Mainframe Modernization Cuts Costs, Boosts Service
By Bert Young
In today’s economic climate, no organization is immune to financial concerns. Cutting costs without cutting business productivity is a vital issue for companies across industries, and one that receives plenty of attention from upper management. South Carolina Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company (SCFBMIC) is no exception to this rule.
Our company, headquartered in Cayce, SC, provides varied insurance plans to both farmers and those outside the agricultural sector, and we were faced with the daunting challenge of significantly reducing annual operating costs and increasing services without affecting business continuity. As we weighed the options, several key factors (and a bit of history) needed to be considered.
In the early 1990s, SCFBMIC consolidated its IBM mainframe-based business applications into one central environment operated by the Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company (SFBCIC) of Ridgeland, Miss. The consolidation was a success, but pressure remained to optimize costs even further because of stiff competition and a challenging economic environment.
Our core applications of policy, billing, claims and membership systems included about 2,900 programs in the total inventory, serving 80 different locations and 600 users. All of this created a big workload.
Although financial concerns were important, we also recognized the need to preserve the valuable COBOL logic running in our business for many years. With a wealth of database, .NET and Web services expertise already in place, we also decided that we would ideally like to move data that was currently in our IBM DB2 to SQL Server. After extensive research into various solutions, we decided on Micro Focus, deploying its Mainframe Solution products to realize our mainframe application modernization strategy.
The project involved migrating 926 million records and thousands of programs, as well as replacing the current hardware, operating system, online system, database, job-scheduling and print solutions.
Reaping the Benefits
Since implementing the Micro Focus Mainframe Solution, we’ve seen improved response time and have had no issue keeping up with requests. Our development team now performs all batch COBOL and online COBOL/CICS development and maintenance using Micro Focus Enterprise Developer, which provides an integrated development environment built on Microsoft Visual Studio. With this new platform, development processes are streamlined, and it has become easier to share resources and best practices among a wider development team.
In addition, we are employing the Micro Focus Enterprise Analyzer to explore how applications are truly structured, which helps us rationalize 600 additional programs and remove unneeded data sets. It also assists in application efficiency and flexibility, as well as ensuring that we are not working on redundant code.
One of the most rewarding aspects of this implementation was that instead of throwing away the significant application investments that were made over the years, this approach allowed us to enhance and get extra mileage out of our existing investment. Increasing ROI is always a great outcome, as is cost savings, and this project saves us $620,000 every year—a huge contributor to our bottom line.
We’ve also seen benefits related to testing capacity. Adding new servers is now far more affordable, and the processing capacity needed for application testing has doubled, enabling us to perform many more testing cycles at the required pace. This removes significant testing bottlenecks that could not be addressed previously.
Another benefit that we didn’t anticipate at the outset of the project is the ability to run parallel quality assurance and development environments—something we couldn’t do on the mainframe because of direct-access storage device requirements and batch runtime.
While ROI and cost savings are, of course, top concerns for any successful business, another big impetus for this project was our desire to improve business agility. Following deployment, our development team now has the tools it needs to create contemporary solutions that will better serve our customers and improve their experience with us. Customer satisfaction is a top priority for SCFBMIC, and the more tools we have to keep them happy, the better.
Bert Young is vice president of IT at the South Carolina Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company.