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NFS Standardizes Reporting on WebFOCUS

Nationwide Financial moves to consolidate enterprise operational reporting onto a single platform, leveraging the latest release of Information Builders' WebFOCUS.

Eyeing the benefits of increased user self-service, decreased IT involvement and streamlined maintenance, Nationwide Financial Services (NFS; $119.2 billion in assets), a division of Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., has begun the process of moving away from multiple reporting platforms acquired over the years to a single, centrally maintained, browser-based platform. The carrier has chosen to standardize the reporting function on Information Builders' WebFOCUS solution, expanding its existing implementation.

In Columbus, Ohio-based NFS's current reporting environment, users typically have relied on IT to build reports and have faced challenges in accessing needed data, resulting in both time and cost challenges, according to P. Bhasker, NFS's CTO. "We have a wide variety of tools and have actually built custom reports in COBOL and third-generation languages," he relates. "Our costs to maintain them are extremely high, so over time our goal is to move those reports over to WebFOCUS and essentially sunset the other reporting tools."

Those tools were running on different servers, which were spread in different environments, and accessing different data repositories, Bhasker reports, noting that this complicated maintenance. "By bringing all of our reporting into one infrastructure, we're able to provide the necessary staffing to respond to all our users in a timely fashion," he says.

NFS decided in early 2007 to standardize reporting on the newest release of WebFOCUS and signed a contract with New York-based Information Builders in the first quarter of 2007, according to Bhasker. Among the new release's features that shaped the decision, he reports, were the application's capability to serve as a single operational reporting tool drawing from disparate data sources, such as Oracle (Redwood Shores, Calif.) and Microsoft (Redmond, Wash.) SQL Server; user functionality, such as sorting, filtering and charting; comprehensive output formatting, for example, in Excel or PDF files; accelerated report development and customization, including parameterized reports; and active management of resource usage for distributed reports, using ReportCaster.

The solution responds to internal user demand to access reports via Web browser and gives users the ability to create some reports without IT's help, Bhasker says. And centralized IT control makes maintaining the tool and the reports it generates easier, faster and cheaper, he adds, while conserving a federated distribution of access to the various areas with reporting needs.

Bhasker's IT organization already has migrated all the reports from the previous, limited WebFOCUS installation into the upgraded tool, which has been deployed within what Bhasker calls a "hardened" infrastructure. "We have a three-tier model, with appropriate firewalls between them," he explains. "We have application servers, Web servers and reporting servers, as well as the various repositories we go to, and a reporting database."

Use of WebFOCUS will be strictly internal in the near term, Bhasker relates, but the carrier plans to provide access to external users eventually. "Today one of our sister organizations — Nationwide Better Health — leverages the same infrastructure, and they have their reports externally facing, accessible through the Internet," Bhasker remarks.

Bhasker's team also has built new reports in WebFOCUS for business areas that formerly used other tools. "Within the next few months, we will have a huge set of reports going out to support our operational areas in our retirement plans public sector business," he comments.

Cultural Challenges

Over the next two to three years, NFS plans to sunset its remaining legacy reporting platforms and complete the process of standardizing on WebFOCUS, Bhasker continues. But, he says, he is wary of projecting a precise finish date owing in part to adoption challenges. "Some teams have a bias with regard to the platforms they have traditionally used and the reports that they've already built," Bhasker explains. "Part of the challenge, then, is being able to influence and change that thinking."

Bhasker also cites the need to retain some flexibility in technology investment and project planning. "There are multiple, changing demands to meet the needs of our business," he says. "Both the business and IT determine priorities every year."

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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