General Re Insures Better Data Integration

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2015-05-22 Email Print this article Print
General Re's data integration

Reinsurance giant General Re replaces fragmented legacy systems with a single data platform in order to standardize and globalize crucial data and processes.

It's not unusual for an organization to discover that, after years of adding and modifying IT systems, there comes a time when it's necessary to completely revamp the underlying infrastructure. Two years ago, reinsurance solution provider General Reinsurance (General Re) found itself in exactly this situation.

As a result of a series of acquisitions, "The business was run on a fragmented collection of legacy systems with disparate technologies," says CIO John Connors. Unfortunately, this mishmash of old and new systems was increasingly inefficient. Management recognized that the company needed to convert to a single platform that would standardize and globalize crucial data and processes.

The 1,900-employee company, which holds $6 billion in premiums and $14 billion in capital, works with huge and complex data sets derived from both prospective clients and historical records. The data drives underwriting decisions.

However, "It is very difficult to leverage data that are dispersed and inconsistent," Connors explains. In the past, "Budgeting and closing processes were heavily reliant on spreadsheets that combined data from multiple sources, with the risk of error and misinterpretation." Making matters worse, the firm had to support aged technology—some of it dating back to the 1970s. "Finding people to operate and manage those systems was a growing challenge," he adds.

Exploring the Technology Options

The company began exploring its options in earnest in 2010. It created a separate, dedicated organizational unit consisting of a small number of experts from business and IT units.

In 2011, General Re signed a license agreement with software and services firm BackOffice Associates (BOA) to tie together 27 legacy data sources that overlapped in some cases and had data completely missing in other cases. The new platform went live a year later. In the end, the company merged contract, claim and accounting data from separate systems.

"They are now in a single integrated platform that simplifies the monthly close process and eradicates multiple manual reconciliations," Connors reports. He adds that General Re was able to deftly navigate the data migration and cleansing process and integrate all the data with "no loss in fidelity."

The company completed the first phase of the project several months ahead of schedule and had 100 percent success loading objects that spanned more than 7,000 business partners, 13,000 contracts, 400,000 claims and more than 18 million financial postings. A consolidated data platform and the elimination of thousands of spreadsheets and standalone Access databases helped transform the way the company does business.

Connors reports that General Re has retired 16 legacy systems, while streamlining data access across 40 offices worldwide.

The multiyear initiative will continue to drive change, Connors says. Over the next couple of years, General Re will roll out the platform to other business units around the world.

"We want to leverage the new platform by focusing on analytics, especially advanced decision analytics," he explains. Today, "Companies have to square up to the [data] problem and tackle complexity and obsolesce. These are at the heart of their operations. It isn't fun and it isn't cheap, but it is clearly necessary."

Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).

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