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SOA helps save 100-year-old business

With its feet firmly planted in 1970s technology, an insurance information provider makes the leap to service-oriented architecture (SOA) to remain competitive in a Web 2.0 world.

Service-oriented architecture (SOA) is often touted as a way to transform a business, but here's a case where SOA may have saved a business.

We had our feet firmly set in the early '70s. It wasn't a good place to be.
Bob DiAngelo
Executive Vice PresidentMIB Inc.

A few years ago, MIB Inc., a 100-year-old provider of information for insurance companies, was bogged down with mainframe systems dating from the early 1970s and a client/server architecture from the 1990s. Seeing that its insurance company clients were moving into the SOA and Web 2.0 world, Bob DiAngelo, executive vice president at MIB, said his company realized it had to move there too if it wanted to remain competitive.

"Had we not moved when we did, I don't think we'd be having this conversation today," he told this week, "because I don't believe we would be in business."

In recalling the leap from legacy to SOA and Web 2.0, DiAngelo believes his company is not alone in facing this challenge.

"Several years back we were faced with what a lot of companies are still faced with today," he said, "outdated technology infrastructure, from a hardware standpoint, from a software standpoint, from a middleware standpoint. We had our feet firmly set in the early '70s. It wasn't a good place to be. In fact, at the time I considered it to be the single biggest risk to our business."

In planning the transition, he said the goal was to keep it as simple as possible and make use of existing technology while moving into the SOA environment.

"We set out on a path to use standards-based technology," DiAngelo explained. "We decide we'd use a well defined architecture and not burden ourselves with too many tools and too many technologies."

MIB was an IBM mainframe shop and IT management decided to keep it that way.

"We wanted to stick with the mainframe, DiAngelo said. "At the time it was a System 390. It's a z990 now. So we standardized on the IBM mainframe. We liked where IBM was going with WebSphere. That's our application server, Web server. We use MQSeries for the middleware. We're using WebSphere Studio on the desktop for our developers. All the development is done in Java. And we have DB2 on the backend."

To provide the security required by the 500 life and health insurance companies that are clients of MIB and use its data in issuing policies and detecting possible fraud, MIB is using IBM's DataPower SOA security appliance, he said. The DataPower appliance also speeds XML processing, so the insurance companies can access data in real-time via Web services that feed into rich Internet applications (RIAs).

In the old days, insurance companies would have to wait for a printed report on an applicant's history before issuing a policy, now that data can be available in real-time in an RIA on an insurance agent's desktop, said Alexander Klevitsky, director of architecture and enterprise software at MIB.

For more information
IBM brings XML networking and security into its SOA architecture

Check out our SOA Learning Guide

Despite starting with legacy technology, MIB executives saw Web 2.0 coming and realize their member companies would be wanting it.

"We realized a couple years' ago with the move to Web 2.0 and service-oriented architecture we wanted to promote more sharing of our Web services by our clients, not only by us internally," Klevitsky said. "So we decided to move from monolithic applications to basically a composition of services that clients will also be able to compose on their side. It will be a lightweight app server system. So we basically moved to a combination of SOA and REST.

Measuring the success of the SOA implementation, DiAngelo said that use of Web services by members has increase dramatically since they were first offered two years ago. Members accessing data via Web services increased from 10 percent to 70 percent during the past 24 months, he said.

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