In the wake of an aggressive growth phase, Nationwide Insurance ($160 billion in total assets) discovered that its finance division was bogging down in disparate, inefficient and sometimes manual processes. "By 2004 we had 14 general ledgers, 20 charts of accounts, 17 financial data repositories, 12 reporting systems and an estimated 300,000 spreadsheets," explains Vikas Gopal, assistant VP of enterprise financial applications for the Columbus, Ohio-based carrier.
Along with business partner Deloitte (New York), Nationwide formed a combined IT and finance team in late 2004 to undertake a data management consolidation initiative dubbed "FOCUS" (Faster, Online, Customer-driven, User-friendly, Streamlined). During the initial six months of the project, Nationwide created a set of data standards, or master data definitions, that permit translating local financial data into a uniform, enterprise-level "golden copy" repository, according to Gopal.
Next, in 2005, the team selected technologies and constructed a scalable prototype. "We're a Sun [Santa Clara, Calif.] Solaris shop," explains Gopal. "So Sun infrastructure formed the foundation. Then we evaluated vendors and plugged in selected components until the prototype was a fully operational production model, which proved that the pieces worked together."
Although Nationwide used best practices to rank technologies, cultural familiarity received additional gravitas. "Once you've been a PeopleSoft shop for 10 years, the discussion becomes: What's the probability of success if we introduce a totally new platform?" Gopal asserts. As a result, the winning vendors already had established footprints within Nationwide: Oracle's (Redwood Shores, Calif.) PeopleSoft for enterprise resource planning; Teradata (Dayton, Ohio) for data warehousing; Infomatica (Redwood City, Calif.) for ETL (extract, transform, load); and Oracle's Hyperion for reporting.
There was a notable exception, however. The golden copy concept required metadata and reference data repositories to span the entire architecture to ensure that changes would propagate enterprisewide. As the ETL tool, Infomatica solved the metadata problem. But reference data required another solution. "MDM [master data management] was new for us," says Gopal. "Plus, the space wasn't very mature then, which made interoperability a key selection factor." The team chose Kalido's (Burlington, Mass.) information management engine largely on the promise that its prebuilt adaptors would interface seamlessly with source systems, Gopal notes.
The most significant IT issue was scalability, Gopal relates. "The prototype was a small sandbox environment," he says. "Early on we were concerned about how well the architecture would scale. So we worked with Teradata ... to build out its high-performance pipes."
To facilitate user acceptance, Nationwide held frequent discussions and developed formal training courses. The focus, Gopal says, was assuring employees that automation would free them from data jockeying to concentrate on intellectual tasks.
Due to the detailed advance work, the rollout was accomplished in three unremarkable waves from October through September 2006, Gopal recalls. Today, the majority of Nationwide's business units are using the FOCUS platform, he says; some smaller acquired companies will be converted over time.
Overall, the new system has improved regulatory compliance and achieved all consolidation goals, Gopal reports. "Going forward, a consistent platform gives us the agility to remain competitive in the marketplace," he says.
Nationwide (Columbus, Ohio; $160 billion in total assets)
Lines of business:
Property, casualty, life and annuities
Kalido's (Burlington, Mass.) information management engine as part of a data warehousing and master data management initiative
Consolidate disparate systems and automate manual processes to streamline finance division operations
Anne Rawland Gabriel is a technology writer and marketing communications consultant based in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. Among other projects, she's a regular contributor to UBM Tech's Bank Systems & Technology, Insurance & Technology and Wall Street & Technology ... View Full Bio