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XML-Centric Product Powers e-Quoting

Provident Washington speeds product enhancements and quoting with rules-based ILOG JRules.

In today's competitive marketplace, speed-to-market is essential. However, due to the complexity of many older systems, something as simple as changing an underwriting rule could take weeks.

At Provident Washington Companies (Providence, RI), almost all changes to an insurance product required IT assistance. "The system was Cobol coded and 80 percent of the edits that users requested were embedded in programs," says Ed Leveille, vice president and CIO of the commercial lines company. "Even a change to a small parameter would generate a lot of work and could take a month or two." These changes, Leveille says, include modifications to underwriting guidelines and edits, such as changes to policy submissions.

With the carrier's systems hampering some of its product offerings and service, Leveille began a drive for c-commerce, or collaborative commerce. "We embarked on a large development effort to bring c-commerce to business users," he says. "One of the goals is to put the ability in users' hands to add modifications to products," without involving the IT department.

With a concept of how he wanted the new system to run, Leveille knew he would have to look for technology providers that could help the company reach its goal. "It would not be possible for our IT staff of 30 to handle this entire project, because it involves reworking the entire underwriting process," he says. "Only 15 of the staff are application programmers. I would have needed a larger staff to do what we did."

Leveille adds all questions the company asked on forms were up for debate. "We are going through every question and are asking, 'Can we eliminate it?'" he says. "The goal is to streamline the underwriting."

The search took nine months, and with the help of Gartner, Inc. (Stamford, CT), the list was trimmed to four finalists. In the end, Provident and Leveille's team of technical people and business users chose Mountain View, CA-based ILOG's JRules 3.5, an XML-centric business rules software that can directly process XML data instead of using another process to do the translation. "I have been an XML advocate since '97," Leveille says. In addition to XML, JRules also uses Java technology, which "is very scalable and provides better execution," he adds.

Another advantage of JRules, is that it can be used throughout the entire company. "We can use JRules for quoting, claims, accounting and other areas," Leveille says.

The initial application of JRules involved quoting premium to agents. The older system involved faxing quote requests that sometimes took days to turn around. "With JRules, the agent can get a quote in 20 seconds," after all of the information is entered into the system, Leveille reports.

In fact, the fast turn-around of a quote surprised Leveille. "I'm very impressed with the number of rules the system can go through," he says. "You blink your eyes and the quote is already back to the agent." The implementation itself took two days with the assistance of ILOG, and the development of the first commercial lines quoting application took about four weeks.

Links to Agency Systems

At press time, only a select number of agents were using the new process for quoting powered by JRules. "We haven't given it to all agents yet because we are watching scalability," Leveille says. "One request is to provide the capability to upload data from agency management systems. That will happen next year."

Because JRules is a Web-based application, Provident Washington does not have to install software on the agents' desktops. "ILOG JRules essentially operates on a Web server that executes the underwriting rules and sends responses back to the agent over the Internet," according to Leveille. "There is zero footprint and everything runs through a browser."

As a result, the product was easy to use. "Since the product is browser based, very little training is required," he adds. "ILOG gives us a product that will eventually be one entry for many of our processes."

In the future, Provident Washington plans to move almost all of its systems into an Internet- and rules-based system. "All of the goals, including the integration to agency systems and deployment to all of our business users, will be complete by the end of 2003," Leveille says. "By then, we will be pretty much talking about a straight-through processing type of environment, where everything is done including the actual printing of the contract."




Provident Washington Companies, Providence, RI, $250 million in direct premium.


Commercial lines property and casualty.


ILOG (Mountain View, CA) JRules; Gartner, Inc. (Stamford, CT), consulting.


Streamline operations with rules-based, XML-centric 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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