A leading provider of insurance and annuity products relies on many different information systems, ranging from decades-old mainframe applications and databases to the latest workflow programs and web applications. To integrate its mainframe with its numerous distributed systems, such as LIFE-COMM, the company relies on the HostBridge JavaScript Engine (HB.js) as its corporate standard for mainframe application integration by making its CICS applications available as callable web services.

At-A-Glance

The Challenge: Integrate Key CICS Applications with New Technologies

  • Continue supporting existing policies with LIFE-COMM, VANTAGE-ONE®, and other insurance applications while making them available to other platforms
  • Integrate assets with newer web, mobile, and cloud applications including DXC Customer Service Accelerator®
  • Modernize applications and interfaces to improve business processes and meet changing user needs

The Solution: Use JavaScript to Create APIs to Existing CICS Applications

  • Support the ACORD XML schema, the insurance industry’s comprehensive standard for system-to-system communication and interoperability
  • Utilize standards-based integration technologies including SOAP and JavaScript for maximum flexibility and faster deployment
  • Integrate anything mainframe with anything distributed

The Benefits: Standards-Based, High-Performance Integration

  • Implement a single, flexible web-services solution for enterprise-wide integration
  • Improve process efficiency, employee productivity, and customer service
  • Build a true partnership with responsive vendor providing development assistance, full support, and team training
  • Establish a new corporate standard for mainframe integration

Background

This leading provider of insurance and annuity products often maintains policies and accounts for fifty years or more, managing tremendous volumes of information.

Customer information resides on multiple mainframe systems, including a policy administration application developed in house. The firm also uses LIFE-COMM and VANTAGE-ONE, popular industry vendor solutions. This application mix results in customer data residing in multiple systems. The firm uses a DB2-based system to store data on all customers, policies, and management systems. All these key applications continue to perform well, but as systems have multiplied, increasing complexity has impacted people and processes.

After a highly successful proof-of-concept project, the company chose HostBridge as their corporate standard for integrating CICS applications using a web services API. 

Key Driver

The need for more agile and high-performing CICS integration solutions was driven out of the customer call center. On a typical business day, customer service representatives handle thousands of customer and agent inquiries. During these calls, CSRs often had multiple policy administration applications, workflow management software, office programs, email, and other business applications open on their desktops. When the company added new applications to its portfolio, desktops got more crowded, forcing employees to spend more time juggling resources. The IT team knew that providing CSRs with a unified view of these diverse systems they would improve efficiency, streamline processes, reduce call times, boost customer satisfaction, and improve profitability.

The IT team implemented Customer Service Accelerator as the front-end CSR interface for presenting all information assets in a single, unified agent desktop interface. However, the company still needed a solution to integrate its mainframe-based policy applications with Customer Service Accelerator.

Integration Principles

The firm’s search for an integration solution was guided by these integration principles:

  • Avoid building yet another new environment to link the front end and the mainframe
  • Find a solution that interacts seamlessly with any mainframe application or data asset
  • Guarantee the highest possible performance with sub-second response times
  • Ensure support for the ACORD XML schema
  • Find a vendor partner willing to help the team through learning and implementation processes

Proof-of-Concept Project

After short-listing a handful of potential vendors, the IT team began testing. One product would have necessitated adding mainframe programmers to the team. A middle-tier product employed screen scraping, raising concerns about reliability and performance. The HostBridge solution had neither of these limitations and emerged as the right choice.

“HostBridge came up pretty quickly in our search,” said a key IT team member. “After the first demo we knew we were on the right track. Our key stakeholders gathered in a room, and James Alexander, HostBridge Technical Director, conveyed all the key web services concepts, showed how they aligned with our objectives, and ran through a live demo. The demo worked perfectly. It was a really good first meeting, and everybody agreed we should move to the next step.”

HostBridge completed an onsite proof-of-concept with company applications and data, proving that HostBridge worked well and handled required ACORD XML formatting. In the two-and-a-half-day visit, the HostBridge technical team proved the concept, writing web services that carried out an integration process between the mainframe and front-end systems.

“We knew there would be challenges to this integration,” said the IT team member. “We really appreciated that HostBridge would come in and do whatever it took to make things work. It’s great to be able to work with somebody who was willing to tune their product to work in our environment. Not every vendor would do that.”

