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Lori Widmer
Lori Widmer
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Farm Bureau Insurance of Michigan Web-enables Critical Business Functions

Farm Bureau Insurance of Michigan Web-enables disparate systems to create a single customer view.

In today's customer-centric business environment, it is critical for insurers to have a holistic view of their customer relationships. But with three policy administration systems; one life and annuity system; and separate systems for claims, billing, payments, and online documentation and forms, Farm Bureau Insurance of Michigan ($470 million in P&C premium; $10 billion in life & annuity assets) was challenged to create a single customer view.

According to Sandy Dent, director of application development and technical research for Farm Bureau Insurance, the company's legacy IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) 3270 mainframe-based customer-inquiry application made it difficult to share data among its platforms. As a result, the carrier decided to sunset the legacy application and integrate its platforms via a Web-based portal, known as Customer Center.

Dent began searching for a solution in early 2004. A wish list of capabilities was topped by a seamless customer service interface and quick access to necessary information, Dent relates. In addition, the insurer wanted to partner with a vendor that had a proven track record, and the carrier wanted a tool that could be easily learned by the existing staff with minimal training.

Dent spent nearly four months reviewing vendors' proposals and ultimately invited Atlanta-based GT Software to conduct a proof of concept around the vendor's Ivory Data Access and Ivory VisualConnect solutions. "We wanted to be sure the product could seamlessly take a mainframe screen on which we used a screen-scraping approach and add information to that screen directly retrieved from a SQL [database] file." The Lansing, Mich.-based carrier signed a deal with GT in April 2004.

The Ivory Data Access application enables SQL-based access to mainframe data, and the VisualConnect application converts mainframe screens into Web-based front ends, according to GT. Dent notes that the combined solution enabled Farm Bureau Insurance to reuse customer information control system (CICS) transactions, which was an important consideration since the transactions included business logic that the company did not want to rewrite.

Still, the installation process took nearly a year, Dent concedes, noting that, among other delays, it took the carrier's two in-house programmers longer to detect errors resulting from the screen-scraping methods than anticipated. Starting with the cash payments and billing, Farm Bureau Insurance began integrating each platform into the new Web-based portal. "Our application architect was involved in establishing the standards for the open data access methods that were used and with integrations to our online documents and forms," Dent relates.

Dent notes that Farm Bureau Insurance had to purchase additional servers to expand its IBM WebSphere deployment to meet the demands of the new system. But no other additional hardware was required.

The first system was in production by mid-2005, and the full Customer Center went live for agent use in April 2006. While specific metrics are not available, Dent says the new portal has greatly improved the efficiency of customer interactions. In addition, "By Web-enabling critical business functions, we are positioned to reuse that business logic," she adds.

Farm Bureau Insurance of Michigan (Lansing, Mich.; $470 million in P&C premium; $10 billion in life & annuity assets).

lines of business
Life, annuity, and personal and commercial lines P&C.

GT Software's (Atlanta) Ivory Data Access and Ivory VisualConnect solutions.

Aggregate data from disparate platforms to create a single customer view via a Web-based portal.

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