The Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner relied on a legacy mainframe that was about to lose support. So, the agency re-engineered its applications for Windows® and the Microsoft® .NET environment with the help of Aithent, a Microsoft Certified Partner. The migration cost about 30 percent less than expected—while providing 30 percent more functionality, and accelerating the collection of licensing revenue from insurance agents and insurance companies. Business Needs
Although the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC) has a staff of just 200, it collects more than U.S.$450 million a year in state revenue and is one of the top revenue-generating agencies in Washington. And little wonder. Every insurance broker and agent, about 100,000 in all, has to be licensed, and to pay for that license. The agency protects consumers, monitors the solvency of insurance companies, and ensures that insurance products are fairly priced and safe for consumers.
To manage all of this, the Washington OIC used a Hewlett-Packard 3000 mainframe, with eight custom software modules created 20 years earlier in a COBOL-like language called Speedware, and a custom database built with Turboimage. The legacy system was managed by a two-person staff for hardware and software support.
In 2004, HP announced that support for the HP 3000 would end in 2006. That gave the Washington OIC several options:
- Upgrade to the HP 9000
- Port or migrate its existing code to another platform—for example, by wrapping the Speedware code in a Microsoft® .NET Framework-supported language
- Buy an off-the-shelf solution and customize it for the agency’s needs
- Rewrite the solution for a new platform
Most of those options were easy to eliminate. The cost of upgrading was prohibitive for the agency. There was little precedent for a Speedware-to-.NET migration. An early independent feasibility study recommended customizing an off-the-shelf solution—but an appropriate package couldn’t be found. That left the agency with the option of rewriting its solution—which the agency’s feasibility study had concluded was the riskiest option available.Solution
But rewriting the solution also held potential benefits for the Washington OIC. It could jettison the 40 to 50 percent of “dead code” and business process workarounds that were being maintained in the legacy solution. It could move from outdated “green screens” to the highly graphical Windows® environment that users expected. It could create a solution capable of integrating with the rest of the department’s environment, which was Microsoft-based. And it could gain the flexibility and agility to add new modules, Internet-based self-service options, and other components that the agency’s customers and constituents were requesting.
||The difference in our productivity with the Microsoft-based system, compared to the legacy system, is like day and night.
IT Manager, Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner
The Washington OIC needed an integration partner and chose Aithent, a global software development and e-governance solutions provider and a Microsoft Certified Partner. “We liked that Aithent had built similar solutions for other states, that they articulated a complete understanding of the Microsoft environment and how to apply it, and that they could show us exactly how they arrived at their costs,” says David Marty, IT Manager for the Office of the Insurance Commissioner, Washington State.
The result is an n-tier .NET-based solution with a Web interface, separate business logic and data access layers, and a relational database back-end. The solution is based on Microsoft technology from Internet Information Services 6.0 and Microsoft ASP.NET on the front-end to Microsoft SQL Server® 2005 on the back-end. The solution’s first module went into production in five months and the first full production phase of the solution, with 12 modules, was developed 13 months after that.
The solution’s reliability comes from a variety of factors, including Windows Server Cluster Services and SQL Server Failover Clustering. Windows updates are deployed automatically, and Microsoft-recommended best practices are followed. Role-based security, using Active Directory® profiles, makes it possible to display screens dynamically based on user roles.
“Aithent has implemented regulatory solutions for state agencies for more than 15 years,” says Allister Yu, Vice President of Global Services, Aithent. ”Our expertise with Microsoft technologies and e-governance solutions enabled us to implement a solution cited by the Washington State Information Services Board as the highest rated project within the state.”Benefits
The Washington Office of Insurance Commissioner began to see the benefits of the migration to the Microsoft-based solution even before that solution went into full production. For example, Marty credits the Microsoft technology and Aithent expertise for helping the project to come in 30 percent under the expected budget—saving almost $1 million—and 30 percent faster than planned, while delivering 30 percent more modules, and functionality, than the agency had on the legacy system.
Those extra modules gave Washington OIC and the public that it serves more capabilities than they had before, most notably a self-service option for insurance agents and brokers to register and pay for their licenses online. By putting licensing online, the agency has reduced the backlog in processing time that licensees used to experience from 70 days to just five days.
The self-service licensing is an example of the flexibility and business agility that the agency is enjoying thanks to the migration and the greater capabilities of the Aithent-developed, Microsoft-based system. Similarly, the Washington OIC now implements change requests in a day that used to take months to implement on the legacy system. “The difference in our productivity with the Microsoft-based system, compared to the legacy system, is like day and night,” says Marty. “And as our users see what we can do with the system, their requests and expectations increase—which is fine, because we can meet those expectations without needing a similar increase in staff.”
The various Microsoft-based reliability features give the system 99.999 percent reliability—the “five nines” uptime that is the holy grail of IT departments. Marty says that compares favorably to the legacy system, “which was down a lot.” The increased reliability makes it possible for the agency to deliver service with higher levels of satisfaction on the part of users, who don’t have to experience unscheduled downtime.