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Combining SLA & Clarica

Tough decisions mark successful consolidation of systems.

The reconciliation of the Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada's (SLA) and Clarica Life Insurance Co.'s IT organizations proved a daunting task, according to the top technology officer of parent company Sun Life Financial Services of Canada (SLFS). It showed that if the best-laid plans don't necessarily go awry, execution counsels some decisions that theory might not have recommended. Theamalgamation of the two companies into one under the Sun Life Assurance name was confirmed as complete by SLFS at year-end.

As part of a US$164 million seven-year corporate contract with IBM (Armonk, NY), Sun Life Assurance Co.'s data-center environment has been consolidated, and has been running an IBM-managed center for a few months, according to John Wright, executive vice president and CIO, corporate systems, SLFS (Toronto, $220 billion in assets). In the process, the financial services company transferred 111 employees-the entire complement from the combined Sun Life and Clarica technology infrastructure, minus fewer than 10 volunteer retirees-over to IBM in August 2002. "We are still working on consolidating some of our distributed computing environments within Sun Life's own environment, in a non-outsourced way," he says. "As I look at the technology infrastructure first, I'd say as a positioner and enabler to all of the business and application integration, we are tracking very well to meet our goals."

Platform Decisions

On the application side, Sun Life had originally intended to take a "best-of-both-worlds" approach in reconciling systems. "We quickly decided that was going to lead to an awful lot more work—and possibly endanger our timeline—so we made some very tough decisions," Wright recalls. Crediting the resolve and decisiveness of the business side of operations, Wright adds that IT focused on the Clarica individual insurance platforms as the solution on the retail side, but on the group retirement side of business mostly stuck with SLA's primarily mainframe platforms that have been surrounded by robust Web-based applications. "Sun Life is predominantly a Java shop and Clarica was predominantly .NET, and we decided to go with some of the technology that's outward facing as .NET. But server-based applications and a number of our Web-based applications that are fully Java-based, we decided to keep totally," Wright explains, conceding, "we would like to have been either .NET or Java."

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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