BACKGROUND: Royal & Sun Alliance (RSA) is recognized as one of the top 10 multiline insurance operations in the world. The U.S. operations are based in Charlotte, North Carolina. It offers commercial property and casualty, personal and specialty insurance coverage through more than 2,300 independent agents and brokers.

PLATFORMS: Server: NT 4.0. Clients: Windows 95. Database: Sybase System 11.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Our need was to automate flood zone determinations for our commercial property business. The use of an outside vendor to get determinations has not been cost-effective. The automation of this process involved a two-step course. First, the property's address must be geocoded to get its latitude and longitude. Then, the latitude and longitude must be compared with a digitized flood map to return the flood zone. Qualitative Marketing Software (QMSoft) Centrus provided the geocoding and performed the spatial analysis. The Centrus solution was integrated into the system that captured our property addresses. The flood zone is now returned real time whenever an address is entered. This has provided substantial savings in cost and time.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Geocoding is a complicated process. It takes an address that is often inaccurate or misspelled and matches it against an underlying street database. If matched, the address is returned with standard postal abbreviations, misspellings corrected, demographic data, a nine-digit ZIP code and a latitude and longitude. Centrus hides these complexities internally while giving high-match rates with good, solid real-time performance. The built-in ability to query the street database has helped to resolve unmatched addresses as well. The spatial functions of Centrus that RSA used were point-in-polygon to compare a property address (latitude/longitude) to a flood zone polygon; radial analysis to show all flood zones within 250 feet of a property and distance analysis to determine a property's distance to the coast. Centrus is also used to calculate the distance-to-shore and wind-pool status. The ability to identify multiple insureds in the same building, such as a mall, is in development.

STRENGTHS: The speed and accuracy of real-time geocoding are Centrus' greatest strengths. Performance was a key issue for our users who enter many addresses at a time. The strength of Centrus' spatial analysis is that it is simplified. Other vendors offered a more complicated approach requiring a spatial database engine. The open architecture of Centrus, based on COM, allowed our software developers to integrate a solution into our in-house system, which in turn provided great ease of use to our employees who used the system.

WEAKNESSES: Centrus does not provide the ability to display maps. To visually see a property on a flood map would have been an added benefit for our underwriters. Geocoding addresses in rural areas or new developments often returns a latitude and longitude based on a ZIP centroid, which is not accurate enough to do a flood zone determination.

SELECTION CRITERIA: The primary reason for the selection of Centrus was its ease of integration into our in-house application that was built using PowerBuilder and Visual Basic. Currently, the same property addresses have to be entered into multiple systems. Therefore, adding another entry system to geocode and determine the flood zone was not acceptable. To add functionality without adding any additional entry point was key.

DELIVERABLES: Geocoded address. Automated flood zone determination. Automated distance-to-shore calculation. Automated wind-pool determination.

VENDOR SUPPORT: A demo for proof of concept was developed with 30-day trial software. QMSoft's assistance was very helpful in getting the demo built quickly. This proof of concept gave our business people the confidence to go ahead with the project. Calls to QMSoft's technical support line before and after implementation have given us the added assistance we've needed. If questions could not be answered immediately, the were answered typically within a reasonable amount of time.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation for Centrus is clean, easy to read and logical. That's primarily what we used to implement the solution. There was no additional training needed for our developers. We were able to read the documentation and figure out what we needed to do.

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