In-Depth

Catalysis and UML

USAA, San Antonio, Texas, is a $50 billion automobile and property insurer. Under the USAA umbrella are a number of bank, life insurance and mutual fund companies. USAA's specific market is active duty and retired military and their families, with a total of 3 million members.

In an effort to ensure a higher close rate on people calling about life insurance, USAA commissioned ITCO, a separate USAA firm, to build a life insurance application.

According to Pat O'Bryant, I/T systems analyst at ITCO, the new application will run on a Microsoft Windows-based client and will acquire personal information about customers. That data will then interface to DB2 on the mainframe.

For the client desktop piece, ITCO chose UML and the Catalysis method to create a system design for the development team. O'Bryant said a proprietary methodology, which left many unanswered analysis questions, was used on previous projects. "We needed a more precise method so that the developer would know the requirements of the system before building [it]," he said.

Both Catalysis and UML presented a definite learning curve. "A lot of us are from the mainframe world, trying to grasp the power and concepts of objects," O'Bryant explained. A consultant was brought in to help with the methodology. "Training courses helped a lot, and we all have a copy of UML Distilled, a book by Martin Fowler with Kendall Scott, on our desks.

"We opted to use UML only because the consultant we brought in advocated that it would provide good precision," admitted O'Bryant. It is too soon for O'Bryant to say whether or not there are ambiguities or problem areas in using UML, although the benefits have been obvious. He is pleased with the precision UML has delivered. "UML is also particularly helpful in communicating system requirements to developers who are not involved in the analysis phase," he added.

The project's first deliverable, a class model, has been forwarded to the development team. "We used interaction diagrams with class models to define object classes and to spec the effect of the method," said O'Bryant.

It is hoped that the move to object-oriented development will create reuse at the firm. "Time will tell, but so far this project has been much more extensible," he said.

O'Bryant's group is now looking for the right repository tool. A lot of this application has used Visual Basic components, so O'Bryant is certain that the Microsoft Repository will be looked at.

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