Insuring Access to Legacy Data
An insurance company opens data on mainframes and midrange systems even beyond the client—to the client's employees.
As you probably know, it's not a trivial task to use the Web to extend host system access to your employees. Furthermore, another challenge awaits in getting the same system out past the firewall to business partners. But suppose you also had to reach each and every employee within your partners' organizations?
That's been the challenge for Prudential Financial's employee benefits division, which has been working to link all levels of customers to its back-end systems. The division, Prudential Institutional, has about 5,000 employees across North America, and is an integral part of the nation's largest insurance company, which takes in $26 billion a year in revenues and has $375 billion in total assets. I recently spoke with Prudential's IT team about how the company accomplished this. Prudential Institutional has a program for both employers and employees called Working Solutions. Technically, the buyersand thus the customersare companies that subscribe to Prudential's retirement and group benefit plans. However, the ultimate customers are the employees within these companies. "With voluntary benefits products, both the corporation and the plan participants themselves are customers. It's a two-tier relationship," says Jane Landon, CIO of Prudential Institutional.
One of the features of Prudential's service is enabling benefits administrators and individual employees to log onto the system and pick and choose plans, and make inquiries about or changes to their benefits, which range from 401(k) plans to group insurance. Data is stored and processed in S/390 mainframes and AS/400 systems running applications built on IBM's CICS transaction monitor.
Over the years, Prudential typically arranged connectivity with its customer companies through a T1 line that put client companies onto a wide area network (WAN). But as time went by, Prudential ended up supporting six different interfaces to deliver both front-end systems and internal operations to its clients. The interfaces included several types of front-end Windows clients created with PowerBuilder, Visual Basic and C++, along with 5250 and 3270 terminal screens.
"We wanted to eliminate the variety and put it all into a single Web-like interface that aggregates all those tools underneath," says Paul Mattern, vice president of operations and systems. However, Prudential didn't want to rewrite and re-deploy its client interfaces. The solution was to deploy a single interface layer that supports the various front-ends, and helps the company gradually move everything to a Web environment. The package selected was Jacada Interface Server, a Web-to-host environment from Jacada Ltd. of Atlanta, Ga.
Before deploying a set of functions to its customer base, Prudential first implements them among internal employees in its call center for testing purposes. To make that work, the company provided the same browser-based interface to all call-center employees, who before that had been working with separate 3270, 5250, database and Windows interfaces.
While the actual implementation of the interface server took only a couple of weeks, linking screens to various back-end systems requires extensive integration work, says Landon. Once the function or link is up and running for internal call-center employees, it's then moved out to customers through a portal view. The portal approach "gives a new look and vision for employee benefits," Mattern explains. "At the touch of a button, employees can see all of their payroll deductions in one place. In the past, they only saw it on their payroll stub."
Prudential has been benefiting in several ways from the implementation. First, the company no longer has to bear the cost of developing, installing and maintaining separate clients. Prudential also has been able to streamline its development efforts. "We can customize the presentation level through a defined set of design parameters that we put into the rule base," says Landon. As a result, she points out, it no longer matters what type of client is accessing the system. Plus, having the single presentation layer provides built-in discipline for maintaining a standardized interface across all applications. And finally, the call center has gained efficiencies, because representatives don't have to make as many callbacks as they search through various databases.
Joseph McKendrick is an independent consultant and author, specializing in surveys, technology research, and white papers.