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Many Paths to Integration

The ideal of a fully integrated, end-to-end, real-time enterprise is a worthwhile goal, no matter what your lines of business may be. But who you are will shape how you get there.

That initiative was preceded by an effort to meet CNA's CEO Steve Lilienthal's demand for "a central source of information for one version of the truth," according to Israel Abraham, enterprise architect, CNA. The carrier's first major success in that direction was the creation of Merlin, a database and executive dashboard system that consolidates financial data from disparate sources.

According to Saro Hambarsonian, the CNA enterprise architect who led the Merlin project, "One of the major reasons we took on the consolidation of the data was that having data marts all over the place resulted in the CEO not being able to get a complete picture of the enterprise," Hambarsonian says. "Rather than tweaking the existing multiple sources of data, we thought it would be better to bring all the data into one place and have the same definition for any metric."

Through the Merlin solution, all lines of business now apply the same metrics. And through the process by which the data is amassed, the information is balanced before it reaches the CEO.

But as powerful as the Merlin solution was, CNA pursued a more ambitious integration of data using Informatica's suite of data integration tools.

"Merlin used a limited set of financial data for the purposes of fairly basic analysis," Hambarsonian explains. The Informatica-based data integration project, he adds, "enriches that financial information with pretty much everything that source systems have in the way of policy information. The possibilities are endless now, in terms of being able to make such queries as, 'OK, I know what my revenue is, but now cut it 100,000 ways.'"

The technology solution is based on Informatica's PowerCenter data integration platform, along with its mainframe-connectivity tool PowerConnect. "We were influenced to choose the Informatica solution by the number of different platforms we had to deal with, on top of the complexity of having to fit all of the data into one model and then move it," Hambarsonian says. "We had one central point where we could code everything in Informatica, and it let us draw from such diverse platforms as VSAM [virtual storage access method] data sets, Sybase [Dublin, Calif.], Oracle [Redwood Shores, Calif.] and [IBM's] DB2."

End-to-End Vision

The effort, which began in autumn 2002, took a little over a year and consumed more than 80,000 man-hours. "We evaluated 78,000 elements from all 26 of the sources and consolidated them into 11,000 fields in our Merlin database. For bringing in the data, we did over 3,500 ETL [extract, transform and load] mappings," Abraham says. "We have six terabytes total space in the warehouse, which contains over 10 years of historical information about policies and claims, giving us an end-to-end vision of our company."

The key benefit of the solution is "making the data available to both top management and our actuaries to perform historical analysis to make decisions about reserving and the pricing of our products," Abraham says. "In the past they had to write their own routines to extract the information."

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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