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The Road to Enterprise Integration: I&T Talks to AFLAC’s David Turner.

Ensuring the highest levels of customer service in the high-volume supplemental insurance business requires a robust, integrated technology infrastructure. David Turner, vice president, advanced technology group, AFLAC tells Insurance & Technology how the Columbia, Ga.-based insurer has worked toward the ideal of the integrated enterprise to ensure superior claims service and reduce costs while serving nearly 290,000 U.S. payroll groups.

I&T: What governance model is in place at AFLAC, and what governance bodies or project management functions have been created or augmented to support the journey to being a more fully integrated enterprise?

Turner: Our PMO (project management office) has defined and implemented a successful IT project governance process. Our governance process requires project initiation requests to state information that our steering group (U.S. Steering Committee or USSC) needs to evaluate to approve or disapprove moving forward. The information is related to factors such as ROI, risks, schedule, and impact. The USSC revisits the project for a second look "go/no-go" once requirements are complete. The USSC consists of the business unit division heads and the Executive VP of Operations. Program offices in the various business units manage the staff performing the business process engineering discipline (BPE). The BPE work product is used to provide the transformation roadmaps. These roadmaps are the basis of project portfolios that are formulated to achieve the desired end business states. The various program offices are governed by the division heads. I&T: What are important guiding principles to make sure efforts are properly coordinated, avoiding such troubles as redundant systems and system incompatibilities?

Turner: In IT we created an integration competency center organization, or ICC. Since integration means growing complexity in the middleware over the legacy systems, this organization sets the architectures, the design and solution patterns. They own and execute the integration development methodology. They define and maintain the meta-data model of the middleware. They define and maintain the integration reuse repository. This organization is critical to success of enterprise integration. They manage the adoption of new integration technology into the enterprise. They have well-defined methods to understand and adapt to the impact of the new technology on the infrastructure and organizations. They provide for prototyping technologies against real business problems. They work with the mainstream development staff to take proven solutions into production. They ensure that the mainstream development organization staff are adequately trained and skilled to support moving forward. Within the defined software development process, when a solution is identified to require application integration, the ICC becomes the funnel point for system architecture and system design.

I&T: What are pitfalls in a process such as this, and how would you advise senior technology executives on how to avoid them?

Turner: You must have a sound enterprise application architecture. You must have strong IT governance. An organization such as the ICC described above improves the outlook for success. This is because the ICC owns integration architecture, integration development methodology, integration technology adoption, the enterprise meta-data repository, and the integration component reuse repository. Strong SI partners can provide staff augmentation and help adapt IT to the new technologies. The greatest need is to manage expectations until integration efforts start to show ROI.

I&T: What portfolio/program management software do you use?

Turner: We have an in-house developed package we call ASP, or Application System Portfolio. It integrates with many systems including our project management, SCM (software change management), system documentation, and problem management system to provide a comprehensive view for portfolio management.

I&T: How is AFLAC addressing the legacy system issue in its movement to enterprise integration?

Turner: First, we use EAI technologies to support leveraging STP over the current capability of our legacy systems. Where legacy systems need re-factoring to provide service access to middleware in support of improved STP opportunities, projects will be defined and executed to re-architect and rebuild them for these purposes. Over time, using this gradual iterative approach (provide value - re-factor - provide value), legacy-side applications will come to be viewed as data servers (as more and more business logic is moved into the middleware).

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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