Alaska National Insurance Company Anchors their System in the 21st Century

Alaska National Insurance Company operates as a property and casualty insurancecompany, with its principle office in Anchorage, Alaska. The company maintainsAlaska’s largest market share of workers compensation and commercial auto liabilityinsurance, and is a leading writer of other commercial lines. Alaska National also has anoffice in Seattle that specializes in multi-jurisdictional employee risk coverage.

Alaska National’s proprietary applications resided on a Wang VS, running the Wang7.21.09 operating system. Over 130 users, in both the Anchorage and Seattle offices,relied on the system for the processing of all policy, premium and claims-relatedinformation. John Ramey Sr., Vice President of Information Systems at Alaska National,describes the organization’s main concerns. "More and more users in Alaska wereleaving the Wang platform, and we were increasingly doubtful about how much longer Wangwould be available to support us. It was this uncertainty that became our driving force inthe search for a new hardware vendor."

Another issue facing Alaska National was Year 2000 compliance. The company had investeda considerable amount of time and money in customizing the COBOL system on the Wang VS,but it would have required substantial revisions to make it Y2K-compliant. "Wecontemplated purchasing a package system," says Ramey, "but felt morecomfortable staying with the system we had developed to meet our specific needs."Ramey’s goal became migrating Alaska National’s system to a reliable and stableenvironment to ensure Y2K compliance.

Finding the Solution

Alaska National’s application now resides on an IBM RS/6000 running a UNIXoperating system complete with dual Power PC processor cards. "We had to relycompletely on the migration vendor to upgrade our COBOL programs," explains Ramey."We eventually selected Unicon Conversion Technologies because they had a substantialunderstanding and in-depth working knowledge of both the Wang and the UNIXenvironment." In fact, Unicon had been specializing in Wang to Open Systemsmigrations since 1985, using its own in-house developed automated conversion software. Inaddition to migration, Unicon also performed conversions to full millenium compliance,again using its own automated tools.

Unicon converted Alaska National’s VS COBOL source code to pure ACUCOBOL withoutthe use of any proprietary middleware, such as screen drivers, file handlers or emulationsoftware. Unicon also converted the COBOL programs to full millennium compliance.Unicon’s pure solution enabled Alaska National to run its converted applications in anative Open Systems environment. More importantly, it meant that Alaska National was freeto benefit from all the features and functionality offered by ACUCOBOL and Open Systems,both now and in the future, without any restriction or ongoing dependence on a migrationvendor.

By choosing conversion to pure ACUCOBOL, Alaska National was able to retain all theinvestments made over the years in customizing existing applications, while bringing themto the forefront of Open Systems technology, all with the absolute minimum of disruptionto operations.

Premium Choice

Alaska National went live with their new system in May 1998. Ramey describes the entireprocess as "smooth." Extensive testing and exhaustive dry runs meant themigration was practically transparent to the users. He applauds Unicon and Acucorp’spatience and support, as well as their technical expertise. "The two companies havehelped us through all our issues and have seen the project through to successfulcompletion."

The updated environment, which combines both new hardware and ACUCOBOL products, hasproved a major step forward for the insurance company. "The system is incrediblyreliable and performance levels are noticeably better than with the old Wang VS,"says Ramey. "Users appreciate the quicker response time for online activity. A reportthat would have taken an hour or more to run, now only takes minutes." Programmershave also found that program compilation is nearly instantaneous. All programs can becompiled in just 15 minutes, compared to compiling overnight on the Wang.

Alaska National has begun to experiment with the different approaches to screendisplays that are possible with ACUCOBOL. "We are running as a UNIX terminalemulation and, while we don’t expect to go with a full GUI, we can use pop-up windowdisplays. Also, scrolling is significantly easier," Ramey reports. The company alsoplans to evaluate ACUCOBOL’s innovative and easy-to-use Web browser functionality,knowing that progressive technology, such as this, will be pivotal to success in the nextmillenium. Ramey concludes, "Our new system has proved very reliable; theapplications are running much faster than they did previously; productivity has increased;and we didn’t have to spend an excessive amount of money on a software product or onretraining our staff. We are delighted with the results and the work performed by bothUnicon and Acucorp – we feel more than ready to take on the next millenium!"