VM:Webgateway Insures Timely and Cost-Effective Information Delivery

Lafayette Life Insurance Company was founded in Indiana in 1905 with a mission to provide the best insurance protection at the lowest reasonable cost. Today, just a few years short of its 100th anniversary, Lafayette Life has forged a well-defined presence in the insurance industry, expanding to 48 states and the District of Columbia.

With over $9.5 billion of insurance in force and assets in excess of $655 million, the company has flourished despite two World Wars, a depression, the stock market crash, and, most recently, various global health crises. Although life insurance remains a large part of its identity, Lafayette Life today offers a broad range of financial and insurance planning services, including estate planning, trusts, annuities, retirement income, pension or profit sharing plans and cash accumulation.

To keep the company out in front, Lafayette Life relies on nearly 1,000 field associates, backed by a large home office staff. One of the primary responsibilities of the Information Systems (IS) staff is to provide policy information, records, forms and marketing materials to field agents and home office personnel alike.

Cutting the Cost of Delivering Online Information

"To keep pace with our agents, we must make information readily available to them," says Bob Nix, Technical Support for Lafayette Life. "In a highly competitive environment like insurance, anything we can do to reduce the cost per policy goes straight to the bottom line. In IS, we are always looking for ways to make information delivery more efficient and cost effective. That’s why we turned to the Web and VM:Webgateway from Sterling Software."

VM:Webgateway is a secure Web server that can Web-enable and Web-enhance all VM, VSE, OS/390 (MVS), and TPF applications, including full-screen applications.

Prior to using the Web, Lafayette Life’s team had already made great strides in providing forms and policy information to its agents online. The team had created a mainframe-based system called NOLAS (New On Line Administration System), which contains critical insurance information related to policies, policyholders, beneficiaries, and those insured. The team had then made NOLAS available to agents over IBM’s global network, Advantis. While the Advantis system was leagues ahead of the old manual methods of delivering information, its per-hour charges began adding up.

"With Advantis, we were paying a great deal of money per month to have lines available for our users," explains Nix. "We were racking up $6.50 an hour for every agent logged on. With our extensive group of field agents, those costs add up fast. For example, one office has four people online all day, everyday. Worse yet, they are not in an area that has a local Advantis phone number, so they dial into our 800 number. That costs us another $6 an hour for each agent. With the advent of the Internet, we realized we could save a tremendous amount of money."

Intuitive Web Interface Makes Agents More Productive

The IS department embarked on a project to make NOLAS available through the Web. "Revamping our old 3270 applications eliminated cumbersome logon procedures, cryptic function keys and messages, and cluttered display screens," says Nix.

The company realized that Web browser access to NOLAS would not only eliminate steep hourly charges for Advantis, but also improve agent productivity through the system’s friendly and intuitive new Web interface. "The agents are impressed with the new interface and its descriptive icons. Plus, everything works the same from screen to screen," he notes.

VM:Webgateway Provides the Solution

When the IS team decided to move its application to the Web, the choice of servers was an easy one. "Our decision was based on a very simple question: ‘Where is the data?’ To me, it didn’t make sense to start up a Windows NT or UNIX server when our data is already sitting on the mainframe," says Nix. Using VM was another easy decision. "VM is where we live. We are committed to it as our operating system, and everything we wanted to show the user is on VM," he notes. "Simply put, VM has carried us this far, and we see no reason to switch to anything else."

The clincher was that VM:Webgateway enabled Lafayette Life to do more than simply provide Web browser access to applications. Without modifying its full-screen applications, Lafayette Life was able to provide users with an improved, graphical application interface through HTML forms that are displayed by Web browsers. "Without VM:Webgateway, we would have had to write front ends for all of our 3270 screen programs, and it would have taken us much longer to produce the first iteration of the product. VM:Webgateway gave us the ability to work with the programs as they exist on the system and handle the 3270 data streams," explains Nix.

The conversion project was simplified with help from VM Assist, Sterling Software’s professional services partner. "The biggest challenge with lifting a 3270 application is getting to the starting point, so you can start adding color, refining buttons, and changing fields," he says. "VM Assist helped us quickly capture the HTML code and the session commands — and get the application up on the screen immediately."

Nix also appreciates the fact that VM:Webgateway is a Sterling Software product. "We have a strong customer history with Sterling, so we knew exactly what we were getting — great support and quality products," he explains. "When we receive a tape from Sterling, we know that product will work, that it will install easily, and that it will do what Sterling says it’s going to do. We don’t get surprises from Sterling. They take the time to deliver a quality product that’s right the first time."

Next Steps

With its individual insurance policy system well underway, the IS team has turned its attention to Web-enhancing its group insurance system. When the new group system is available via the Internet, client human relations departments will use their Web browsers to easily enroll or remove employees from their group policy.

Nix concludes, "Thanks to VM:Webgateway, we are able to update the look of our systems for today’s dynamic environment. The old 3270 screens look dated sitting on today’s desktop. Now, we can present a newer look and feel to our products and still retain our investment in their development and capabilities."




Linda Sowers is a freelance writer and marketing consultant with more than 16 years experience orchestrating worldwide strategic marketing programs for high-tech companies. You can reach her via e-mail at lsowers@mindspring.com.

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