From what I've been seeing in recent years, the insurance industry has been doing a pretty good job with service-oriented architecture. With a large legacy install base (Celent estimates that 52% of the systems in the insurance industry are still older systems) and a need for plenty of network interfaces (to pass data with agents and brokers, as well as consumers online), the industry is a natural candidate for service orientation.

However, these systems were originally designed for internal use by maybe a few hundred employees, and not built for relentless pounding by thousands of outside users. These systems need to be brought up to speed—literally—to handle transactions in a Web-based, service-oriented setting. Such was the experience with SafeAuto Insurance Co., as described by Rob Barry in a recent post on the company's SOA journey.

The insurer moved its car insurance quoting process from a call center model to a SOA-based Web application. The SOA runs a variety of applications types, including .NET and Java, and currently supports about 25 different Web services.

As with all SOA projects, the effort unveiled shortcomings in the existing infrastructure, including application performance not up to the company's standards. The challenge was to be able to monitor the performance of applications that are taking on the new workloads arising from SOA. An application performance management system was required.

For a company that relies heavily on online consumer engagement, such as SafeAuto, robust application uptime and performance means the difference been competitive edge and sure trouble. Last fall, I conducted a survey in partnership with Unisphere Media/ITI among members of the Oracle Applications User Group (OAUG) on this very topic. We asked respondents for their experiences as online buyers, and as managers behind the scenes of e-business sites. If an online application fails, meaning it freezes up or kicks the user out, 57% would simply abandon the transaction and go elsewhere—likely to a competitor. Fifteen percent would not bother to do business with that online vendor.

For insurers relying more and more on online business, that's a data point worth keeping in mind as new services are designed.

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