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Field Report: Insurance House, Marietta, Ga.

In 2004, already 10 months into a major IT project to Web-enable its AS/400 systems, Insurance House faced the ultimate question: Should it stay the course?

In 2004, already 10 months into a major IT project to Web-enable its AS/400 systems, Insurance House faced the ultimate question: Should it stay the course?

Although the popular choice was "yes," costs were mounting. Robert Golden, now director of Strategic Business Services, had been hired to establish a project management office (PMO). He was tasked with making hard decisions--and he sensed one was coming. Using CA's Clarity Workbench and related tools for project planning, portfolio management and IT governance, Golden's what-if analysis told him that the project's payback wouldn't come for a while--very possibly beyond the point at which it would produce real value for the company or its business partners.

"I'd only been with the company a year, and here I was, recommending that we terminate a $2 million project," Golden recalls. "Needless to say, I needed facts behind me to stand up and make that recommendation, and I was able to get them from our Clarity Workbench." Clarity, formerly Niku, offers a range of tools for project, portfolio, resource- and demand-planning and management.

The business-oriented visibility afforded by Clarity came after careful analysis of IT processes and development of a governance methodology done in partnership with Atlanta-based Project Management Leadership Group. "Without knowing the processes that feed information into Clarity, we knew we'd get bogged down by debate about what are the right processes to measure," Golden adds. "We were able to establish true governance over how to execute projects." Now, both business and IT folks at Insurance House can keep tabs on what Golden calls an "ambitious technology refresh," that is aligning IT with business through a "holistic view of how we allocate resources across projects."

A member of the American Association of Managing General Agents, Insurance House offers its products and policies through an independent agent distribution system. Unlike companies that have their own agents, independent agents can sell insurance products from a variety of providers. Insurance House must find a competitive edge with technology that will make its offerings the easiest to use at the point of sale. The technology refresh, which put Insurance House on a SQL database platform that supports data warehousing, lets the company offer high-value information products. "We can do a lot of transformations with data coming from our policy applications, and then send the transformation and aggregations back to the independent agents for use in their own management systems," Golden says.

But to make it possible to produce information services that mesh with Insurance House's business objectives and not blow IT budgets, the company needed to adopt a governance approach and manage projects as parts of a portfolio viewable from multiple perspectives. "Projects take different amounts of time to complete," Golden says. "We have to be able to gauge how far along we are, how much business reward and benefit we're likely to gain and how to manage projects as part of the whole package of investments."

Golden's "agile architecture initiative" covers 12 programs, each with subprojects, which will take the company beyond project and portfolio management and deepen its use of Clarity tools. The company is already using Clarity Financial Manager to handle expense capitalization. Previously, the company couldn't capture or track the time spent on IT projects, much less discriminate between activities and spending that it could capitalize in particular time frames. "We were able to realize about a million dollars in cost and expense it differently, which gives us greater flexibility in our income statements," Golden says. "That got the business executives' attention, and pushed our use of Clarity beyond just an IT tool." --David Stodder