Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne, and network access was switched to Orlando. AmCOMP experienced just two hours of downtime, Popovetsky asserts. "Business had to go on in other parts of the country even though there were downed trees and high-speed winds surrounding the main offices," she remarks.

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