Blue Cross & Blue Shield
Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island beats Y2K deadline
A Y2K problem without a solution
led to the development of an innovative customer service application in
less than a year at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI).
The new customer service system
is based on an internally developed architecture that Keane Inc. Innovator
Awards judges lauded as modular and flexible enough to easily allow for
system upgrades and the incorporation of new technology. Failure to complete
the project — and to eliminate potential Y2K problems — could have caused
serious problems for BCBSRI.
An important objective for the
architecture's creators, according to Jeff Meyer, director of strategic
development at the Providence-based insurer, was to ensure that it retained
the interface of the older system while "we changed everything under the
covers." It was important that the development team extend the "look and
feel" of the older system to the new one, to allow the insurer's customer
service representatives to use the system without special (and costly)
training classes. And, he said, the new architecture had to support extensions
to the World Wide Web.
build a modular customer service system to replace a non-Y2K-compliant
system by September 1999.
Y2K issues; allows for extending to the Internet.
Windows NT Server, Windows 98/95 clients
The decision to build a new customer
service system, a mission-critical application that monitors and records
communications with policy holders, was made in mid-1998 when IT officials
determined that the existing proprietary system could not be made Y2K
compliant. The insurer's first move was to seek out proposals from suppliers
of packaged customer service/ CRM systems, but that plan was quickly scratched
when "the costs would have been far higher than expected," Meyer said.
Those projected $1 million-plus costs included the price of the app itself
and the cost of integrating that software with the installed proprietary
BCBSRI claims system, he said.
The unit then decided to build
the system using the PowerBuilder development toolset and Version 3.0
of the Enterprise Application Server (aka Jaguar) from Sybase Inc. A variety
of other tools were also used to help build a three-tier system that would
allow a variety of thin clients to use business logic sitting in the middle
tier on EAServer and distributed PowerBuilder components.
Sybase EAServer, Sybase PowerBuilder,
Meyer said his unit chose the
Sybase tools and application server because of its experience with PowerBuilder.
The project was vital, he said, and "we didn't want to have to introduce
another skill set" to the developers. The Sybase application server was
selected for its tight integration with PowerBuilder, which offered the
promise of a familiar environment to build components, whose logic could
be automatically deployed to the Windows NT-based EAServer, where it could
be integrated with data residing on the BCBSRI mainframe. The tight integration
between PowerBuilder and EAServer also promised that the new system could
be extended to the Internet, Meyer said.
Once an architecture was designed
internally and a development plan began to form by Thanksgiving 1998,
the team brought in consultants from the Middleware Consulting Group,
Walpole, Mass., to assess and validate the blueprint. That assessment
was completed and the plan validated by consultants by the end of 1998,
with internal work on the project beginning in January 1999, Meyer said.
A team from Middleware Consulting
Group then stayed on to help BCBSRI's internal developers build the system,
Meyer said. The newly developed intranet application was deployed on July
1, 1999. The IT unit moved to gradually phase in the system to 10 workstations
a week to ensure its stability and scalability, and to give developers
time to more easily react to installation and implementation issues, said
Meyer. By September 1, the Blue Ribbon 2000 application was available
to more than 100 Windows 98-based clients. Since then, the customer service
unit has averaged about 1,800 daily calls and more than 20,000 transactions
a day over the system.
Jeffrey Meyer (pictured)
The project team included five
full-time developers using RAD techniques, a project manager and a part-time
technical architect. The group utilized a technical expert from the consulting
group to provide additional support to ensure that the architecture would
support the new application and planned enhancements.
To ensure that features could
be added as needed, the architecture's modular and flexible design allowed
for modules of specific functionality to be implemented quickly as needed.
Developers used the HOW component development and deployment environment
from Riverton Corp., Burlington, Mass., to map out the component architecture
and to generate objects and skeleton code.
As hoped, Meyer said the new three-tier
architecture allows IT developers to reuse the new systems logic, and
ensures that middle tier (EAServer) app information is consistent across
Meyer noted that BCBSRI
has already built a Web-based customer service app — described as
a "portal for members" — that leverages the new architecture. "We
hear about companies spending millions to enable customer service on the
Internet. We'll be doing it for a lot less," he said.
— Michael W. Bucken
Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island's new customer service system
has already realized an ROI of $500,000, boosts in user productivity,
significant strides in system performance and increased data accuracy.
The development team adhered
to a phased-rollout approach, Rapid Application Development Methodology,
used several productivity tools and techniques, as well as performance
monitoring tools and heavy user involvement to ensure the quality
of the system throughout its life cycle. Despite a delay, the project
met its target dates.
We were impressed by the
decision to closely duplicate the user interface of the old system,
which minimized the need for user training and improved user acceptance
of the new system.
BCBSRI also had the foresight
to call in a technical consultant to assist in the planning of the
architecture and to ensure support for system growth in the future.
The team has begun a follow-on project to explore the possibilities
the Web has to offer.
BCBSRI's new customer service
system embraces many of the new technologies available in today's
fast-paced IT environments and leverages the investment in legacy
systems, including an IBM mainframe and IMS and DB2 applications.
The integration, power and scalability of their solution is truly
Daniel Suppin, director of frameworks development
Judy Meadows, senior principal consultant in Keane's corporate project
management service organization; and Ann Schmenk, principal consultant
with Keane's methodology development group