Posted: 2008.10.13.

Generali-Providencia Insurance

Convenient insurance on the integrated .NET interface

Net citizens of the 20th century are fastidious regarding corporate services. Information about the company only and static content are far not sufficient any more, and not land line phone numbers are searched on a website. Content and function together must serve those visitors who tend to move off after three clicks. In this respect Generali made a great step by presenting their new, Microsoft .NET based portal: clients can quickly, easily and efficiently make inquiries, receive advice and make contracts.

Background

Generaly-Providencia Insurance Zrt. is the second largest comprehensive insurance company, which offers services to its 1.6 million clients covering all the risky part of their lives. International background is provided by the concern, and the fact that its history dates back to 1831 is something to be proud of. However, for a company which has been thriving for such a long time the real reason to be proud is being able to meet the challenges of the modern age and the ability of satisfying present and future needs of the clients.

The company has managed to cover the whole country in the past decades by its 170 customer service-centres, moreover, almost all the Hungarian households can be reached by the help of the extensive partners’ network and highly qualified specialists. At the moment it is enough for keeping the position in the market, but in this more and more informatics based world demand for expansive online presence, beside the physical one is increasing day by day. More and more people would like to manage the process of taking out an insurance policy, settling a loss, reporting or collecting information comfortably from home or from their office in a simple and quick way.

Therefore, preparing for the near future Generali decided that the already existing SQL database based online frontend system, which had provided only limited opportunities, must be placed on the much more advanced Microsoft .NET basis. In parallel with the globally executed change in design, in Hungary they also set the aim of preparing a site, which supports the insurance company in high standard and modern client service.

A cast-off gown

The previous solution of Generali was used until it reached the age of 6, and it could have been improved only with great challenges and its functionality could have been extended only with difficulties. The applications which handle customer data operate in IBM AS/400 environment, which fact must be treated as its feature. Considering the frontend systems, changes were needed in any case. In the case of 5-6 year old-solutions improving and mending is by far not the simplest way to choose, but it is much more efficient to create a fully rethought system instead, which is able to satisfy new demands. As the previous online interface used PHP and .NET together, the disadvantages of the mixed solution were obvious. The prior aim which appeared was standardization, and to choose a solution which is able to satisfy complex service needs, develop a highly reliable (HA) mode of operation, and connect to the internal IBM systems easily.

Renewing the online presence is not only a technological question, but it must also realize a more efficient customer communication and interactivity. Written contents, articles and news have already been published on the portal of the insurance company, and besides this, various other functions have been available. However, connecting these and providing permeability between them have become indispensable. When a client is inquiring about a certain insurance or browsing the details of a service, he must immediately be able to reach the otherwise separately existing consultancy. Moreover, a number of functions were present in the system only redundantly, which made updating difficult and could cause confusion.

Moreover, in the background areas, which invisible for the clients of Generali, operation required more and more human and server resources. With this large number of elements the PHP/mySQL based database handling counts today as an out-of-date, slow and difficult to use solution. Additionally, the content of web pages are not static anymore, as they were some years ago, hence an easily controllable content management was required which is not operated by information specialists. Communicating news, articles and information has become a daily routine, but in the old system employees were not able to handle. However, the need for being able to edit the page themselves, - uploading new contents, adding or renewing new menu items - have become more and more urging.

Steadily moving forward

The international design renewal at Generali provided a great opportunity for introducing the new functions and solutions besides the new design. That is why work started as 2006 and the partner of the insurance company was Carnation Zrt, a prominent Hungarian online media and web developer agency. Until the fall of 2006 the most important task was to create a new content management system, which was followed by preparing new design models and creative materials. Transcribing the applications into .NET platform started in December and migrating the already existing contents had started even before. During the development the old system was in operation, but it was untouched except for updating news of the website.

The most essential part of the frontend systems is a web server cluster which consists of a number of machines, and its efficient utilization is ensured by the Microsoft Network Load Balance solution. This system is able to adjust the capacity of the parallel machines to the actual load. Therefore, the solution which Microsoft implanted into the Windows Server product operates the server system in a cost-efficient and easily scalable way, and it is even able to switch on or, at low load, to switch off servers according to demand – although there is no need for this function here. Besides, it guarantees almost maximum availability, therefore the Generali web interfaces are almost 100 % available, and even at planned stallings servers are updated by turns, so that customers should not notice anything of it at all. It may be essential for a company, where several tasks are seasonal: for example obligatory car insurances mean an enormous load around November, but in winter and spring the number of notices of loss increases.

A mirrored MSSQL database server links to the web servers, which is the connection point of content management. The workers who edit the page compose the contents in a content management system, which can only become effective when it is finalized and approved. For this aim Carnation have chosen Sitecore’s CMS system, and although it is not an MS product, the standard form (XML, XSLT) based solution cooperates perfectly with the .NET interface. Full web interfaces of large companies like this can be prepared within three months - even starting from scratch. Fine tunings and expansions can later made by the client according to their wishes. Adding new contents on this easily usable interface – in most cases – is not the task of the information specialists, but the department itself can carry it out alone.

Moreover, it is indispensable for taking out an insurance or operating customer service online, that the total background database of the company gets into direct contact with the web servers. Integrating this is a sensitive task, but the .NET supported “web services” bridge over the gap between the two platforms and forward the information which comes from the IBM MQSeries message channel in a form which is interpretable for the portal as well. The greatest advantage of .NET is its universal usability and applicability in several areas. For an insurance company it was also a criteria, that although external companies develop the new services, frontends and customer service, still, there should be a possibility for maintaining the portal which is for the partners and the internal systems by their own, internal IT development team. The standardized Microsoft environment guarantees that the work of the different development teams will not mesh and no functions will have to be written twice, still, they will be able to communicate and cooperate without having to give out the carefully protected secrets from their hands.

Tangible advantages

Currently the rate of online interface users is continuously growing. The number of regular internet users within the 1.6 million customers may skyrocket the next years, for which we have to prepare. The highly scalable systems of Microsoft mean a guarantee to satisfy the needs of the future increase.

Based on the customer feedbacks the change was worth it, since a number of services, such as the notice of loss, online fee calculators or following investment information (which are the most frequently used functions) became much simpler. Hence the new frontend interface had all the reason to receive the honourable “Website of the Year” award in December, 2007. Besides having a pleasant design the .NET based corporate portal is user-oriented, easy to handle and it saves paperwork and queuing for the customers, while it also makes the work of the partners and salesmen more effective.

The future

Naturally, the successful Microsoft product introduction does not mean the end of the process. In parallel with introducing .NET the idea of introducing the SharePoint server came about in Generali. So far this multi-colour solution is used for the amendment of the internal document handling and its migration is in progress right now as well. When it is finished, it will also be harmonized with the customer portal. As a result of this, up to date forms and documents will be available at any time, and for tracking down a change there will be no need for multiple human intervention.

Solution Overview

Software And Services
Industry
Country/Region

Hungary

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