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For Berkshire Life, All Systems Are Go

The decision to optimize its existing information technology investments was not a hard one for Berkshire Life

The decision to optimize its existing information technology investments was not a hard one for Berkshire Life (Pittsfield, Mass.; $1.6 billion in assets) - especially after the wholly owned stock subsidiary of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (New York) decided to take a more proactive approach to ensuring the quality of its systems.

"Berkshire Life wanted to keep itself informed of the potential downtime that its systems might experience - before it happened," relates Sorin Fiscu, project manager, Berkshire Life. "We wanted to ensure that the availability of systems was into the 99.9 percent range. This way, we could be proactive rather than reactive when it came to ensuring the optimal end-user experience."

Expanding Project Scope

Although Berkshire Life's initial plan was limited to monitoring its newly implemented enterprisewide claims management system, the underwriter expanded the project near the end of 2001. After Fiscu and Randy Poirier, data architect for Berkshire Life, reviewed Empirix's (Waltham, Mass.) OneSight - a Web application performance management solution that measures an application's performance from the end-user's perspective - "We decided to expand the scope of our initial project and move toward a tool that could monitor all of our Web applications," Fiscu explains. "Empirix offered a large range of predefined monitors and a very intuitive interface that is easy to use."

Berkshire Life embarked upon the implementation of Empirix's OneSight in late 2001. According to Fiscu, most of the effort was focused on the planning phase. "Berkshire Life had to decide which of its applications were critical, what exactly to monitor and how to map to the tool," he says. "We also had to make sure that the right people in the IT organization were notified if a problem were to occur."

Berkshire Life's next step involved configuring its server. In order to help prepare its service administrators for these different implementation phases, Berkshire Life conducted two training periods with the help of consultants from Empirix. The first was designed to teach service administrators how to get OneSight's monitors up and running, and the second phase focused on teaching them how to design scripts.

After more than two years of use, the OneSight tool has exceeded Fiscu's initial expectations and, through the recent implementation of the upgraded OneSight version 4.6 last March, the underwriter has plans to leverage the technology further. OneSight 4.6 includes a service level module that allows companies to set up their service level agreement (SLA) targets. Once Berkshire Life begins taking full advantage of this capability, its communications with the business units will be greatly enhanced.

That is because "Each time we deploy a new system, an SLA is created and implemented for that particular application," with its corresponding business unit, Fiscu explains. As part of its plans for the future, Berkshire Life will eventually tie specific systems metrics that are monitored by OneSight to these SLAs. Different business units will then receive their specialized reports automatically, via e-mail. Such capability will help paint a clearer picture for business unit members, who will realize that "This is why I spent this much, this month, on this system," Fiscu relates.

The enhanced capabilities will also help Berkshire Life to illustrate performance in relation to its goals outlined as part of the carrier's Balanced Scorecard approach. "Our annual business plan, employee incentive programs and performance reviews are based on the results of our Scorecard," relates Fiscu, who reports that the new capability will be rolled out before the end of the year.

Case Study Closeup

Company: Berkshire Life (Pittsfield, Mass.; $1.6 billion in assets), a wholly owned stock subsidiary of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.

Lines Of Business: Specialty life products, disability insurance.

Vendor/Technology: Empirix's (Waltham, Mass.) OneSight application performance management solution.

Challenge: Monitor applications and proactively manage downtime.

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