What will it take to fully capitalize on our service-oriented architecture (SOA) investments? How do we prevent a proliferating number of loosely coupled application components from turning into an unmanageable mess? How do we leverage our SOA strengths to achieve a sustainable advantage in an increasingly competitive marketplace? These are the questions we have asked ourselves in recent years as we designed and rolled out our SOA plans. Fortunately, the answers we discovered in our search are now serving us well.

Univé Verzekeringen is a large, not-for-profit, cooperative insurance company in The Netherlands. With more than 1.3 million customers and more than 3.7 million policies issued, we insure one in every four people in our country. But we can’t stand still. We’re under constant pressure to meet the exacting demands of our customers. In fact, Dutch law now gives health insurance policy holders much greater leeway to change carriers. That means cultivating customer loyalty and winning new customers via superior customer service are of paramount importance.

Whether we are providing insurance or financial services, we are now expected to deliver superior service levels while keeping the costs of our products and policies competitive. We couldn’t expect to continue to meet these expectations indefinitely if we continued to rely on our existing architecture of information stovepipes. Recognizing the necessity to be agile and customer driven, in 2004 we set out to build an advanced SOA that would enable us to meet our ambitious growth objectives.

With these challenges in mind, we invested in runtime governance solutions from AmberPoint. Based on a ground-breaking policy-based management approach, AmberPoint’s SOA Management System has given us the visibility and control we need to realize measurable business productivity and performance gains.

We have two types of SOA applications. One relates to insurance quotations - the growth-driving core of our business. The other is linked to back-office workflow functionality. Through these applications, we automated 60 percent of the 100,000 health insurance transactions we process annually, delivering enormous savings straight to our bottom line.

We didn’t stop there, however. Seizing the chance to bring new efficiencies to other parts of our business, we’ve implemented 96 .NET Web services with 184 endpoints or individual services. Such actions have saved time, saved money and enhanced customer service levels. Web services now enable us to deliver quotations, registrations and insurance policy changes while leveraging our legacy information systems and connecting with external services to cross-check against fraud.

As Web services proliferated and the complexity of our SOA grew, we realized we needed greater visibility into the interdependencies across our services network. Simply put, we could no longer track them. Our runtime governance solution, however, provides a complete graphical representation of numerous complex services and their dependencies. We call this our chain of services. We realize now that we could have been locked up in this chain if we hadn’t gained the visibility to track the dependencies of each service we deploy.

Another key element in our SOA success has been our ability to measure and maintain service level agreements. Where we previously had no information on overall response times, usage or availability of services, our SOA Management System now enables us to guarantee response times. We are able to trigger an alert for every Web service we deploy, monitoring performance and ensuring it meets established service levels. Being able to measure both input and output, we can rapidly isolate problems and handle them through a centralized point.

Yet another advantage we found from our investment in SOA management was the ability to integrate our new system with our existing environment in a seamless, noninvasive way. Further, we’ve been able to run natively on the .NET framework, leveraging our existing platform while ensuring the performance of service-based applications was solid.

We are presently focused on integrating our SOA Management System with Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM). The integration is expected to provide additional insight into the company’s typical lifecycle of incidents, while accelerating querying and processing.

Looking forward, we will extend our SOA infrastructure to millions of customers, who will be able to access self-service applications for greater customer service and additional savings. Moreover, we are seeking ways to further automate business processes. We intend to gain a competitive advantage by bringing the strengths of our SOA to both front office and back office.

In order to remain a market leader, we must continually find ways to drive down costs while increasing the levels of service we deliver to our customers. By strategically managing the development of our SOA, we’ve built the foundation necessary to put customer satisfaction at a premium while also elevating our market stature.

About AmberPoint: AmberPoint is a leading runtime SOA governance choice for commercial organizations, federal agencies and software vendors. The company’s SOA Management System utilizes an innovative policy-based approach to provide comprehensive visibility into and control of services-based systems, thereby ensuring the health and well-being of SOA applications and their components.

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