ING centralizes server environment to support growth

Canada’s largest provider of property and casualty insurance products is moving its applications to a centralized server platform it says will allow better service to its clients.

ING Canada said it hopes to complete the migration

of in-production applications, including a customized customer relationship management tool that provides account summaries to its agents, by the end of this year. The company, which is based in Montreal, has chosen IBM’s Server zSeries server running the Linux operating system. Until recently, ING had been using WebSphere running on AIX boxes.

Isabelle Valois, technical services director with ING Canada, said the organization’s growth plans would have required the installation of many additional servers. Instead, IBM’s eServer will allow the firm to create virtual servers that can be used as needed, she said.

“”It was extremely difficult to forsee how we could manage all of these implementations of many new machines in the (time) that is left until 2004,”” she said. “”To be able to support that growth, if we continue with the current platforms that we have — which are the AIX boxes — that would require a lot of investment.””

Christian Roy, an IBM Canada eServer zSeries sales specialist, said ING needs to look at a centralized environment due its size. The zSeries VM middleware will also allow the insurer to create the connectivity required for the network instead of using a series of routers. “”It allows you to go quicker out to the market,”” he said.

Valois said the project will allow ING more flexibility in terms of deployment and a more stabilized environment. This means it can manage unplanned downtime more efficiently, she said.

“”We’re trying to rationalize on the one platform. We have a lot more people who only understand a standardized way of working,”” she said.

The project will initially affect at least 1,000 users within ING Canada, but as the firm works with both a direct channel of agents and a distribution channel of 2,800 independent brokers, the impact could be huge, Valois said. Besides the applications currently in production, for example, ING will also migrate programs still in development, including everything related to the ING Canada Web site and an e-commerce portal that conducts transactions with the broker network.

“”If we rationalize this into a more robust environment, the benefit for the business is you will not see as much downtime from us as you used to,”” she said.

Over the last year and a half, IBM has slowly built up an insurance industry practice that includes ManuLife and Sun Life. Josiane Bizien, IBM Canada’s account director, Finance & Insurance Industry, said Big Blue is still looking for best practices.

“”We’re trying to develop some commonality between the different solutions that we put together, but fundamentally, customer environments are pretty much unique,”” she said. “”But the direction is to try and reuse and recycle.””

This is not the first time ING Canada has undergone a major overhaul. Four years ago, the company won a Canadian Information Productivity Award in the Organizational Transformation category.

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