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Turning Green into Customer-Service Gold

State Auto improves service by overlaying green screens with Jacada application.

Faced with a legacy mainframe-based green-screen system consisting of numerous codes and abbreviations, State Auto Insurance Co. (Columbus, OH) wanted to reduce complexity for its commercial-lines help-desk specialists.

"It was taking too long to train people to use the green-screens," says Allison Kreiter, senior programming analyst, State Auto Insurance Co. For the PMSC V7 mainframe policy administration system, "the green-screen entry required many codes instead of simple verbal descriptions. The policy specialists had to memorize all of these codes to input or change data."

State Auto, which writes personal auto and commercial insurance products, such as business owners' policies (BOPs), in 26 states, needed an application that would make the entering of data easier for internal commercial-lines specialists.

Breaking New Ground

"When State Auto began looking for a product, there weren't that many applications available," Kreiter explains. "Eventually we chose the Jacada Atlanta Interface Development Kit." The Jacada software allows State Auto to build its own Java-based screens that essentially sit on top of the existing green screens, explains Kreiter. The Jacada technology, which is really a GUI, also allows for the use of "plain language" and can modify the underlying green screens to improve navigational workflow to increase efficiency, Kreiter adds.

State Auto decided to start the conversion to the more user-friendly system by using Jacada on a completely new product first, and then gradually convert other products over to the new system. "Initially, we developed the Jacada-overlaid screens for a new line of our commercial business and we rolled out the product to the specialists"—the internal help-desk reps who assist State Auto's network of more than 3,400 independent agents.

If the roll-out with the specialists was successful, State Auto planned to deploy the Jacada application to its agents for a new BOP policy. "We have training sessions, but the specialists picked it up in about an hour," says Kreiter. "We don't have to teach users to be proficient with the mainframe to enter information."

The last fact is important, explains Kreiter, because in order to deploy the application over the Internet to allow agents to check rates and submit BOP applications electronically, State Auto knew it couldn't require agents to be trained on mainframe data entry. "The product is very easy to use. I don't have any the training like the specialists have, but I could easily submit information," Kreiter says.

The implementation, including the evaluation of the vendor's products, took about 18 months, according to Kreiter. "Since it was a brand-new product and since we were using Jacada for the first time, it took a little longer than it will take for subsequent deployments," she adds. "We had to make sure that the specialists could do the editing on-screen and that it would translate to the mainframe."

During the conversion to Jacada, which started in 1999, State Auto did not have to invest heavily in additional technology. The PCs being used by the specialists for green-screen entry, via a 3270 emulation, supported the use of the Jacada application without upgrades. Jacada's server did require an additional investment in hardware, Kreiter explains.

Connecting with Agents

To date, State Auto is very happy with the performance of Jacada, according to Kreiter. "Without Jacada, we would not have been able to connect directly with the agents," she says. "Getting the agents on the system has really helped to sell the new product. Agents can look at rates online and see the same rate that is in the mainframe, so it is accurate. Agents can get and submit all of the information that they need for a policy in one shot and in real time."

Not only has the upgrade enabled State Auto to provide agents access to certain commercial policies in 15 states that the insurer underwrites, but Kreiter also thinks the application will translate into improved service and efficiency. "You definitely would think so," she says, noting the company has not yet quantified any savings. "Now the internal users are not hung up with data entry for agents. It frees them up to do other things and answer questions in a more timely manner."


Case Study Closeup

COMPANY: State Auto Insurance Co., Columbus, OH, more than $900 million in assets.

LINES OF BUSINESS: Personal auto, BOP, commercial coverages.

VENDOR/TECHNOLOGY: Jacada (Atlanta) Interface Development Kit; Microsoft (Redmond, WA) Windows 98.

CHALLENGE: Turn green screens into user-friendly applications.

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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