BACKGROUND: Headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, Physicians Mutual Insurance Company was established in 1902 to serve the health insurance needs of physicians, surgeons and dentists and was one of the first to pioneer selling insurance by mail. Today, Physicians Mutual Insurance Company and its wholly owned subsidiary, Physicians Life Insurance Company, provide a wide range of health and life insurance protection, plus tax-deferred annuities to policy owners in all walks of life across the country.
PLATFORMS: The Nucleus Exploration solution is running on a Windows NT-based server.
PROBLEM SOLVED: To grow our business, remain competitive in our industry and better serve our customers, we needed to understand how our products performed at various levels of detail not previously captured. The ability to monitor and measure our experience would allow us to more effectively price our products. A data mart project to address this issue was begun several years ago using older database technology on the MVS platform. Capturing the required historical information at the needed level of detail resulted in storing amounts of data previously unimaginable. Once past the hurdle of capturing, cleansing and storing all of that data, the next challenge was the ability to access this information in a timely fashion. Our existing MVS platform and database technology could not support this requirement. Nucleus provided us with a relatively low-cost solution to this problem.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Nucleus has been performing very well. Data is extracted from tables residing on an MVS platform and loaded to Nucleus. We are using Brio, FOCUS for Windows and Access as front-end query tools, and the Nucleus database engine provides fast access to the information. We can now measure our access to information in terms of minutes instead of hours, days or weeks.
STRENGTHS: Nucleus' strength is speed. The bit vector technology used to store the data allows every field in the database to be accessed as if it were a key field. This provides fast access without all of the problems associated with trying to anticipate how various queries and applications will be selecting the data. You don't need to continually monitor usage and add indexes or foreign keys. We currently have one table in excess of 100 million rows that we can slice and dice in minutes. Obviously, the more selective you can be in the query, the faster it will run. The other advantages of Nucleus are its ease of administration and data compression. The size of our data files without any indexes is 70GB. After we loaded the data into Nucleus, the size of the fully indexed database is only 38GB.
WEAKNESSES: The inability to support outer joins is a limitation. Currently, only intersections are supported. While we have found ways to get around this problem, the additional steps necessary are cumbersome and not desirable for anyone less than a power user.
SELECTION CRITERIA: The main criterion was the ability to query extremely large tables quickly.
DELIVERABLES: Nucleus provides our actuaries with the ability to do a more thorough job of analysis when evaluating our product experience. When analyzing any data, the answer from one query often prompts another question requiring another query. The speed at which these queries can be processed allows us to run more queries and answer more questions. We are now able to analyze our product experience at levels of detail previously unavailable. This translates to improved product pricing.
VENDOR SUPPORT: Hitachi Data Systems provided the first level of support for the Nucleus Exploration solution, and they acted as one-stop support for the whole solution.
DOCUMENTATION: The documentation for Nucleus comes on CD-ROM in HTML format as well as in hard-copy manuals. It is very extensive including the SQL reference, tools such as NDL, NCONFIG and error messages. Users can refer to the on-line documentation on error messages and correct their query syntax instead of making a trip to the DBA.
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