Old world meets new world through Websphere.
WebSphere Application Server conforms to J2EE (Java 2, Enterprise Edition), Sun Microsoft's framework for Java development and deployment. WebSphere can run on different types of systems including Windows, mainframes and Unix systems, making it more flexible than Microsoft's .NET, said Mike Mandelbaum, chief information officer of the eBusiness Development Group of Prudential Insurance Company of America.
"Using a motor car as an analogy, it's the engine that's running in the car," Mandelbaum said. "You can carry different things in the car."
Prudential has used WebSphere to develop more than 150 different applications. By having those functions in a single environment, supported by a single support team, the company has saved money, Mandelbaum said.
Prudential also uses Microsoft's .NET. "Most big shops win have a Java development environment and also a .NET environment" Mandelbaum said.
Some said that WebSphere's main competitor is Web Logic, a system designed by BEA that also uses J2EE language and is considered similar to WebSphere, although hot as widely used among insurers. The choice between .NET and WebSphere has to do with the skills and timing of a company's developers, what systems they currently use, plus the complexity of the application and personal taste. John Kozero, a spokesman for Fireman's Fund, said while insurers may all be similar because of the nature of their business, when it comes to information technology, individual companies have their own personality and profile.
"It's like Coke or Pepsi," said Kevin Rice, enterprise architect for Allstate Insurance Group, which also uses both .NET and WebSphere." Sometimes it boils down to personal preference. There's a big debate among the communities as to which one is better. They both have strengths and weaknesses."
Microsoft's .NET tends to be more accessible' to developers at the department level and is used for departmental internet solutions, while Java deployed on IBM's WebSphere is better positioned to handle complex applications, said David Kennington, vice president of information systems for Prudential.
Prudential uses WebSphere Application Server to support its Web applications for customers of its 401(K) plans. It allows customers to access their account information, change fund allocations and exchange funds, all in a secure environment.
"The closest thing WebSphere Application Server is analogous to is a mainframe, It's the mainframe of the 21st century," Mandelbaum said. "Ten or 20 years ago, what you would have done on a mainframe, today you are doing on WebSphere."
The WebSphere software platform also includes a suite of features, including development tools, Web portals to access applications, integration of business applications, and a transaction server that allows customers, suppliers, employees and companies to conduct business processes on the Web.
It also allows insurers--both life and property/casualty companies--to connect their information-rich but outdated legacy systems to new, Web-based technology.
Allstate used a combination of WebSphere and .NET to create AccessAllstate.com which allows its independent agents to change and access customers' life insurance policy data. Some of the information is stored on systems built in the 1960s. About 25,000 producers have access to 2.5 million policies through AccessAllstate.com.
"Once a policy is on a system, we need to maintain it until a claim is made on it or until they cancel it," Rice said.
WebSphere also allows Allstate to use third-party adapters to integrate with specific applications. Or, if a third-party solution isn't available, WebSphere itself has tools that allow the company to "screen scrape," or capture data from the screen of legacy systems, said Steve Carrier, integration architect for Allstate.
Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. also uses WebSphere to connect its legacy systems to new Web technologies, as well as to run its Web applications including policy administration, claims management, policy viewing and presentation of information for agents and customers. "Recently we have expanded out use of the WebSphere suite to include the WebSphere Business Integrator, which will allow us to implement true business-process management," said David Brandeis, senior director of IT project services of Fireman's Fund.
Using WebSphere Business integration, Fireman's Fund has been able to orchestrate various components to automate and simplify different systems and applications. Like a conductor coordinating the performance in a 100-piece orchestra, WebSphere Business Integration is able to combine dozens of different process, including the legacy system, to automatically present a unified product. For instance, it is building a "dashboard" view that will allow managers to see real-time claim activity from all of the company's many business lines--including commercial property and casualty as well as homeowners and auto--at once. This single view will be possible because WebSphere eliminates the limitations of existing legacy systems, allowing the company to tap into the valuable information stored there, even if it's stored on a decades-old system that was written in an outdated computer language.
Also, Fireman's Fund is using WebSphere to build an automated first notice-of-loss system. So instead of an agent receiving a first notice of loss, then passing it along to a branch office, who records it and sends it along to the main office, all parties interested in the notice would receive it electronically. The system is being designed so third-parties, such as claims adjusters, could also tap into the system. "This will make the process and the payments faster" Kozero said.
The technology has helped Fireman's Fund access years of information related to its key business segments, Brandeis said, which has helped the company focus on its niche strategy there.
Unlike Allstate and Prudential, Fireman's Fund does not use Microsoft's .NET systems. Fireman's Fund has used WebSphere for several years. "Some carriers run both, and feel comfortable that they aren't embedded into any one camp. We are working to leverage our existing assets, and as such, we don't see a reason to change right now," Brandeis said.
EFUSION 2003 Insurance-Driven Technology
Richard Hoehne, IBM Financial Services
"Living in the WebSphere World"
Mike Redmoad, Microsoft
"Living in the .NET World
Randy Wheeler, Ritza Vaughn,
Valley Oak Systems "Living in the J2EE World" Hyatt Regency Hotel, Philadelphia Sept. 28-30, 2003, www.efusion2003.com
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|Date:||Sep 1, 2003|
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