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WebFOCUS Provides a Flexible, Robust Environment for Generating Web Reports for Cigna's ESIS

Published
  • July 01 1999, 1:00am EDT

BACKGROUND: Insurance carriers have expanded their traditional role of financially protecting customers from losses by offering decision support services that help their clients proactively manage their risk exposures. Cigna's ESIS business unit has provided information services documenting customer risk levels since the early 1980s. Today, we are the largest carrier-owned provider of TPA (third-party administrator) services in the U.S.

PLATFORMS: The WebFOCUS 2.0 HTML report generator operates on two IBM Netfinity Windows NT 4.0 servers. Cigna used Microsoft Visual InterDev 1.0 for designing the HTML Active Server pages, SQL Server 6.5 for receiving nightly batch feeds from an IMS legacy database, and Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS), bundled with NT, as the Web server.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Reflecting the evolution of IT technology, Cigna's reports, initially published in hard-copy form, eventually became available through remote or dial-up 3270 terminal access. Three years ago, we began developing a Windows-based version to allow customers greater flexibility in retrieving their data. However, this approach proved expensive to deliver and maintain, since it required the company to act as a software vendor, constantly distributing diskette or CD-ROM updates and "pushing" down database updates on a store-and-forward basis to clients. Given our explosive growth over the past two years, such an approach would soon grow far too expensive to maintain and, ultimately, would have required the services of an outside IT services organization to deliver. With the emergence of the Internet, we believed that a Web-based solution would prove far more economical and scalable. After evaluating several Web-based reporting packages, we chose WebFOCUS from Information Builders Inc. (IBI) as our customer reporting engine.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: WebFOCUS produces HTML reports dynamically which include URL linkages of any data elements to any other Web site. Recent enhancements include the introduction of selective, on-demand paging that divides reports in multiple HTML pages which can then be printed individually at the user's discretion. The FOCUS report engine provides the ability to save report results on the fly and supports all the necessary style options (e.g., headings, footers, page breaks) expected from fully robust business report writers.

STRENGTHS: WebFOCUS provides a flexible, robust environment for generating Web reports. In addition to the ease of deployment, WebFOCUS provides flexible drill-down capabilities that allow users to not only view standard reports, but drill down through live links on the HTML page to a remote, underlying IMS database for details not available on the local SQL Server database. WebFOCUS's native support of Adobe Acrobat PDF formats answered a critical need for customers to exert better control over storage and printing of reports.

WEAKNESSES: WebFOCUS currently lacks an option for generating lengthy reports off-line. That creates a bottleneck.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We evaluated multiple Web reporting tools and scheduled a shootout between IBI and another leading vendor that claimed to provide enterprise-level reporting. IBI was able to produce a working prototype, generating HTML reports within a week, much faster than the rival product.

DELIVERABLES: ESIS currently has about 560 accounts, representing more than 1,000 end users; our current workload is about 300 reports daily. Ultimately, we expect the workload to triple. Building an on-line query and batch reporting system raised numerous technical issues involving a multitude of hardware, database access and communications issues. Fortunately, by choosing WebFOCUS, we simplified one critical part of the project: migrating more than 2,800 FOCUS reports from our legacy system. Because WebFOCUS is part of IBI's FOCUS product family, migrating the legacy reports proved far simpler than if we had chosen a competing Web report writer. The process was so seamless that developing Web access to the legacy reports did not require our developers to learn CGI. We can now develop reports and get them through the test cycle and into production in a matter of days.

VENDOR SUPPORT: IBI listens well. For instance, when we identified a need to provide more selective, on-demand paging to reduce the bottlenecks of printing large HTML reports, IBI responded. We are anxiously awaiting delivery of WebFOCUS's on-demand HTML paging option which should be available shortly.

DOCUMENTATION: It was very thorough. We appreciated the ability to access it on-line.

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