Skinning the life legacy cat

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2 September 2010
Catherine Stagg-Macey

The financial crisis gave pause to many investment plans in technology but 2010 has seen vigorous interest in core system replacement in the general insurance industry. But a perennial problem of poor backoffice systems remains. As the saying goes, there are many ways to skin the legacy modernisation program. These include outsourcing, upgrading to a current version, replatforming, wrapping /extending, or the ever popular approach of rip and replace.

In conversations, many folk appear puzzled as to why insurers, particularly large insurers choose the rip and replace approach. Our view is that this appears, at least on the surface to be conceptually an easier approach than say wrapping/extending. This latter approach also requires the insurer to have a skill set in architecture and design.

We’ve seen little in the way of system replacement in life insurers and this is due to the thorny problem of data migration. CIO’s quake at the idea of migrating 30 years of data – and who wouldn’t. The complexity of this task is far greater than that faced by P&C insurers – who at worst case, can ignore data migration and move data across at renewal by hand. Failure for a life insurer doesn’t just mean some annoyed customers. It can bring down the wrath of the regulator.

The success or failure of these projects have seen the abrupt halt to the career of more than a few CIOs.

An alternative for the life insurer is to put an aggregation layer on top of the existing legacy whilst turning down the functionality of the old systems to that which they are best – core system of record. This aggregation layer affords the front office customer service functionality more suited to 2010. I expect will see more of this approach in the future.

We wrote on this topic in 2008 and will be updating this research in the coming months. We’ll focus on where people are on their journey, and how attitudes to approaches have changed, if at all. Watch out for more on this topic. And if you have any interesting stories, please reach out to us.


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  • Sport on article. I actually built a career as a CIO by successfully implementing large scale legacy renovation programmes. Like Life insurers, we once had to migrate data that was nearly 30 years old - the London Insurance Market Claims data! We also used the technology of "wrapping" the legacy system with a software layer on top to keep what was working, was reasonably secure and was also very auditable!

  • "Rip and replace" with the type of offerings that are available today seems fool hardy. Adding in the risk and cost of conversion make the proposition seem like death wish for a CIO. For large insurerss the best option still seems to be a systematic renewal using a BPMS layer to facilitate the business needs.

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