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Web-Enabling CICS Using HostBridge and WIRE

Health Insurance Provider


A major U.S. health insurance provider supports a network of 70,000 health care locations, including more than 150 hospitals. To ensure quality service to its million-plus plan members, the provider employs hundreds of member services personnel to process thousands of claims every day. In business for half a century, the provider maintains policy information in CICS® applications running on an IBM mainframe. Today’s employees, however, find legacy applications to be a challenge.

Pressured to provide its 21st century workforce with easy, flexible access to decades-old technology, the provider sought help from Brandon Associates, a national consulting firm. To meet the mainframe access needs of the provider’s entire team, Brandon collaborated with HostBridge Technology, providers of mainframe integration solutions, to co-develop WIRE, the Web Interface Rules Engine.

Challenge

In recent years, the insurance provider’s claims processing systems put an increasing drag on productivity. Staff had to access the CICS applications through old terminals and costly terminal emulation software. The learning curve was steep, particularly since the applications had a depth of business logic with highly complex rules. Even after staff were trained, normal on-the-job interaction through many screen transactions was labor-intensive and slow.

The provider asked Brandon Associates to help identify a solution. One possibility was to build an entirely new application that replicated the thousands of original CICS screens and then transfer legacy data to the new system. It quickly became apparent that this would require a monumental development effort as well as lengthy testing and retraining cycles.

Brandon and the provider then hit on the right solution. Design a new framework that would leverage existing mainframe-based business logic, enable enhancement of selected application areas, and present data through multiple interfaces for varied users. In other words, modernize the CICS application by effectively transforming it into a mouse-driven web application – with no changes to the legacy application, no loss of productivity, and minimal user training.

Technical Requirements

Brandon Associates and the provider identified key requirements for the new solution:

Solution

The first step was to find the right back-end CICS integration software. Brandon found it in HostBridge mainframe integration software.

HostBridge automatically transforms CICS data into XML documents, enabling the integration of CICS with any other enterprise application, web application, or service-oriented architecture (SOA). Installed on the mainframe, HostBridge utilizes mainframe security fully and also supports SSL and encryption to protect data in transport. Moreover, HostBridge Process Automation orchestrates complex CICS transaction sequences and executes them as a single automated service.

Brandon’s second step focused on presentation. Instead of just coding a few ad hoc front-ends, Brandon worked with HostBridge to co-develop a full-featured web interface development environment for Hostbridge XML/web services output. The result was WIRE, the Web Interface Rules Engine.

WIRE is an object-oriented Microsoft.NET-based programming and runtime environment. Running on Microsoft IIS for Windows® Server and highly scalable, WIRE modernizes CICS applications, providing three presentation modes for users with different skill sets:

Figure 1

Together, HostBridge and WIRE give the health insurer a complete end-to-end solution meeting all requirements – the ability to securely integrate CICS applications as XML documents with new web front-ends and flexible interface options for different users.

Benefits

Installation and testing of HostBridge and WIRE took less than a week. Within hours of going live, seasoned users and newer hires were able to begin processing claims through “WIREd” screens. Today, the insurance provider is achieving new levels of efficiency and productivity. Claims are now processed faster, the queue of outstanding claims continues to shrink, and as customary workloads decrease, many employees appreciate the opportunity to take on new responsibilities. Plus, employees using WIRE’s Enhanced Mode now experience “better than 100%” functionality working in new composite applications.

The provider has also seen immediate bottom line benefits, replacing hundreds of 3270 terminal emulation seats and eliminating the high associated costs of licenses, maintenance, and support. With integration, productivity, and profitability improving, the insurer is investigating new ways to streamline business processes with HostBridge and WIRE.

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