Details Are Devilish In Insurance Data Conversions

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Migrating from legacy systems, consolidating operations, reducing operating costs–it all sounds good until you look under the covers and discover whats involved in the data conversion piece of the effort.

Certainly the total cost of ownership (TCO) of fewer systems to maintain is attractive, but what effort will be required to achieve this ideal state? Like it or not, data conversion is a price to pay and a critical step in the path to any new technology or system consolidation effort. And, when it comes to successful data conversions, we quickly discover that the devil is in the details.

Its not that data conversions are difficult to understand. After all, whats so tough about moving data from one system to another? Its those unseen challenges that often rear their ugly heads throughout the process to slow down progress and, in some cases, bring the project to a grinding halt.

So, if the devil of data conversions is in the details, the path to success lies in getting your arms around these elusive details by identifying them up front and preparing for them in the conversion project. Not that there wont be challenges along the way, but perhaps many of the bumps in the road can be avoided by mapping out a course to circumvent the past mistakes of others, while also taking advantage of their successes.

Since data conversions are not typically something you will do on an ongoing basis, theres no point in investing the time and effort to develop the proficiency in your own organization. Theres no need to learn the lessons of the conversion “detail devil” the hard way. Others have traveled this road before, so why not gain the benefit of their experience and proficiency?

The traditional data conversion approach of the more arms and legs we throw at the process, the quicker itll get done has proven time and again to be a far less than perfect strategy. The only real measurable accomplishment is that a lot of resources are expended to get results faster but often with cost overruns and questionable data integrity.

Frequently, the conversion never gets fully completed as the arms and legs get too tangled to ever complete the task, and the organization ends up back at the drawing board or in damage control mode.

A better approach might be to build an experienced team of outside experts, combined with your IT and business staff, managing the effort as a true project, rather than a necessary evil or nuisance task.

Approaching data conversions from a business perspective rather than as an IT project will typically reap higher quality results. While moving data from one system to another is not a technically complex process, ensuring the data integrity and applying the appropriate business rules to ensure accurate results often requires the process finesse and rules knowledge of the insurance business user.

Given that the entire insurance industry is built on data and how well that data is stored, retrieved, utilized and analyzed, it only seems appropriate to handle it with kid gloves and ensure its safe keeping. Utilizing your own subject matter experts will not only strengthen the overall result but also minimize the impact of any unpleasant future surprises.

Not only should you find the people expertise to offer the benefit of past data conversion experience, but there are also a variety of software tools available that successfully have been used in past conversions and can be re-deployed to assist in your conversion effort. Conversions are typically a file-to-file process with a bit of massaging completed before reloading to the target system.

When looking for reusable conversion software and processes, consider looking for tools that map the data to the target system by simulating the customer service rep keying the data. These tools offer more intelligence and conversion flexibility by enabling the target system to perform its own validation and edits, ensuring the greatest data integrity while populating the target database.

Without these interim checks and validation from source-to-target, the experienced conversion expert will tell you that the data devil will surely make an appearance when your first nightly cycle is run and uncovers invalid, inconsistent and nonprocessable data.

Processing delays, disruption in billing cycles, delays in agent commissions and an overwhelming number of calls to the Customer Service Department have left more than one insurance operation scrambling and often reverting to the prior production environment just to keep the operation functioning.

Before jumping in with both feet, you might consider taking the time to invest in the front end of the conversion process with a thorough assessment of the current state of the data to be converted.

Reviewing the data for integrity is an ideal starting point and should include validation of common suspect conditions, such as numeric fields containing numeric values and range checking to understand the intended target system edits, or transformation logic that will need to be applied to the source data.

Since these checks are repetitive, they can often be approached through program automation to speed up the process of maximizing data standardization, while minimizing the manual cleanup effort and the potential human errors introduced during manual intervention steps.

In the latter stages of the project, the data conversion will be well served by balancing the financial values such as cash values, loan amounts, and premiums, and defining your tolerance if you are not requiring to the penny reconciliation.

While data conversions may be intimidating and approached with trepidation by many insurance companies, its important to remember that when is comes to a successful conversion project, the devil is in the details. With good planning, an experienced team, and a proven set of conversion software and methodology, the devilish details can be addressed proactively, making for a smoother conversion effort with more accurate, cost efficient and on-time results.

is vice president of Marketing and Business Development with Universal Conversion Technologies (UCT). He can be reached at jkaul@uctcorp.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, August 18, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.