Insurer extends coverage for old IT

Out with the old, in with the new? Not quite.

Toronto-based Transamerica Life Canada has found a way to retain its old IT system despite a new mandate from the Medical Information Bureau (MIB) to use the ACORD XML data standard for information collaboration.

Last year, Transamerica deployed Microsoft Corp.’s BizTalk Server 2004, which allowed the insurance firm to comply with MIB’s ACORD XML format for transmitting inquiries about prospective insurance clients. MIB maintains a database of consumer medical records for insurance companies to gather pertinent health information about insurance applicants.

BizTalk Server is a Web services-based tool that provides data interfaces across various proprietary and industry-standard formats. This functionality enabled Transamerica to hook up its Unix-based mainframe system to the BizTalk Server, which acts as the middleware for collaborating with MIB, said Ben Wong, application architect at Transamerica Life.

Previous interfaces between Transamerica and MIB involved the insurance firm compiling a set of data — typically insurance applications — to be queried against the MIB database.

The transmission involved a modem-based wireline connection to MIB’s system, which had a turnaround time of three to four hours, said Wong. Transmissions were also done in batches every six minutes, processing about 300 queries a day, he added.

Before deciding on BizTalk Server, Transamerica evaluated two other products: BEA System’s WebLogic and IBM’s WebSphere. While all three provided the functionalities that Transamerica needed, BizTalk’s cost-effectiveness won out in the end, said Wong.

BizTalk Server helped cut back the turnaround time between transmitting the inquiry from MIB and receiving a response back from hours to minutes, said Wong. Data transmission is also done in real-time as applications are processed, and not every six minutes like the previous system.

“Nothing changed in our old system. There was no work required to turn off the old and put in the new,” said Wong.

Transamerica’s BizTalk implementation, which went live in October 2005, involved two phases, according to Wong. The first phase focused on the processes involved in transmitting inquiries to and from the MIB database.

The second part of the project established processes for further collaboration with MIB around updating client information such as changes in the health status of a client, explained Wong. As updates are transmitted to the MIB, the same data flows back to Transamerica’s backend database system, he added.

The first part of the implementation took about eight months to complete, but Wong said it could have been accomplished in a much shorter period of time. As in many IT implementations, challenges were encountered along the way, he said.

Delays in getting SSL certificates to ensure secure transmissions were one of the first challenges Wong’s group encountered. This process alone took almost a month, which was beyond Wong’s original timeline, and caused delays with the contractors as well, he said.

One lesson learned: “If I had known that (SSL certificates would take that long) I would have started the paperwork a lot earlier,” said Wong.

Training was also something the Transamerica team could have started earlier.

Wong said the staff had to learn BizTalk and the ACORD format during actual implementation.

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