PMSC Insures Itself Against Market Shifts with NT Package

Re-building a Windows NT version of an AS/400 application can be an excruciating process. Switching the underlying database can be downright scary. However, a large insurance systems vendor has proven that it can be done on both counts. Policy Management Systems Corp. (PMSC, Columbia, S.C.) has begun shipping an NT/SQL version of Point+, its large-scale enterprise insurance application, formerly only available on AS/400.

Point+ for Windows NT was re-generated using Obsydian for Windows NT/BackOffice generator, a development platform from Synon Corp. (Larkspur, Calif.). Synon also offers generators for producing client/server, Unix and Java code.

Point+ is an integrated processing system for automating policy administration for property and casualty insurance companies. Six out of 10 PMSC customers now request Windows NT applications, according to Bruce Van Hutten, assistant VP for PMSC. The most likely NT customers are "smaller companies that only know the PC environment," he adds. PMSC plans to launch Windows NT versions of four other products this year as well.

PMSC planned for such platform flexibility before Windows NT began to take root in the enterprise, Van Hutten relates. The company began building products with Obsydian in 1995. "We didn't want to go code specific for OS/400 or Unix," he relates. "We needed something that would insulate us from technology changes." PMSC's Point product was originally offered in a green screen format, and was later regenerated for client/server, with a Windows GUI interface to DB2/400 data. The product was regenerated for Windows NT earlier this year.

The actual code regeneration itself was the easy part, Van Hutten says. "We already had [the application code] built outside of the AS/400 in a tool environment," he says. However, differences in hardware and operating systems result in a different product. "There's a big difference between running on a 64-bit AS/400 versus on an Intel-based chip," Van Hutten explains. "We have some deployment issues and learning curves. With the AS/400, the operating system, database, hardware, are all from one vendor and packaged together. In NT environments, everything's from different vendors." To address these issues, PMSC is sponsoring Microsoft training for its 4,000 technical and professional services personnel over the next 12 months.

As Windows NT becomes a greater part of heterogeneous environments along with OS/400 and Unix, developers face the challenge of adapting to a new platform. The Obsydian for Windows NT BackOffice generator "provides the developer the ability to deploy applications without the need to know the intricacies of NT," says Julia Fasick, Obsydian development manager with Synon. One complex area is communications. "If a developer is familiar with APPC but not TCP/IP, working with and learning Microsoft RPC or SNA server is not a trivial task." Databases represent another challenge. While the AS/400 only has one database (DB2/400), "there are many third-party databases for NT, such as Microsoft's SQL Server and Oracle 8.0," adds Mark Knowles, senior software engineer for Synon. "Each of these databases have their own ways of getting the job done."