Midland Life Insurance Company
The Midland Life Insurance Company’s insurance management system processed all policies on a DOSâ-based system, using custom applications written over the years by Midland. In 1998, the company moved to Windows NTâ, and partnered with Microsoft Certified Partner NewMedia to adapt network and desktop operating systems and rewrite a majority of the applications.
Located in Columbus, Ohio, Midland Life Insurance markets life insurance and annuity products through a network of brokers, banking institutions and other distribution channels. The company is licensed in 47 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico
The Midland wanted to deliver more timely and accurate policy data to its agents and customers. They had delivered information on pending policies twice a day and on inforce policies once a week, and sought a solution providing near real-time data delivery.
Changes made to insurance policies in the insurance management system are now tracked by a program created in Microsoft Visual Basic. The altered data is extracted and immediately sent to Midland’s Operational Data Store, a SQL Server-based database.
Redundant applications have been removed, and processes are streamlined and consolidated, yielding faster data delivery and increased data accuracy. In addition, nightly batch processes have been almost eliminated. The status of data is more easily established, making it easier to identify potential system problems.
The Midland Life Insurance Company, founded in 1905, pioneers in level term, universal life and single premium whole life policies and is known in the industry for an aggressive, holistic approach to underwriting (see http://www.themidland.com for more information). Located in Columbus, Ohio, and licensed in 47 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico, the company markets life insurance and annuity products through a network of brokers, banking institutions and other distribution channels. In February, 1998, they were recognized by A.M. Best and S&P for outstanding financial stability and marketing strength.
Delivery Mechanisms Vital
Because life Insurance companies must quickly deliver accurate information to their clients and agents, delivery mechanisms are critical to the business. The existing processes at Midland were not optimal, and the applications needed rewriting. A Cobol-based batch system delivered pending policy information to agents twice daily and Inforce (active) policy information weekly. There were mail matching, agent tracking systems, name and address search systems, and many Cobol-based reports that were maintained separately from the insurance management system – each maintained and generated using redundant nightly batch processes, or weekend processes. Midland devoted considerable resources to the maintenance of these systems. Cost and resource utilization with the current system are reduced through the elimination of weekend inforce extracts – savings are also seen in employees’ increased capacity to perform other maintenance activities. With the addition of automated monitoring and notification tools in the future, additional costs will be decreased. Midland has the potential for an additional 20-50% cost reduction when these tools are in place.
Midland had managed its policies using six separate insurance management systems. The new solution would mean that data from each system would be combined into one database, so that the systems’ common requirements would be addressed with a single interface and consistent applications. Midland set conversion dates for a ten-day period around the holidays, to ensure minimal disruption of business.
The Right Partner
The Midland realized that the solution would be best deployed via:
- partnership with MCSP NewMedia;
- retraining of existing Midland IS personnel with Cobol experience;
- addition of qualified IS personnel in the tools chosen.
Ganesh Balakrishnan, a Senior Technology Manager at NewMedia and Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer and Systems Engineer, would analyze the application conversion issues, choose the requisite tools, assess the IS personnel skills, and arrange for the retooling and training in these tools. In his experience leading projects as a representative of NewMedia, Ganesh had managed projects and mentored IS personnel at various client sites, and was the ideal candidate to perform the skills assessment and application designs. And NewMedia’s overall expertise in the various aspects of custom application development, network planning and administration were ideally suited for the project.
Chief Information Officer of Midland, Michael Fergang, explains, “Although the initial engagement for NewMedia’s consultants in 1997 was to provide assistance in scoping the project and to perform a skills assessment, their obvious technical expertise soon led to their providing many other services.”
Faster Delivery of Data
NewMedia and Midland first looked at ways to increase the frequency with which data appeared in the database – the “twice-a-day pending” or “weekend-inforce” methods were costly and too slow. The Midland Cobol team noted that a single Cobol program handled all file updates made to the policies so they altered it to write out a second file containing the key information of all affected files.
Their aim was to construct a locally-maintained database reflecting all policy information, one which could be used via the advanced features of Microsoft SQL Serverä 6.5. The scalability of SQL Server was a key factor in the team’s database choice. With the ongoing addition of new policies and minimal opportunity for archiving, scalability was critical. And the powerful data access features and rapid development capability of Visual Basic made it the obvious language choice.
NewMedia worked with Midland’s Cobol team to write Visual Basic-based programs; these polled the new Btrieve file for any inserts, updates or deletes, and logged these changes into the database. An extractor starter application communicated with the various files, extracting data based on the keys and file information already collected. This data was then fed into the Operational Data Store (ODS)’s SQL Server 6.5 policy database – the entire process requiring only a few minutes. Agents and others in the company now rely on real-time performance from the system, meaning nightly batch and weekend processing are no longer necessary. And all supporting applications interact with the SQL Server-based database, minimizing dependency on six separate interfaces for supporting applications.
Loading the Data
These were the incremental changes to the insurance management system. But what about the initial loading of the database? This was an especially important consideration for the conversion. All the data for the initial load had to be converted into the SQL Server database during the ten-day window, to be ready for the first working day in the New Year. Data from all six insurance management systems had to be extracted into text files simultaneously and then quickly loaded -- so the extractors were made to be scalable. And the Bulk Copy (BCP) utility of SQL Server sped up the data loading process considerably.
Fast and Reliable Central Processing
Midland now has approximately 300 users with Windows NT Server-based workstations, accessing several SQL Server databases through the different Visual Basic-based applications. The ODS itself is Midland’s central processing unit – it supplies data to a document generation engine which provides the basis for all correspondence systems.
NewMedia and Midland have already enhanced and improved the ODS, adding functionality (for improved error handling, faster tracking of policy information, reduced number of processes) and scalability. Midland’s agents receive accurate pending data in a timely fashion, free of the time-consuming nightly processes. Support calls to the IS department have been reduced from an alarming high before conversion to a minimal few, largely due to the reliability of ODS, the new network, and the Windows NT operating system. Users unfamiliar with the Windows NT interface prior to conversion are now very happy with the system’s ease of use and with the speed of data access provided by new applications
Midland has moved to Microsoft Exchange for its email system, and to Internet Explorer 4.0 for its standard browser software. All enhancements and installations of new software are being handled by Microsoft Systems Management Server 1.0. – SMS allows them to monitor hardware and software on user desktops and ensures a smooth installation of software, without requiring visits to individual desktops.
Midland plans to enhance the ODS so that data turnaround time (from IMS to SQL Server database) is reduced from five minutes to approximately one minute. Plans are also in the offing to connect several of the databases, eliminating the need for existing applications to move data between databases.
For more information
Call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (800) 563-9048. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft office.
About NewMedia Incorporated
326 S High St, 2nd Floor Annex
Columbus, OH 43215
Tel: (614) 220-7900
Fax: (614) 220-7910
Web site: http://www.nmedia.com
Founded in 1988 by President and CEO Len Pagon, and headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, NewMedia has three branch offices across the Midwest, in Columbus, Ohio, Cincinnati, Ohio, and Indianapolis, Indiana. A $16-million corporation with more than 160 business and technical professionals, the company provides IT assistance in project analysis, design & deployment (e-business, Web development, custom application and network systems development); technical education and training; and contract staffing.
Microsoft Software Used
Microsoft Exchange Server 5.0
Microsoft Outlookâ 98
Microsoft SQL Serverä 6.5
Microsoft Systems Management Server 1.0
Microsoft Visual Basic 5.0
Microsoft Visual SourceSafeâ 5.0
Microsoft Windows NT Workstation 4.0
Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0
Other Products Used
Crescent Internet Toolpack
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