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Leaving the Nest

FirstAssist uses Thunderhead's document generation solution to automate document production and free up IT resources to speed its independence.

On April 22, 2003, First-Assist (Sutton, Surrey, U.K.; acquired for $268.8 million), a healthcare insurance and assistance specialist business, was created as a result of a management buyout from Royal & SunAlliance (West Sussex, U.K.). The young company was eager to break free from its parent's influence - and back-office systems - but it needed the resources to get there.

"We had a multitude of legacy systems that had been provided by a corporate environment, so I put a stake in the ground that said we can replace the entire IT landscape within 18 months," says Mitch Lambton, IT director and part owner of First Assist. Of the firm's $64 million IT budget, about $13 or $14 million was earmarked for legacy replacement. But to roll out new core administration systems, Lambton needed to free up IT resources.

The IT director turned his attention to the burdensome process of mass document design and production, which traditionally eats up a large amount of IT resources for development and support. In January 2004, Lambton identified a high-volume document-generation solution from Thunderhead (Hertfordshire, U.K.) that could be controlled by business users. "The typical approach is to look at all of the leading products in the market, but we came across Thunderhead early in our search, as it was just entering the market, and became one of their first clients," he says, adding that he did not see the need to consider other vendors. Implementation began in July 2004.

One of benefits of the solution that attracted Lambton was its ease of use. "With the Thunderhead product, we were able to fully train experts within our own business to allow them to take control of the entire document design and creative process, which frees up valuable technology resources to concentrate on more fundamental IT-related matters," he says. With just three to five days of training, FirstAssist had a core team of business experts fully trained in the Thunderhead product, which runs on Red Hat Linux using a JBOSS (Atlanta) application server and leverages open standards, including XML to define all incoming transaction data.

Additionally, deployment of the solution used relatively few IT resources. A small team of technologists focused on building the environment and architecture and, within just one or two months, a business resource team was able to take over. "We've been able to rapidly hand over the bulk of the requirement to business-focused people," Lambton relates.

In terms of resource utilization, FirstAssist has already achieved the returns it was looking for. Thunderhead's business-user control capabilities have allowed the carrier to reallocate 50 percent of its budget for IT-based document production professionals to alternative business activities. "One can almost suggest that we're using administrative-type resources to manage a fundamental area of IT deployment," Lambton says. "The cost difference is one thing, but freeing up valuable and scarce IT resources is the bigger benefit for us."

Lambton says FirstAssist also plans to tap Thunderhead's Correspondence Studio solution to generate ad hoc letters and customize communications with brokers', partners' and intermediaries' branding.

Case Study Profile


First Assist Group (Sutton, Surrey, U.K.; acquired for $268.8 million).

Lines of Business

Healthcare and preventive care.


Thunderhead's (Hertfordshire, U.K.) document generation solution and Correspondence Studio solution.

The Challenge

Free up technology resources while gaining independence from large legacy-based corporate infrastructure.

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