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When The Hanover Insurance Group decided to build a secure web portal for its insurance agents, it sought to convert its policy documents to a web-presentable format. One of the requirements Hanover insisted upon: the installation process must be documented, highlighting tasks and settings that were specific to Hanover’s environment. Hanover wanted its own IT staff to be able to install new environments in the future, without calling for outside assistance.

This forward thinking on the customer’s part highlights an important issue to consider when implementing your integration project. Software exists to solve business problems, and new business problems crop up all the time. You may have purchased the software to solve a particular problem, and then later discover that you need it to solve something else.

If you’ve maintained a positive relationship with your vendor, you can get them to come back to the site and customize the environment for you. Sometimes this is even desirable, if you don’t have the time or resources to do the work yourself. But other times, financial constraints may force you to keep the number of billable days to a minimum. What you want are “do-it-yourself” integration tools: software that your own people can change and customize as new problems arise.

This is particularly important if you have a small IT staff. As an example, let’s look at the case of U.S. Financial Life Insurance. In 2003, USFLI needed to synchronize agent commission payments with that of its parent company. The problem was that USFLI had an IT staff of only six people. Erik Simmons, VP of New Business and MIS, said a complete system overhaul would have overwhelmed them: “I really needed someone to come and provide me with an off-the-shelf solution and the training to get the job done.”

Simmons wanted a solution that would do two things: give his team the tools to complete the project quickly and efficiently; and have software onsite for additional coding when the need arose. After researching several options, he chose a software solution which would transform their data into ACORD XMLife, a standard used by the insurance industry. This gave his team a faster and more reliable way to transmit data to the parent company.

Simmons’ team completed the project in just four days—half a day of installation, one day of training, and two and a half days to develop templates for the commission reports. The benefit of the templates is that they are fully customizable, so USFLI can change them or develop news ones as needed.


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