Farm Bureau Insurance of Michigan is a multi-line insurance company serving the residents of Michigan since 1949, and has 2,000 employees, agents and staff throughout the state. Farm Bureau Insurance was faced with two problematic situations â a legacy mainframe-based customer inquiry system and the need to provide access to mainframe data from browser-based applications â when they selected GT Softwareâs solution set.
What started out as a project to modernize a mainframe-based inquiry system evolved into the full-scale Customer Center that now serves 1,500 users. In the process, some 150 mainframe âgreen screensâ have been updated with graphical user interfaces making the system more effective for agents and home office customer service to address customer needs.
While the majority of data and information resided on the mainframe, more and more critical data â especially claims â was housed in SQL. Farm Bureau Insurance wanted to integrate these environments into a seamless graphical user interface delivered in the browser. The staff had extensive COBOL programming knowledge, and needed a tool that they could use to write non-COBOL applications without having to become experts in .NET or Java.
Although the initial goal for modernizing the customer inquiry system was to put a GUI on the back-end mainframe systems, senior programmer/analyst Steve Dietz related, âThe ability to truly integrate our disparate systems was a key benefit of Ivory. We can do SQL calls off-platform and then use Ivory to do COBOL calls on the mainframe. It allows us to actually extend our systems, not just put a GUI in front of a green screen.â As a result Farm Bureau Insurance was able to significantly improve its inquiry system with the seamless addition of SQL data into the application.
Ivory also enabled Farm Bureau Insurance to integrate its billing administration system, so that all payments that are processed in the agent office are processed through the Customer Center. âThe system keeps a log, allows the agent to easily balance payments, do deposits, and so on. Itâs been very well accepted,â said Dietz, âand since the agents themselves can do the processing, we are processing lien holder changes much faster now. That has a positive impact on our customer service.â
Farm Bureau Insuranceâs use of Ivory to integrate its mainframe systems and resources has grown continuously since its initial adoption. âThe product grew with our needs, and has continued to grow over the years weâve used it. GT Software has listened and been very responsive,â concluded Dietz.
The challenge to provide data access to browser-based applications had become critical. Farm Bureau Insurance was using the Websphere platform to deploy its homeowners quote system. The legacy mainframe had critical rating algorithms and policy data that would continue to reside on the mainframe in their native formats. Farm Bureau Insurance needed to access them using Java applications, and WebSphere enabled them to do so.
According to Farm Bureau Insurance application architect Tom Dillman, âIt ended up that every major release of WebSphere required a complete re-write of the interface points, on either the server or the development side, which meant significant infrastructure changes architecturally, in terms of programming. It was like having to redo all the plumbing in a house every time you wanted to repaint the walls. As a result, we ended up delaying releases of the quote system.â
Farm Bureau Insurance began to look for a tool that would enable them to do the âplumbing overhaulâ of the WebSphere-based quote system. That is when Farm Bureau Insurance began using Ivory Data Access from GT Software.
For the quote system, âIvory Data Access allowed us to make calls to the mainframe as if using SQL, where they would appear as tables or stored processes,â explained Dillman. âThe tool enabled us to build a framework to keep the business programmers from having to know how to code calls and parse results. They just had to make a call to a âblack box,â which would go to Ivory Data Access, and from there be passed to the mainframe, which would perform the interaction, then return the result to the business programmer.â
This approach enabled Farm Bureau Insurance to retool existing applications to operate in a new loosely coupled environment where it could easily incorporate new releases from WebSphere. As beneficial as it was, this was just a taste of what Farm Bureau Insurance would ultimately be able to accomplish with Ivory.
âThe implementation of Ivory at Farm Bureau Insurance is a prime example of how companies today are able to efficiently leverage existing systems within their technical infrastructure,â commented Rob Morris, senior vice president of marketing and strategy for GT Software. âPlus, it further substantiates that there is a growing need for a technology solution like Ivory that gives companies the ability maximize the investment in their mainframe, yet enable users to have a full scope of access through a more intuitive portal-type graphical user interface.â