Java keys next-generation development at Fireman's Fund Insurance

COMPANY: Fireman's Fund Insurance Co.
PURPOSE: To enable independent and company insurance agents to automatically provide quotes for personal automobile insurance policies

APPLICATION: AutoQuote -- The personal lines division of Fireman's Fund Insurance Co., long a traditional IBM mainframe operation, has successfully built a Java-based three-tier architecture to host its next generation of enterprise applications. The first application built for the new platform is called AutoQuote.>/P>

Bill Paukovitz, assistant vice president at the San Francisco-based personal systems unit of Fireman's Fund, said the new platform is part of a "strategic priority to replace the process systems, some of which are close to 30 years old. Those had become very inefficient, so we wanted a system that could develop in a modular way. We knew we could become more responsive to business needs if we didn't have to focus on one piece at a time."

The AutoQuote application was built in parallel with the creation of the architecture to ensure that the platform could support all the future personal applications planned by the insurance giant, explained Paukovitz.

Following a product and architecture evaluation process that started in April 1997, work on a prototype system commenced in August 1997. The prototype was completed and approved two months later, and the pilot was put into production in April 1998. "The system is now running in 12 states and we're adding three to four [states] a quarter," Paukovitz said.

He said the unit still expects the application to engender the development unit to record savings of $100,000 during the first year. The system has already boosted user productivity by 25% compared to the use of the manual system it replaced, he said. Once the system is installed in all 50 states, Paukovitz said the unit estimates that distribution costs will be cut by $200,000 a year as new releases of the application become instantly available to users.

Paukovitz said his unit decided to utilize object technology and evaluated several options before deciding to continue along its IBM roots. The new system leverages many long-installed hardware and software systems, while offering users the ability to run multiple client OSs, including Microsoft Windows, and support for extending applications to the Internet.

The three-tier system incorporates existing Fireman's Fund IBM MVS/XA-based System/390 mainframes, and application server and desktop systems running OS/2 Warp and OS/2 1.14 JVM, all running the IBM DB2 relational database management system. The client systems can run most desktop operating systems, including Microsoft Windows and OS/2. The System/390 provides mainframe-based business logic for functionality and data storage; the OS/2-based application servers perform limited business functions like editing and utilities; and the OS/2- and Windows-based thin clients sit on the user desktop and include no resident business logic.

Development standards include IBM's MQSeries and CICS middleware, and the VisualAge for Java development toolset. Fireman's Fund developers used VisualAge for Java to build the middle platform tier.

By using installed systems, developers of the AutoQuote System could focus on building the GUI and middle-tier processing, and utilize business logic in the older applications for policy rating, customer look-up, billing calculation and policy data-retrieval processes.

The other options evaluated, including the use of Lotus Notes as the front end, were rejected in the belief that none was robust enough for the unit's aggressive development plans, added Paukovitz.

The AutoQuote system, which enables independent and Fireman's Fund insurance agents to provide quotes for personal automobile insurance policies, can be used by agents running Microsoft Windows-based laptops via Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator World Wide Web browsers. The system was developed with input from the business systems analysts that regularly communicate with field agents. Paukovitz noted that based on feedback from the analysts, his team rejected a proposal to build a thin client with an HTML application because of fears it would lack power. Thus the unit turned to Java, he said.

After a year in production, Paukovitz said the consistency of policy price quotes improved markedly because the new application uses the same rating tables and algorithms for all policies. The new system has also added "what-if" capabilities that allow agents to seek alternative pricing structures based on a variety of rating scenarios. For the AutoQuote project, the 13-person development team used an informal methodology based on a prototyping metaphor, said Paukovitz. The process allowed for user input during each phase of the project. Developers also utilized an informal project management method, which worked because tasks were mostly predefined and the group worked well together, Paukovitz said.

The team included mostly veteran Fireman's Fund developers, so an IBM consultant was brought in to train the group in Java technology and development practices. Paukovitz said the group was fully productive in Java after a week of training.

Developer productivity during the AutoQuote project increased by 50% vs. traditional programming efforts, Paukovitz said, due to the use of Java and the VisualAge for Java toolset. The ability of the application to isolate business functionality from the technology has made the software easier to maintain than traditional Fireman's Fund applications, he added. The system is also expected to make further extensions to the Internet relatively easy. Immediate plans call for reusing business model objects and middle-tier service objects to build a kiosk-like interface.

The unit expects development cost savings due to improved productivity, as well as reuse of objects and existing mainframe business logic. In addition, Paukovitz estimates that the new application's maintenance costs are about 30% less than those for the older mainframe software.

-- Michael W. Bucken

TEAM

Kathy Cenci

David Volk

Lourdes Look

Myron Randall

Rick Alvarez

Mike Knibbs

Michael Beeson

Gabe Pirenian

Nancy Sorge

BENEFITS:
Increases the speed of, and reduces the cost of, issuing software releases to agents and offices throughout the United States. Automates a previously manual process

TOOLS:
Development Tools: IBM VisualAge for Java; Databases: DB2; Middleware: IBM MQSeries, CICS


PLATFORMS:
MVS/XA, OS/2 and Windows

Keane Report:

The AutoQuote system built by the Personal Lines Division of the Fireman's Fund Insurance Company was the top project in this category for its innovation, architectural approach and business benefit.

This innovative project initiated a new IT vision for the company; a vision based on building an Internet-enabled extended enterprise with a "plug 'n play" architecture. Using this architecture, the company expects to automate manual tasks while paving a path for future applications. The AutoQuote project clearly met the cost and technology benefits pledged by its backers and the development team.

The project development team used appropriate tools, and employed training and consulting expertise to advantage on this first-time architecture project.

Team Members: Sreedevi Kanna, Mihaela Popescu and Davio Shumpert

About the Author

Mike Bucken is former Editor-in-Chief of Application Development Trends magazine.

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