Complex CICS Integrations Simplified

HostBridge was an appealing solution because of its ability to provide a web services API to all of the company’s mainframe assets. Today, HostBridge integrates the home-grown policy application, LIFE-COMM, VANTAGE-ONE, and the DB2 system with Customer Service Accelerator and other distributed resources.

The situation at this insurer before and after using HostBridge for core CICS application integration.

LIFE-COMM

LIFE-COMM presented the biggest integration challenge for this company. A 3270 “green screen” application still in wide use, it is complex for end-users and developers alike.  The application has hundreds of unique screens corresponding to the wide variety of insurance products and policies. Furthermore, every screen and nearly every data point displayed on-screen appear as abbreviations or codes – thousands of codes in all. Completing interactions required CSRs to navigate an intricate and not always intuitive set of screens. The result of this complexity was lower productivity, slower customer service, increasing frustration, and mounting costs.

Now, CSRs use Customer Service Accelerator to access LIFE-COMM functions through an API created using the HostBridge JavaScript Engine. The green screen navigation that CSRs used to perform – sometimes traversing as many as one hundred screens for a single service inquiry – is now automated and orchestrated by HostBridge, completely transparent to the CSR. Today, when a CSR requests a policy overview, it now appears in a single, fully interactive desktop view – at sub-second speeds.

VANTAGE-ONE

The insurance company’s VANTAGE-ONE application presented the integration developers with a different challenge. VANTAGE-ONE is still actively developed, which means screens and field locations could change, causing standard screen-scraping integrations to fail. Rather than risk these failures, or incur the cost of rewriting integration code every time VANTAGE-ONE changes, the company asked HostBridge to address the VANTAGE-ONE navigation and integration issue. HostBridge created a feature in its software that enables developers to name fields within the web service and thus navigate VANTAGE-ONE without reference to specific row/column locations.

DB2 System

HostBridge is also the integration engine for the company’s DB2 system. The company implemented DB2 as a central database for unifying information on policies and policyholders. HostBridge provides a web services interface to the system that combines 3270 screen, DB2, and COMMAREA program data for distributed applications that need to request and update the system.  

Prior to implementing HostBridge, synchronizing this DB2 database with distributed systems was primarily a nightly batch process. To better serve customers, however, CSRs needed always current data, requiring real-time synchronization. HostBridge provides an integration mechanism to capture mainframe program events and synchronize them via a web services layer with other systems.

Benefits

The company is realizing several benefits from using HostBridge to integrate key mainframe assets with Customer Service Accelerator. The integration is delivering a measurable increase in CSR productivity, allowing them to take more calls, complete them faster, and provide a better customer experience.

CSRs can also perform new service processes, further improving efficiency and service quality. In the past, during client telephone inquiries, CSRs were unable to carry out customer requests such as a transfer of money between annuity funds. Instead, they sent requests to back-office employees for fulfillment. Now, CSRs are able to complete the transaction with the customer on the phone. This real-time capability has improved customer satisfaction and reduces the burden on the back office. It also increases reliability and accuracy, verifying that the trade was correct as soon as it is executed.

The IT team is benefiting from using the HostBridge JavaScript Engine to quickly and easily create APIs to its portfolio of CICS applications. Programmers found JavaScript easier to learn than anticipated. The team consists of experienced COBOL and Assembler developers who were at first hesitant about learning JavaScript. But with minimal training, the development team gained confidence and competency, so much so that they now describe HostBridge JavaScript and the Eclipse IDE as “awesome.” With HostBridge, web services development occurs faster, enabling rapid deployment of integration solutions.

The Corporate Standard for Mainframe Web Services

In HostBridge, this insurer has a vendor-partner with deep expertise in complex CICS modernization, integration, and orchestration. Pairing HostBridge and Customer Service Accelerator in front of its trusted mainframe investments, this insurer experiences continuous improvement where it matters most – in day-to-day operations, employee productivity, customer service, and the bottom line.

This company has adopted HostBridge as corporate standard for mainframe APIs and web services. “If there’s any kind of mainframe integration we need, we’re going to use HostBridge,” says the team leader, “There’s no question. We’re not thinking about any other methods.”