In 2004, the IT team at RLI ($756 million in 2005 gross premium) was plagued with complaints about slow network performance. Underwriters -- and worse, agents -- frequently reported slow response from the carrier's line-of-business applications. Network administration and support staff would sometimes spend days isolating the source of a problem, according to Dave Edwards, director of the network team.
But the Peoria, Ill.-based specialty P&C insurer depends upon agile service to compete with larger firms, Edwards adds. It operates 30-plus remote offices, employing 175 servers, both physical and virtual, that run Web-based line-of-business applications on a Windows-based platform with an IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) AS/400 on the back end.
The network team had trouble identifying the problem because it lacked a view into the application environment, according to Edwards. At the time, the carrier's synthetic browser transactions (which only capture necessary content from URLs specified in the script) did not provide sufficient information to determine the cause of slow spikes, he explains.
So in early 2004, RLI began a search for a tool to monitor its e-commerce applications and infrastructure that would allow for distributed alerting, reporting and historical record keeping. The company narrowed the field to three vendors, inviting each to participate in a week-long proof of concept. RLI rated each on eight criteria, including completeness of monitoring and end-user-experience modeling, according to Edwards, eventually selecting Indicative Software's (Fort Collins, Colo.) system monitoring software in summer 2005. Edwards adds that RLI also liked that the solution required little end-user installation.
In fall 2005, RLI ran a pilot with the Indicative solution, which tested scripts against applications, explains Karl Flower, the carrier's director of Web services development. This allowed RLI to see that its secure sockets layer (SSL) was not set up correctly. The Indicative software identified and recorded the problem transactions, enabling RLI to reduce thousands of SSL "handshakes" per second to dozens. "We obtained a 25 percent gain in efficiency almost immediately," says Flower.
Flower declines to divulge implementation costs. According to RLI network analyst Justin Kaplan, two of the company's administrators spent less than a month on the installation, though RLI spent early 2006 "fine-tuning" the solution, he says. Just one person maintains the tool, Kaplan adds.
RLI's newfound ability to monitor both at the infrastructure and Web-services level as well as at the application level has empowered the IT team to move, in Flower's words, from "peering through a keyhole" to "opening the door and even stepping in." IT staff now can intelligently determine which pieces of applications are experiencing problems, he says.
For example, when e-submissions used to fail, problem solving by committee would be measured in days. Now, using the Indicative tool, the time frame is measured in hours, if not minutes, according to Flower. And mean time to repair (MTTR) has shrunk dramatically, he adds. The tool, Flower continues, is paying for itself both by opening up time for the IT team's other projects and by making all system users, especially agents, more productive.
The development and design team received a bonus, too. Designers now can include monitoring "hooks and handles" at the inception of a project rather than after it's been put into use, Kaplan notes, adding that such applications should run more efficiently.
Network Performance Monitoring
RLI (Peoria, Ill; $756 million in 2005 premium income).
lines of business
Specialty P&C and surety.
Indicative Software's (Fort Collins, Colo.) service delivery optimization software.
Identify and resolve recurrent Web-based line-of-business application delays.