By William N. Pieroni
The rumors of the death of the mainframe have been greatly exaggerated.
Mainframes have played a significant role in core operations and customer-facing capabilities since their inception and continue to do so. Despite predictions of its demise, statements of cost inefficiency and reports of inflexibility, the mainframe has emerged in the e-business environment as a critical mainstay of every insurers information technology (IT) strategy.
Over the last decade, mainframe usage has increased at a compound annual rate of 20 percent in the insurance sector. This critical asset continues to receive heavy research investment, innovative system software development and an increasing number of IT workers familiar with its capabilities.
The enduring strength of the mainframe has been its ability to run large, enterprise-wide systems at a relatively low total cost of ownership and in a fault-tolerant environment. For insurance companies, the mainframe continues to serve as the core infrastructure component, able to effectively and efficiently manage large volumes of transactions around underwriting, policy administration and claims.
Current technologies are advancing past the monolithic, water-cooled mainframes of yesterday into new high-end servers with ever improving processing and storage capabilities. Todays mainframes continue to provide unsurpassed reliability, stability and security. Moreover, mainframes provide a cost effective, integrated platform to consolidate the expansive server farms that arose during the failed client-server era and more recent server push.
As new e-business enabled multi-channel, multi-product business strategies emerge, the mainframe continues to serve as the cornerstone of IT infrastructure. In this new e-business era, the mainframe is a critical enabler of deep computing capabilities, rich media content management, pervasive wireless access and high volume transactions. Vast networks and access devices will also be built around mainframe architectures in order to support timely and cost effective data access and transaction processing.
Mainframes continue to receive multi-billion dollar investments in order to ensure relevance across the stakeholder community. New initiatives in research and development are pushing the current mainframe boundaries in new directions that will further reduce costs and the complexity of the IT infrastructure for insurers.
The new challenge is to allow computing systems to operate autonomously in order to simplify the overall insurance value chain. The primary focus of current research is to build computing systems that self-diagnose and self-heal. These mainframes will minimize the degree of human management required when operational problems occur, and will improve performance and efficiency.
Additionally, advances in mainframes will include real-time risk alerts, comprehensive performance analysis and identification of issues to ensure that disruptions are identified and resolved on a real-time basis. In the context of todays uncertain environment post-9/11, these strategies can have a significant impact on risk assessments not only for insurers core infrastructure but also for their customers. These defensive measures will provide a more stable operating environment and monitor concerns prior to business interruption.