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Beacon Gets to the Point with Middleware

Beacon Insurance Group (Wichita Falls, TX, $60 million in assets) wanted to continue providing its 450 agents with immediate access to rates. But the quotes that agents were getting were a replication of those generated by Beacon's legacy system. So members of Beacon's IT staff had to maintain the legacy's rating engine and update the Web application's rating program, as well. Not only was such a process inefficient, it was sometimes inaccurate.

"Keeping up with maintenance, changes and updates for two rating engines was not efficient," says Barbara Hitz, director of Internet technology, Beacon Insurance Group. "We wanted to get away from using the Web application's rating program. Our Web group wanted to get out of the rate-coding business."

Connect Legacy to Web

Beacon decided to bring the rating engine of CSC/MYND's (Columbia, SC) POINT System, an IBM (Armonk, NY) AS/400-based application, directly into Microsoft's (Redmond, WA) Active Server Pages, an NT-based Web application. The new system also would provide for the uploading of data from the Internet to the POINT System, which handles claims, billing, rating and produces policies. Hitz refers to the POINT system as the heart of the legacy.

Beacon was unsure of exactly how it would execute this project and whether it would seek a middleware solution through a vendor or attempt to bypass code in-house. The company was certain, however, that it didn't want to add staff to complete the project.

In October 2000, Beacon sought the help of the POINT System's owner CSC Corp. (El Segundo, CA), which had recently absorbed MYND. "We were told that it would take a year or more to do what we wanted to do," according to Hitz, who was surprised by the lengthiness of the task.

According to Hitz, the alternative was to bypass the POINT System's built-in edits. "We would have to replicate the POINT System's edits that directly update the system's database into our Web application," explains Hitz. "That would have taken an enormous amount of time and effort." Also, Beacon's goal of completing the project without having to add staff would have been unattainable had it bypassed the POINT System's edits.

Hitz spent three days evaluating middleware packages on the Internet. After investigating three or four vendors, she and Chris Blue, Beacon's software engineer, decided on Hackensack, NJ-based Ericom's PowerTerm Host Publisher because it is easy to learn and cost effective, she says.

"We immediately obtained the beta copy and we started developing in it," says Hitz of the process that began this past February. "Our software programmer learned the system inside of a week." No training was required for the coder, who learned the system through a PDF instruction manual. Testing was complete within three months, and Beacon is currently obtaining rates from the POINT System using Active Server Pages. "We are able to get a rating from the POINT System and we didn't have to add staff," says Hitz.

Satisfied Customer

Beacon has realized its goals of greater accuracy and efficiency. "Ericom's PowerTerm Host Publisher is saving us from having to work on code to maintain two separate rating engines," says Hitz. "In the past, there were two people spending 50 percent of the time coding." Quotes obtained through the use of Ericom's middleware are also more accurate. "We were always off $1 to $3 from what we quoted" with the Web application's rating program, as compared to the those received currently through the POINT System, says Hitz.

According to Hitz, Beacon's expectations have been exceeded. The company is now taking steps toward full policy binding on the Web through the use of PowerTerm Host Publisher. "An agent will get the quote through PowerTerm Host Publisher, and, if they decide to bind the policy, they enter additional information. Our Web application will pass the data through PowerTerm Host Publisher to update the POINT System with the insured's information."


Case Study Closeup

Beacon Insurance Group, Wichita Falls, TX ($60 million assets).

Personal & commercial lines.

Ericom's (Hackensack, NJ) PowerTerm Host Publisher; Microsoft (Redmond, Wa) Active Server Pages, Windows NT; IBM (Armonk, NY) AS/400; CSC Corp.'s (El Segundo, CA) POINT System.

Connect legacy rating engine to Web.

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