Applied Solution: Jacada Takes Insurance Agency to the Web

It's just another example of how AS/400s can deliver "exceptional power along with reliability and security, and why it should continue to flourish in the new millenium," says Greg Reynolds, executive VP for AgencyWorks (Salt Lake City), about his company's use of the AS/400 platform as the base technology for its life insurance agency management system.

"The AS/400e 720 is the central system for our product," Reynolds adds. "It provides everything we need."

A newly formed company, AgencyWorks has tapped the AS/400e Model 720 to anchor its Agency Integrator management system, designed to provide solutions for brokerage agencies facing technological barriers.

As a matter of perspective, 18 years ago, a Managing General Agency (MGA) called Ascensus Insurance Services developed a software package running on a member of the System/3X family. This software package enabled independent agents to gain access to a portfolio of products from more than 85 carriers. More importantly, it helped Ascensus grow into the largest privately held insurance brokerage agency in the country. In 1990, Ascensus began looking for another computer to run its software package on and choose the AS/400.

With a proven software package and a market they perceived to be lagging behind, Ascensus decided to see if there was a market to sell their software products to other life insurance agencies. This led to last year's market study collaboration with AMS Services Inc. (Windsor, Conn.), a property and casualty agency automation software provider. Through this research, Ascensus discovered there was a need for automation in the life insurance industry.

"Many of the companies in the life insurance industry are well behind in technology," AgencyWorks' Reynolds says. "Our research showed that most companies did not have a high level of technical expertise."

As a result, in November 1998, AMS and Ascensus formed an alliance called AgencyWorks. The goal was simple: develop an agency automation system that would reduce the cycle time of an insurance case, maintaining carrier information and eliminating some of the redundancies between agents, MGAs and the insurance carrier. "What we found is that companies had to keep duplicating information at each step," Reynolds says. The market study showed that life insurance agencies wanted an agency management system that was easy to use, easy to install, reliable and secure. The study also found that companies did not want applications they would have to install because most of them did not have high levels of technical expertise and thought such applications would be too costly to maintain.

After analyzing the results, AgencyWorks examined a couple of options and decided the best choice was to develop a system that could use the Internet. Their goal was for agencies to be able to log onto the Internet and get all the information they needed.

When it came time to choose a platform for Agency Integrator, AgencyWorks selected IBM's AS/400e based upon market leadership, reliability and security. "We picked the AS/400e 720 because it is the most stable, secure platform available," Reynolds says.

AgencyWorks then decided to find a technical partner that could create a Graphical User Interface (GUI) that would make their system user-friendly. They decided on Client/Server Technology Inc. (CST), the Atlanta-based developer of Jacada. "The choice was obvious, CST provides the technical support and consulting we were looking for," Reynolds says. The Agency Integrator application uses Jacada to develop pure Java GUI screens that run in a virtual thin client environment. The Java screens interface with the AS/400e 720 using a secure Internet-based protocol. The GUI enables users to more intuitively interface with the application.

When using Agency Integrator, each agency/customer completes a questionnaire consisting of information about their agency. Agency Integrator analyzes the information and configures and customizes a software application for that agency. All of an agency's information, such as guidelines, carrier rates, etc., are stored on the back-end AS/400. The benefits are twofold--the agency has all its data maintained in one place and the agent has access to up-to-date information on all insurance carriers. Once the portfolios of each agency are completed and stored on the AS/400, an agency can launch applications from a Web browser.

Agency Integrator also provides term comparison software, which takes rates from all the carriers and provides a cross-comparison of them to find the best deal for the customer. It also greatly reduces redundancy, according to Reynolds.

Other components of Agency Integrator include Broker Gear and Agency Gear. The former is a set of tools available to brokers/agents via an agency Web site, while the latter sets up an intranet for customer service representatives to access information.

"There are three major advantages to Agency Integrator," Reynolds points out. "You get a fully functional application that doesn't have to be maintained, it meets the agency's needs better and allows them to have applications that are secure, protected and available."