NCFB hit on a winning formula: providing uniquely tailored insurance policies. The company sought to ensure it could meet soaring demand without letting its high standards slip.
Working with IBM® and IBM Business Partner Mainline, NCFB upgraded to the latest generation of IBM Z® technology, facilitating faster, more responsive customer services.
Removesbarriers to growth by enabling seamless scaling of IT resources
Acceleratesresponses to customer inquiries, supporting higher satisfaction and loyalty
Reducesrisk by safeguarding customer information against data leaks
Business challenge story
Protecting hard-won market share
As a leading provider of home and auto insurance in the state, the North Carolina Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company (NCFB) writes over USD 1.1 billion in premiums annually. As demand for its insurance policies continued to grow, NCFB wanted to maintain the speed and responsiveness of its customer services, which meant upgrading its IT infrastructure to better support custom applications for policy management.
David Klein, Information Systems Division Manager at NCFB, explains: “When it comes to insurance, it’s reassuring to have a provider who will take the time to attend to your needs. At NCFB, we pride ourselves on engaging individually with our customers, and tailoring insurance policies accordingly. We run specialist applications to manage the variety of policies that we offer.”
At the core of NCFB’s IT infrastructure is an IBM Z landscape, split into partitions running IBM z/OS®, and Linux on IBM Z. The z/OS partition supports IBM CICS®, COBOL and IBM Db2® for z/OS systems, underpinning most of the insurer’s internal processes. For Linux on Z, leveraging the z/VM virtualization technology, NCFB runs several specialist applications using the SUSE Linux distribution, including several policy management systems and its own in-house Policy Center application. These applications enable advanced insurance policy management and power customer transactions using data from the Db2 database.
“As we increased the volume of insurance policies we were writing alongside the level of personalization we offered, our IT infrastructure came under increasing pressure,” says Justin Randall, Technical Services Supervisor at NCFB. “To make sure we could continue to create new policies and respond to customer queries quickly, we decided that it was time to upgrade our core platform.”
For NCFB, completing any changes to its IT infrastructure with minimal disruption to operations or risk to customer data was a priority. Klein remarks: “Our customers trust us to protect their personal data. It was critical that we achieve a smooth transition to any new IT solutions and that we continued to keep our systems very secure.”
Drawing on rock-solid support
“Our IT department generally maintains a three-year cycle of system upgrades,” says Randall. “We decided to go straight to the latest generation of IBM Z technology: the z14 ZR1, even though it hadn’t been officially released. Through Mainline, we joined the IBM Early Support Program (ESP) and became the first private company in the U.S. to purchase an IBM z14 ZR1, putting us ahead of the curve.
Through the IBM ESP, NCFB gained access to experts in the IBM Labs, via the IBM Z Client Care team. This, combined with support from Mainline, enabled a straightforward, low-risk migration to the new platform.
"As part of the IBM ESP, we really felt that we were a priority,” recalls Randall. “Any questions we had were answered by the IBM or Mainline experts extremely quickly, allowing for a very smooth upgrade. We migrated all of our existing IBM z/OS and Linux on Z applications to the IBM z14 ZR1 without any architectural changes, so we didn't need to divert significant time and resources away from core services."
NCFB takes advantage of Simultaneous Multithreading (SMT) on the new IBM z14 ZR1 to run multiple applications in parallel and at speed.
"The z14's SMT capabilities are hugely beneficial for our customer services," says Randall. "We can run policy management, billing, and other transactional processes using the same CPU at the same time. Whereas on other systems this can lead to processes slowing down, there’s very little risk of that on the IBM z14 ZR1. As a result, we can support multiple departments as they attend to different parts of the customer experience, while improving the speed of each individual service.”
NCFB is also implementing zHyperlink between the new IBM z14 ZR1 and its existing IBM DS8886 storage array, to speed up transaction processing while maintaining robust data security.
“IBM zHyperlink will speed up our access to customer data and therefore transactions,” says Klein. “The upgraded DS8886 will continue to help us safeguard our customers’ personal information, by encrypting data-at-rest to prevent it being accessed by anyone except the parties involved in a transaction. Our customers know we have their data firmly under lock and key."
Ensuring premium customer service
With the IBM z14 ZR1 dramatically improving performance for NCFB’s applications, the insurer can continue to offer tailored policy services without compromising on quality. The company also gained headroom to accommodate anticipated growth.
Randall comments: "With the IBM z14 ZR1, we can take on more customers and still offer the same great levels of service. It’s easy to expand the IBM Z environment as and when we want, giving us the flexibility to act fast on growth opportunities.
“The ability to run our legacy applications and our modern, specialist ones using both the IBM z/OS and Linux on Z is super convenient, and gives us a high degree of IT management flexibility.”
As well as acquiring a robust and powerful platform for its mission-critical workloads, NCFB is seeing the benefits of faster data processing across its operations.
“All our applications call on core systems running on the IBM z14 ZR1," says Randall. "If our agents need to write a new policy, update an existing one, or answer a customer query, they can work faster and more productively than ever before. Once we deploy zHyperlink, we also expect to see faster batch processing cycles, which will also boost the responsiveness of our services.”
Even as NCFB extends its client base, IBM technology will help it to secure customer data.
Klein concludes: “A key word we associate with IBM, and with IBM Z solutions in particular, is trust. The sophisticated encryption enabled by IBM technology puts our—and our customers’—minds at rest, knowing that their data is well protected. From these solid foundations we can focus on offering the differentiated services that NCFB is known for. Consequently, we are confident that IBM technology will remain an essential part of NCFB’s business strategy for many years to come.”
North Carolina Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company (NCFB)
Established in 1953 and based in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S., North Carolina Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company (NCFB) is one of the largest providers of property and casualty insurance in the state. NCFB has assets of over USD 2 billion and writes over USD 1.1 billion in premiums annually, employing a network of more than 800 agents spanning every county in the state, with a focus on home and auto insurance.
Take the next step
To learn more about the IBM z14 ZR1, please contact your IBM representative or IBM Business Partner, or visit the following website: ibm.com/z14
Mainline Information Systems Inc. is a leading IBM business partner serving clients across the USA. Mainline collaborates with IBM and its clients to deliver significant business value through groundbreaking and innovative solutions. Find out more at: mainline.com