Pension plan system shifts from manual to real-time

With approximately 40,000 users of its services, the Labourers’ Pension Fund of Central and Eastern Canada (LPF) knew it had a heavy task in front of it when it decided to switch from manual and paper-based processes to automated ones.

The Toronto-based organization, which provides retirement benefits for workers in the construction industry, announced last month that it is implementing Oracle’s 9i Database 9.0.2 and Oracle9i Application Server to develop an automated pension administration system to record, manage and analyze data online.

The challenge was to integrate the current IT infrastructure – which consists of legacy apps and Cobol. The ultimate goal, according to LPF administrator David D’Agostini, is to streamline the system and speed up the entire process.

“Currently with the legacy and Cobol system, there is a lot of manual intervention…that we would like to eliminate and make more information available to the pension analysts and for our users,” D’Agostini said.

The changes are expected to significantly change the way LPF plan members make alterations to their pension plan, something they must currently do via telephone or mail. LPF employees then manually input that data into the system. The new pension application, D’Agostini noted, allows members to self-manage and track pension data and records on the Web.

Both plan members and LPF staff will benefit from the new system, D’Agostini said. It’s expected to be fully operational by June 2004 and is should enable LPF IT staff to take a more proactive approach, focusing less on manual processes and more on system maintenance and modifying processes. Pension plan administrators will be able to quickly generate reports and analyze data, D’Agostini said, adding that they should also be able to better adapt and comply with any changes in pension plan regulations while helping ensure that the vast amount of personal data stored in the system is secure.

Initial development of the system started in January of this year, said Oracle solution implementer Garry Chan, managing partner at Woodbridge, Ont.-based Procase Consulting Inc. Chan said LPF had very “vigorous” business requirements and a vision of what it wanted to be for five years and beyond. It was an interesting challenge, Chan said, as the current pension plan has a lot of dynamic rules and is extremely data-driven. The main concern was data conversion from the old Cobol and tracking some of that information. “If you look at the LPF model, they support a very wide membership…the transition can’t be an additional strain on the current operations.”

In today’s economy, noted Brent Chin, Mississauga, Ont.-based sales consulting manager for Oracle, Canadian companies such as LPF have invested in their existing infrastructure and do not have the luxury of bringing in completely new systems. The general trend for enterprises is to “integrate in multiple environments using open standards,” Chin said.

The issues of security and scalability were determining factors in choosing Oracle, D’Agostini said, adding that the system has to handle a large amount of critical personal data. The task on hand was to customize the solution, keeping in mind security and scalability, said Eric Farquharson, sales vice-president for Procase, adding that the secure, scalable and open architecture provided by the Oracle9i Application Server and related tools was a suitable fit for LPF.

“A lot of the issues surrounding security are already built in to the Oracle product. This application has both personal information and personnel information so security is a critical issue.”