Working For The Benefit Of All

The HP 3000 Proves it's A-Live at Deserets Mutual BenefitAdministratorsGeorge A. Thompsono called "venerable technologies" in thecomputer industry come and go so quickly that the words have since lost all meaning. Sowhen a technology demonstrates not only staying power but manages to keep up-to-date, it'snothing short of astonishing. It's hard to think of another computer platform (now almostthirty years old) with that kind of longevity. Yes, with a zealous, some might sayfanatical, installed base, the HP 3000 remains if not a cash cow for HP, something of a"sacred cow" for its dedicated, loyal users.

Just as the role of IBM's AS/400 within large corporations has been redefined in thesever-centric world at the end of the 20th century, the role of the HP 3000 has beenredefined. But the HP 3000 has uniquely fulfilled its niche inside smaller- tomedium-sized companies, especially since the demise of Digital Equipment.

Semi-Precious Processing

So, when IT managers speak of the HP 3000 as "running the crown jewels of theirorganization," it's not mere hyperbole. And that accurately describes the situationfor David Lewis, CIO at Deseret Mutual Benefits Administrators (Salt Lake City, Utah), ahealth claims processing company, which has been in business for 22 years. "We'vebeen an HP shop for at least ten," according to Lewis.

Deseret's overall configuration (see diagram on page 34) consists of a single HP 3000995/200 running the production work and one HP 3000 937 which is used for development andtesting. There are also Novell NetWare and NT LANs "generally running on Compaqhardware." Lewis also notes that "we have a HP 9000 G40 running a FileNetimaging application that maintains images of claims as well as enrollment documents. Butby far, it's the Amisys (acquired by healthcare information systems specialist, HBOC, inJune, 1997) medical claims processing system on the HP 3000 that is the most preciousjewel in the crown for Lewis. "It maintains the enrollment information for all of theparticipants [or clients] which we serve."

Processing a half-million claims a year, the HBOC/Amisys application runs on top of anImage database (native to the HP 3000). "It's a very solid database. We've never lostany data. We are very happy about that." And with good reason -- the system holdsinformation on 120,000 lives [or records], according to Lewis. But that's just thebeginning of the story. Like every company these days, Lewis wanted to create a Web sitefor Deseret's participants. But unlike many existing corporate Web sites posting staticinformation like corporate information, handbooks or explanations, Lewis emphasizes thatthe Deseret Web site ( was not driven by marketing considerations. "Wewanted to provide something that's going to go beyond that."

Deseret Mutual has three primary customer or client groups, explains Lewis. "Firstis the group of 'Employers,' the HR/Benefit departments of the companies we serve; thesecond group is the 'Insureds,' the participants in the benefit plan; and the third groupare the 'Providers,' those that provide services, like hospitals and physicians. We wantedto address the needs of each group."

Early on, according to Lewis, there were three initial design objectives: 1. It had tooperate on any browser. "We designed using HTML, for the lowest common denominator.We didn't want our Insureds who were dialing in from home to have a certain level ofbrowser to have functionality. 2. Fast load times. "Many of the Insureds [use]modems, so we designed with minimal, but hopefully pleasing, graphics" 3. Directaccess to the LIVE data. "This was the issue at stake for HP 3000 and Imagedatabase."

But Lewis faced an all too common problem: in Web environments, there were not verymany tools available to access data in Image, a flat file database. "They were justnot as available as those for Oracle, Sybase and SQL Server." However, Lewis didn'twant to do what many others have already done when faced with providing access toproduction data -- take an extracted subset of the production data, put it into a datawarehouse and point their Web access tools to that subset.

Alternative Access

After looking at "several alternatives," Lewis chose M.B. Foster's DataExpress with ODBCLink. ODBCLink provides direct access to Deseret's Image database."We've designed the Web page to go straight to the live Image data. For instance, ifthe processor has just finished processing my medical claim five minutes ago, I look upthe status of the claim, and I immediately see whether its paid or tagged for furtherinformation.

But Lewis stresses that the HP 3000 is not the Web server, which actually consists ofMicrosoft NT 4.0 running Internet Information Server (IIS) 4.0. A "listener"portion of ODBCLink software, running on the HP 3000, works together with its clientequivalent, running on the NT server, according to Doug Jepson, Webmaster at Deseret.

The Web site has been operating since March 1998, "with several pieces offunctionality added since then," says Lewis. "Most of the useable things arebehind a secure screen which requires a social security number and personal identificationnumber (PIN)."

This gives all of Deseret's "Insureds" secure access to their medical files24 hours a day as well as an opportunity to submit e-mail questions to customer servicerepresentatives. Previously, customers would call a customer service rep (a service that'sstill offered).

Although associated costs of Deseret's Interactive Voice Response System are expectedto decrease over time, e-mail volume (as of early December) has not been especially highcompared to hundreds of phone calls that are still received. But the site is stillrelatively new with an "ongoing shakeout still in progress. When [volume] got toohigh, we had some concerns about the ODBCLink."

Voluminous Stress

Regarding the volume, Lewis admits that stress testing tools on the server revealed thedifficulties, specifically when multithreading accesses to the database. And, Lewis alsopoints out; "there were problems with IIS server too." But those problems havesince been resolved to his satisfaction. Now Lewis and his team are thinking about thefuture.

"We anticipate doing more; [for example], an Employer would be able to look ateligibility information for their own employees. They are currently able to look uppremium rates based upon a set of codes and criteria. Another area is for the Providers,where they can check patient availability by entering the patient or contract holder'ssocial security number and date-of-birth of the insured or one of the dependents and wewill relay what kind of coverage that individual has."

Because of the uptime requirements of their business, Lewis maintains an emergencyoperations center in West Jordan, Utah, which is 20 miles away from the Salt Lakeheadquarters. "Currently, we have a contract with HP for recovery processing (on anHP 3000) using HP's facility in Seattle, Washington. If we have problems, we can take itthere using the HP 3000." Asked, if there was ever a need for disaster recovery,Lewis says, "We've not had to execute during a disaster, but we [do run tests] and itall works great."