LPF builds platform for better IT

The Labourers’ Pension Fund of Central and Eastern Canada (LPF) didn’t even have a web site when it decided to move into the Internet age and overhaul its IT systems to support a secure corporate portal for its 37,000 members and pensioners.

Based in Mississauga, Ont., the LPF provides pension administrative services to the construction industry in Central and Eastern Canada. LPF administrator David D’Agostini said they decided to streamline their pension administration system after relying on a legacy Cobol-based system since 1985, a system he described as patchwork and no longer meeting their needs.

“We weren’t able to address our workflow as well as we could have, and I had concerns over the data integrity,” said D’Agostini.

They pondered revamping the Cobol system, but D’Agostini said the functionalities available with newer technologies meant the Cobol had to go.

“It served us well in its day and long term was very cost effective, but in today’s world, people expect faster and better responses,” said D’Agostini. “It just wouldn’t deliver what we needed anymore.”

The LPF considered platforms built around technology from Oracle and Microsoft’s .Net, and D’Agostini said there were some compelling arguments for the Microsoft software. “But I wasn’t comfortable with Microsoft changing its technology pretty frequently, we didn’t know where .Net was going,” said D’Agostini.

He said Oracle seemed like a more mature and stable product, and he liked its security features. In the end, LPF implemented an Oracle Application Server 9i and an Oracle 9i database to run its backend.

With the backend in place, when it launched its corporate portal this year they upgraded to Oracle Application Server 10g. The site was launched six months ago, but D’Agostini since they were starting from scratch they took one year to define what they wanted the portal to do, and how.

“There was some uncertainty among the staff,” said D’Agostini. “We’d had a previous attempt that wasn’t successful, so getting their buy in was a little more difficult this time.”

The goal was to allow members access to their pension information online, relieving pressure on the LPF’s call centre and saving money. The portal portion of the web site just went live recently, but D’Agostini said he’s confident it will be well received. Internally, he said staff have already bought-in fully to the new automated system.

The LPF turned to Woodbridge, Ont.-based Procase Consulting to design both the pension administration system and the web site and portal. Eric Farquharson, Procase’s vice president of sales, said cost savings were a big driver for the web portal. A lot of the information callers were seeking from the call centre could easily be accessed on the web, and at a much lower cost to the LPF.

Farquharson agreed the technology was quite standard; it was the business issues that were custom and made for a challenging implementation. “Understanding their business processes, what they want to achieve with the portal, what information did they want to get across to the members, what’s their image issues, those were all challenges,” said Farquharson. “There were several iterations of the visuals because they’d never had a web site, and corporate image was a very important issue for them.

“At the time there were a lot of security issues surrounding Microsoft and .Net was relatively new and still quite buggy,” said Farquharson. He added Procase could have built the administration system and web portal with Microsoft technology, but he felt Oracle offered better security and portal capabilities, and he thinks time has borne that out.

“We felt that Oracle (software) would give better response times for users.”

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