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MetLife a Pioneer in Web Services

Long before Web services became a household word in IT shops, MetLife was already well into development.

To present a consistent view of information over any channel—the Internet, call center, an agent intranet, or even mailed statements—an insurer has to make sure that all of the channels are on the same page, so to speak.

MetLife ($302.5 billion in assets, New York) faced the daunting technical challenge of integrating at least eight front-end, customer-facing systems with more than 15 back-end systems in order to provide a single customerview, says Akiva Marks, director of application development, individual business, common components projects, at MetLife. "We continually look for ways to improve the speed and efficiency of our systems, and it was important for us to ensure that, in the future, our customers would be able to obtain the same information from a variety of channels," Marks says.

Consistency & Efficiency

To solve the challenge of providing consistent information before it actually became a customer service problem at MetLife, the company began working over two years ago to find a solution that could efficiently and cost effectively consolidate information for multiple-channel access. "You can't replicate the process for 15 systems times another eight systems, because there is no way that they are all going to access information the same way," Marks says, noting that the systems ran on many different platforms and languages, such as COBOL, WebSphere, COM-based applications and more.

One approach to the problem—and one that MetLife quickly ruled out—would be to internally develop all of the code and links among various systems. "Relatively early in the cycle, we decided to move in a buy direction," Marks says.

Also, MetLife focused on core business functions that were identified as having common functionality. For instance, Marks says, traditionally each business unit would develop similar applications to perform the same task. MetLife wanted to develop software that could be reused for applications throughout the company. "That translates into faster and cheaper," Marks says.

However, when the search began over two years ago, there were not that many products available, Marks recalls. Also, MetLife wanted to leverage the work it had already done with ACORD (Pearl River, NY) standards so that all of the technology would be able to communicate in a uniform format. "As we look for software products, we require that the software supports the ACORD XML standards," he says.

"We found that webMethods had an effective tool set for our needs," Marks adds. MetLife chose webMethods' (Fairfax, VA) Integration Platform to help the company move towards a "business services" strategy, which is what MetLife called its plan two years ago—the approach is now more commonly known as Web services. WebMethods' technology is a centralized hub where information from various systems is integrated.

The ability to reuse already developed technology grows the longer MetLife develops on webMethods, explains Marks. "As the library of capabilities...grow, the speed of execution becomes faster," he says. "The developers do not constantly have to rewrite code." Because webMethods uses a service-based architecture, once an integration has been made, it becomes a service, explains Marks, which means that MetLife can swap applications in and out on the front- and back-ends.

In order to develop with webMethods, MetLife had to retrain some of its mainframe develops into VisualBasic- and Java-focused developers. Also, MetLife needed new servers to run webMethods and had to develop backups for the system, according to Marks.



MetLife, New York, $302.5 billion in assets.


Life insurance, annuities, investment products.


webMethods (Fairfax, VA) Integration Platform, ACORD (Pearl River, NY) standards.


Develop technology for reuse across the enterprise.

Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio

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