South Carolina’s largest insurance company is also one of the state’s largest employers, having served customers for over 70 years.

The IT organization plays a key role in the success of the company and helping it serve its clients, providers, and other stakeholders. The company’s core business applications run under CICS on an IBM mainframe. As early as 2007, the insurer was implementing CICS web services for its mainframe data sources to enable integration. When the legacy integration solution reached end-of-life, the IT group began a search for a replacement solution. The company’s preference for a new solution was to enable creating services based on the mainframe. The new solution would ideally be easy to learn and use, providing a great developer and user experience.

CICS Integration Case Study Overview

Finding a New Solution

The company began researching replacement CICS integration solutions to include in a Request for Proposal (RFP). A key consideration was identifying solutions that could support its full portfolio of CICS applications. About one-third of these applications are screen-based, originally designed to interact with a human operator through a “green screen” interface. The replacement solution had to support integrating both screen-based and COMMAREA CICS applications. Three vendors, including HostBridge Technology, were invited to respond to the RFP.

The HostBridge team proposed the HostBridge JavaScript Engine (HB.js) as the integration solution, which runs on the mainframe, within CICS. It allows users to create integration scripts or APIs to screen-based and COMMAREA applications, making them available as web services. Off-host applications that run in the cloud or on distributed platforms can access the functionality and logic of CICS applications as services, through these JavaScript-based APIs. The resulting integrations are easy to develop, fast to deploy, low latency, and require no changes to the host applications.

Proof-of-Concept

The RFP process led to conducting a Proof-of-Concept (POC) project. A HostBridge team member went onsite, spending a week training and developing several APIs with HB.js as part of the POC. During the POC, the team began using HB.js to prototype and test some CICS web services. Even though the previous integration solution provided a GUI, drag-and-drop interface for creating web services, the learning curve for HB.js was not steep. HB.js integration script creation is done using Eclipse with a HostBridge plug-in. This approach has several advantages which became clear during the POC.

“We really liked the HostBridge approach with the direct APIs and the JavaScript model,” said Rich G., the insurer’s Enterprise Architect. “We’d been dealing with some of the more drag-and-drop type tools. While those seem like great options, using a GUI to create your components doesn’t work very well. As you start to think about treating everything as code and going to more of a DevOps model, it [the drag-and-drop approach] doesn’t lend itself to source code discipline, and branching, and merging, and those types of things, when you have to create everything in a GUI with drag-and-drop functionality. So, we really liked HostBridge’s JavaScript code-based approach.”

While some vendors promote a GUI development tool as an advantage, the company’s team felt differently. “The biggest thing for me was not having to rely on a drag-and-drop tool,” said Dan F., System Designer & Technical Advisor for the insurer. “We preferred coding an API, and the code was pretty simple. HostBridge chose JavaScript for coding APIs a long time ago, and it works well. We considered other vendor, drag-and-drop tools, but when we tried them, they didn’t work exactly work as advertised. I was actually very impressed with the HostBridge PoC. Everything just worked right out of the box.”

The insurer’s development team was quick to learn how to create APIs with HB.js.  “All the developers have picked it up pretty quickly,” said Dan F. “We’ve had a good experience with both mainframe and non-mainframe developers learning JavaScript.”

Vendor Scrutiny

With the technical success of the POC, HostBridge established itself as the preferred solution. One of the remaining areas of concern had to do with the size of the company. The insurance company’s team did thorough research to address their concerns. “We read all of the case studies and called all of the references we were given,” said Rich G. “We spent at least an hour on the phone with each of them. We discussed working with HostBridge as a small operation, because HostBridge was going up against some industry giants.”

Before the POC was over, the insurer’s view of the size of the HostBridge team shifted from a potential liability to an asset, enabling agility and responsiveness. “We were initially concerned about the size of the company,” said Dave V., the insurer’s Manager of Application Development. “We were wondering, will we receive the level of support and the responsiveness we need? That’s proven no problem. The training HostBridge provided went well, and the HostBridge team is extremely responsive when we reach out to them for support, or with suggestions or recommendations.” In one example, the HostBridge team created and sent a patch within hours of an issue being reported. “From our past experience with vendors, that’s just unheard of. It’s been a wonderful experience.”

Performance

The approach the insurance company is taking to develop integration scripts with HB.js involves using the application developers, who have knowledge of the specific applications and know how to efficiently get the data out of them. Combining this application expertise with HostBridge performance capabilities is helping the insurer develop and deploy very efficient APIs. “Performance issues in the past were caused by the old tool, because we were just bolting it on top of some CICS screens,” said Jack B., the insurer’s System Support Manager. “Now, you have the people who wrote the CICS screens engaged. They have a much better concept of how to efficiently get data out of the applications.”

The insurance company is still developing and deploying integration APIs and CICS web services, with the project about 50% complete at present. Even now, the data suggests that the HB.js-created APIs and services are performing well. “Anytime there’s something new, we’re cautious, because I’m on the operations side of supporting applications,” said Jack B. “From my standpoint, concerns about support and the impact on operations have been a non-issue. HostBridge just works. We haven’t had issues. While we don’t yet have specific performance metrics, I believe they are far better: the same service under HostBridge is performing better than before. From our side, it’s working well. We’re pleased with the results we’re getting.”

Learn More

Contact the HostBridge team to learn how you can implement a CICS web services strategy like the one this case study describes: