The current data warehoused on the legacy servers will not be abandoned — but it won’t be held in perpetuity, either. Rusby plans to set up a browser interface to the old Linc and Progress-based systems that will remain in use for the next 12 months. In the meantime, all current data is being placed on the new system. That includes a lot of freeform text of historical interest. As the old policies are renewed and updated, the legacy servers will become irrelevant and be abandoned. “You know the 80-20 rule,” says Rusby. “Ours is more like a 95-5 rule. In other words, 95% of the information we currently need is no more than 12 months old. The remaining 5% we take from the archive. We are very confident we will have access to all the information we need by the time we are ready to phase out the old systems.”
The first part of NRMA’s New Zealand business to go live will be the old State Insurance component. Next will be NRMA’s corporate partners, five or six banks, and finally the brokers.
Rusby discounts any possibility of retaining the old systems beyond their allotted time. The old computer environment would still need to be maintained, and that would mean hefty costs for maintenance and licences.
The choice of a Microsoft-based solution came about as a result of Rusby’s focus on the business issues. First, she donned her strategist’s hat and worked on business planning with her colleagues. Then she donned her CIO hat and explained that the current IT environment was not easily capable of being updated to handle the company’s complex business needs — especially the new services that would be coming online. Rusby recommended that NRMA look for a system that would support all the areas that had been identified. Once a close enough match had been found, NRMA could adopt the processes inherent in the product. “It has all been done 100 times before. General insurance is not rocket science, so it was a matter of finding a package that was the closest fit to our requirements.”
The search was on. Rusby discovered that, surprisingly, there are about 100 organisations worldwide that earn their living from writing insurance software. About six were found to be worthy of closer analysis and were invited to do the usual demonstrations before Rusby and her peers. “We were totally IT-agnostic,” she says. “The only requirements were that the software should be able to run on a midrange system, not a mainframe, and we wanted it to operate in a Citrix thin-client environment — we had just replaced all our desktops with Citrix. It also had to be an open system and it had to support our web environment. We were prepared to run with Unix and Oracle, with Citrix on the desktops, but we were determined not to dictate the selection of functionality based on a particular technology.”
Eventually the choice came down to two submissions. One used Oracle and Unix and the other used Microsoft’s SQL database. Rusby’s business peers went into detailed one-on-one analysis with the vendors as they assessed the options. Functionality was given a numerical rating from one to 10. And the winner was … the Microsoft option.
To be fair, though, there was little wrong with the Oracle application — it just didn’t have quite the same functionality as the Microsoft-based product. “Actually, it was neck and neck, but when it came down to it the functionality of the Microsoft software won out and there was an issue of confidence as to whether the Oracle-based vendor would be able to fill the gaps effectively.”
The Microsoft package was about a 70-75% fit but the vendor was willing to build the necessary alterations and additions into the core product so that they would be included in future upgrades. Rusby is unfazed by the suggestion that this way of handling things meant that other buyers would benefit from NRMA’s input as well.
Rusby acknowledges that, three years ago, any CIO would have thought hard before agreeing to run a core enterprise application on Microsoft software. “But Microsoft has now moved into that environment. I believe that whenever Microsoft eventually gets its head around something, it doesn’t do it in half measures. As for Oracle, scalability is never an issue.”
Licensing is not an issue, either. NRMA currently has licences for both Oracle and Microsoft SQL products. “Our experience with Oracle is fairly strong,” says Rusby. “On the other hand, we use SQL for smaller applications but haven’t had the experience with scalability. It was a tick for Sirius when Microsoft gave the vendor its full support. During the selection process Microsoft really demonstrated it was coming to the party in working with Sirius. When we did the scalability testing a few issues arose and Sirius took them to Redmond, where Microsoft invested its time in getting them fixed.”
For the technical staff at NRMA, the decision to go the Microsoft way took away any concerns about integration with the Windows 2000 and Citrix desktops. NRMA is already using Microsoft’s Active Directory. “They went, ‘Yay, integration is going to be a piece of cake’,” Rusby observes. “That’s a very attractive thing but it certainly didn’t affect our buying decision.”
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.