PHILADELPHIA, PA--(Marketwired - May 15, 2013) -  Farm Bureau Insurance of Michigan wanted to offer its customers more self-service online while preserving the agent's role as a trusted advisor. But its legacy systems presented big barriers, according to Cheri Barnhart, business solutions strategist at Farm Bureau, and Samir Ahmed, software architect at technology consultancy X by 2.

Speaking at the Insurance Data Management Association's annual meeting in Philadelphia, Barnhart and Ahmed detailed how Farm Bureau, a multiline carrier in Michigan with $709 million in property-casualty and life premium, met its goals.

Farm Bureau wanted to offer customers an intuitive agent locator, online quoting, policy inquiry, ability to request changes, access to documents, electronic bill payment, claims reporting and status inquiry -- all while keeping the agent informed.

"We want our customers to be able to answer questions such as 'What's my deductible?' 'When is my payment due?' 'When is my policy up for renewal?' 'What's the status of my claim?'" Barnhart said.

Ahmed pointed out four key challenges.

First: fragmentation of customer data across multiple source systems. "With policy-centric systems separated by line of business, developing the notion of a 'customer' is not straightforward. Previous attempts to piece data together from disparate sources led to 'integration spaghetti,'" he added.

Other challenges included inconsistency and incompatibility in data formats, inadequate levels of data quality, and lack of openness and availability of the systems.

Working with Farm Bureau, X by 2 designed a solution strategy. "It was a data management program that would serve as the backbone for customer self-service and also serve as an enabler for service orientation, data warehousing, and core systems modernization," Ahmed said.

An operational data store (ODS) with a uniform data model based on a reference model published by the Object Management Group (OMG) would serve as a central repository where data from all of the source systems relevant for customer self-service could be consolidated.

"Once you have a single repository for all customer related data, forming the previously elusive holistic view of 'customer' started to become possible," he said. That was implemented via a custom lightweight ETL framework, and their decision to expose the data in the ODS through data services using the open data standard.

To conclude, Ahmed and Barnhart pointed to the following lessons from the ongoing three-year project:

  • Enterprise assets are best built as a means to an end. The ODS was built to enable customer self-service, and the ETL framework was built as a development aid. Reusability of these assets for other enterprise initiatives was a purely opportunistic benefit.
  • Think big, start small with enterprise architecture. While the ODS was meant to enable delivery of customer self-service, its role as a stepping stone towards service orientation, data warehousing, and core systems modernization was contemplated from the beginning.
  • There are no silver bullets, only skilled marksmen in successful implementations.
  • Build in quality from the beginning, including iterative development and testing.
  • Challenge the status quo. "Trailblazers walk a lonesome path," Barnhart said. "The crowds come after the chasm's been crossed."

X by 2 ( provides architecture design, planning, oversight, and turnaround services on transformative enterprise-scale business technology initiatives. Clients include national and regional life, health and property-casualty insurers, and healthcare organizations.

Contact Information:

Henry Stimpson
Stimpson Communications