REVIEWER: Jim Lupton, vice president of information systems for American Fidelity Assurance Company (AFA).

BACKGROUND: Since 1960, Oklahoma City-based American Fidelity has provided disability, life and indemnity insurance products and services to the educational community and to trade association members throughout the country.

PLATFORMS: Mainframe 390 and a Windows 2000 server.

PROBLEM SOLVED: We wanted a way to deliver new, easy-to-use services to customers and agents without incurring the cost of porting the data or the applications to another platform. We wanted to put our systems and data wherever it made the most sense - on the mainframe or on network servers. We wanted communication between our network applications and both our mainframe applications and data -- in real time. We had a goal of using true open standards and true Web services to solve these real business needs, and we met that goal with Software AG's EntireX Communicator. We have Visual Basic applications running our Web site. The customer, policy and claims data come from the mainframe, while flex and annuity data come from server-based databases (SQL server and Progress, respectively), all in real time with a complete delivery experience of less than 4 seconds, including the screen paint on a 56KB modem.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: EntireX Communicator has been fantastic for us. We use the product to perform cross-platform communication for data and application functionality. For example, we have a visual basic program that sits on the network, and it calls a Natural program on the mainframe, using EntireX Communicator. Natural performs a task, perhaps getting data about a claim, and it gives the data back to the Visual Basic program via EntireX. The Visual Basic program can then display the data on the Web, or produce a report or use it in the application for something such as a security check.

STRENGTHS: The main strength of the product is its ability to talk to virtually anything we need it to; it is a totally open platform. The product enables us to leverage existing business systems, enhance performance, open applications to new environments and integrate disparate platforms to create cost-effective, seamless links between our legacy systems.

WEAKNESSES: The product documentation is not up to par with the capability of the product. It's adequate, but does not do the product justice.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We needed a solution that provided the ability to not only broker programs between the mainframe and the network applications, but also access this data directly between the two - in real time. American Fidelity is a longtime (and happy) Software AG customer, and when they informed us of this new solution, we were excited to test it out and elated by the results. Now, more than four years later, we're still incredibly pleased with the product's performance.

DELIVERABLES: EntireX Communicator provides communications between platforms including load balancing. It produces a communications vehicle between platforms to move data and to broker an application; in other words, it acts as a middleman.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Software AG provides tremendous support, both on and off site. Through Software AG's customer support, we've become self-sufficient with the product, and we require very little troubleshooting. We were one of the first companies to use this product, and we now consider ourselves experts. Further, American Fidelity and Software AG have a total partnership; we know each other's businesses intimately. It's a win/win.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation is adequate.

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