Averting an IT collision

When Liberty Northwest Insurance acquired North Pacific/Oregon Automobile Insurance companies last year, it faced a major challenge: It needed to centralize its IT infrastructure across the merged companies, consolidate multiple emulation platforms and make it easier to adopt new technologies.

At the time, Portland, Oregon-based Liberty Northwest, a wholly owned subsidiary of Liberty Mutual Insurance in Boston, was primarily a workers' compensation company, while North Pacific/Oregon Auto was mainly a property-casualty company.

The problem was they each had different host-based platforms, says Eric Peterson, manager of IT infrastructure at Liberty Northwest.

While North Pacific was using Rumba software from NetManage in a thick-client format, Liberty Northwest was using a fledgling version of ZENworks from Novell and a smattering of software from Attachmate.

After acquiring North Pacific, Liberty Northwest's IT infrastructure included a combination of mainframes and IBM's AS/400 systems, as well as multiple emulation platforms to access these host systems, Peterson says.

With the merger, Liberty Northwest's IT staff had 1,000 desktops to manage in multiple locations and was responsible for consolidating operations, moving offices, moving data centers and upgrading all desktops to Windows 2000. And the staff had to do all that without compromising service and support to its business units or its customers.

"We had to look at how we could make our lives easier," Peterson says.

And Liberty Northwest wanted to make sure that its sales agents and the sales agents from North Pacific could sell each other's products, according to Peterson.

Liberty Northwest decided it could meet its needs with NetManage's Rumba Web-to-Host technology, which provides corporate users with secure, simple, browser-based access to applications on legacy host systems, says Vijay Lal, director of product marketing at NetManage.

Using the Web-to-Host technology, Liberty Northwest was able to quickly and easily deploy the browser-based software so host systems could be accessed with a click of a mouse, says Peterson. It allowed the sales agents to access the applications of either company over the Internet through a browser.

Rumba Web-to-Host provided sales agents with a unified interface, whether they were selling products from North Pacific or Liberty Northwest. But the technology also enabled the North Pacific sales agents to continue using that company's existing interface.

"Rumba Web-to-Host extends the mainframe out to the external world," says Lal. "With mergers or acquisitions, companies have different systems, and each of these systems has a system user interface, and you need to be able to merge your applications together so that the different groups of people using the applications are all experiencing the same look and feel."

Peterson says that if weren't for the ability to centrally configure these client sessions, he would have had to go around and configure every desktop manually or, at the very least, spend a significant amount of time on a client fix, or reconfiguration, in an automated fashion.

"With this product, I'm able to simply go to the Web server, change my config files, and I'm done," he says. "We centrally administer it, so we can control the desktop and the URL for the emulation sessions. The only thing we allow the users to do is change the font colors. If someone needs to use an emulation session, we can simply e-mail them the URL and say, 'Here you go.' "

Fewer People Required

Peterson says that because Rumba Web-to-Host is a single platform, Liberty Northwest saves money, since it doesn't have to maintain, administer or purchase multiple emulators.

"It benefits me because I can keep my head count lower," he says. "I don't have to have three or four techs, or have my server guy know three or four different platforms. And it's so quick and easy to administer, I only need one person and very few disciples."

Peterson estimates that he's probably saving the equivalent of one full-time employee, or more.

"When I have a change that impacts the entire environment of host systems, the number of man-hours I save is 300," Peterson says. "And I also save the travel costs to go around and touch every desktop. Now I do it in a matter of minutes from one location."

Lal says the license price for Rumba Web-to-Host is US$150 per seat. The product takes about 30 minutes to install and approximately 30 to 90 minutes to configure, he says.

"Deployment -- which happened last fall -- was extremely fast," Peterson says. "The beauty of it is the user can do it. You point him to this URL and say, 'Click here.' "

Maximilian Flisi, an analyst at IDC, says customers are generally satisfied with NetManage's Rumba Web-to-Host because it's easy to use and easy to manage.

"The benefit here is that there is a Web interface and there is no need for software on the desktop," he says. "Although there are about six other vendors in this space, including IBM and Attachmate, and they all have products that are easily deployable, NetManage's name is one of the ones that comes up more often than other companies."

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