Don't pursue SOA before developing an IT/business master plan.

At the Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America, based in New York City, Executive Vice President and CIO Dennis Callahan (who reports to CEO Dennis Manning), was hired in 2000 "with a strategic imperative to drive IT to the next level." He views SOA as essential to that effort. Prior to his arrival, Callahan says, "Guardian made technology investments and then just went into maintenance mode for many years."

Guardian's IT portfolio was representative of the industry in its mix of new and legacy applications, which handle benefits plan administration, claims processing, policyholder administration and the like. Modifying legacy applications, say, to add a Web-based front end onto a mainframe-based benefits administration application, was exceedingly difficult and time consuming.

Working closely with Manning, who was then COO, and CEO Joseph Sargent, Callahan prepared his business case for the future direction of Guardian's IT organization. He included a target goal to deliver applications 30 percent faster and cheaper than in the past. Meanwhile, Callahan's chief architect, Jaime Sguerra, was busy devising an approach, dubbed the Guardian Enterprise Architecture, that would deliver those applications, in part by developing applications through a services model.

Callahan met with the heads of Guardian's various businesses to convince them of the benefits of the plan—including higher quality and more useable applications that would be delivered faster and at a lower cost than in the past—and he developed a consensus that this was a worthwhile investment.

Working with the heads of Guardian's various businesses, Callahan and Sguerra decided which applications to develop first. In retrospect, Callahan says this step was critical. "Doing the analysis of what applications Guardian would need [over the next several years], and what would be needed to support those applications, was key. It took a lot of effort and discipline."

A CRM application used by customer-service reps supporting group insurance plan customers emerged as a high priority, as did a Web application called Client Manager (used by general and independent agents to help them service and sell to customers), a self-service Web application called My Account Manager (used by policy holders to monitor and manage their portfolios), and an interactive voice-response application (used for self-service by policyholders).

The team initially focused on providing the support services those applications would require. Says Sguerra: "We knew these applications would need to access customer data back from legacy systems, and that we'd need services to retrieve that data." Guardian quickly began to realize the SOA benefit of reuse.

"Instead of coming up with dedicated services for each application, we determined that many of the services were the same—so we built those services once." Developers working on the CRM application used by customer service reps and the Web application used by agents may want both applications to allow users to download a document, such as a statement of benefits. Rather than each team having to write a function for that requirement, they can now simply invoke a service that's already been developed.

The shared infrastructure and the 60-plus services that currently comprise the Guardian Enterprise Architecture were implemented over two-and-a-half years by a team of 16 developers, though they did have additional outside help at certain stages. Callahan says he's met his goal to reduce development costs by 30 percent, and he expects that number to go higher in the future as his team builds more services.

This article was originally published on 10-05-2005
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