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SUA Establishes Hands-Off Data Center

Specialty Underwriters' Alliance leverages process automation software from Advanced Systems Concepts to establish a hands-off data center.

To keep its ultraclean, Web-enabled business model from bogging down, Chicago-based Specialty Underwriters' Alliance (SUA) needed to upgrade batch process administration. "As a 2004 startup, we built our organization around a strategy that includes a 24x7 'lights out' production data center," explains Barry Cordeiro, the specialty commercial P&C carrier's SVP and CIO. "We knew our IT systems would quickly reach a complexity level that required more-sophisticated process administration than [Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft's] Windows Scheduler or SQL scripts."

Rather than add shifts and head count to manage systems and processes, SUA ($438 million in total assets) began searching for an automation solution in mid-2006. The firm narrowed five prospective vendors down to two that it deemed appropriate for SUA's size and budget. "For consistency and quality we wanted a standardized tool instead of something we developed in-house," notes Cordeiro. "Standardizing not only streamlines work flow but also eliminates inherent knowledge-transfer gaps. So we asked both prospective vendors for trial software and evaluated each for two months on-site. We kicked the tires pretty hard because the project's leader had years of experience with enterprise scheduling systems."

Although Cordeiro says both contenders offered comparable functionality, ActiveBatch by Morristown, N.J.-based Advanced Systems Concepts won out. "Overall the vendor was more responsive, and its development road map gave us confidence that we would both arrive in the same place at the same time," remarks Cordeiro, who declines to name the other vendor. According to Advanced Systems Concepts, ActiveBatch integrates business applications, stand-alone tasks, processes and scripts to create enterprise job scheduling and event automation.

During the first three quarters of 2007, Cordeiro recalls, SUA implemented ActiveBatch uneventfully in three phases, one for each of three strategic production suites in the carrier's Windows-enabled LAN/WAN service-oriented environment. "We started with the data warehouse because it had the most intensive ETL [extract, transform and load] needs, with about 200 jobs running nightly," Cordeiro says. "Then we moved on to claims and, finally, policy systems."

Concurrently the deployment became an enterprise alignment mechanism, reports Nick Cummings, SUA's network administrator. "To achieve our efficiency goals, we used ActiveBatch to drive a production mind-set throughout the organization," he says. "For example, in IT we established 15-minute status meetings twice daily. Along with other production metrics, we review and discuss ActiveBatch reports, which the tool creates and e-mails to each of us in advance."

By mid-2008 workflows and job processes were fine-tuned sufficiently to take a somewhat unorthodox step. "I had always intended to leverage time zone and labor market efficiencies as we matured," Cordeiro says. "In this case, one of our technology consulting partners had offices in Poland, which is seven hours ahead of us. Over time we've given that team an increasing amount of authority to troubleshoot and restart errant batch processes while we are asleep."

Today SUA's local team is rarely awakened by an alert in the middle of the night. "And many job failures are resolved before we get to work in the morning," Cummings notes. "We start our day focused on current priorities instead of resolving issues from last night."

So far Cordeiro's complaints with ActiveBatch are few. "We've discussed more flexibility in creating customized reports with the vendor," he comments. "And we've asked for better change management capabilities."

Nonetheless, SUA has no regrets. "Due to ActiveBatch as an enabling tool, we're poised for growth and related complexities," states Cordeiro. "We hit the ground running every day, with our local IT talent concentrating on critical business projects. And if our complexity grows beyond the capabilities of our Eastern European technology partner, we'll seek out partners in other appropriate geographic time zones to assist. In short, ActiveBatch has definitely satisfied our needs for as far out as we can see."

case study profile

Specialty Underwriters' Alliance (SUA; Chicago; $438 million in total assets).

lines of business:
Specialty commercial property & casualty.

Advanced Systems Concepts' (Morristown, N.J.) ActiveBatch job scheduling and event automation software.

Establish a hands-off, "lights out" production data center.

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

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