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Health-Care Insurer Aims To Add Telecommuters, Cut Costs

BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina plans to upgrade network to let more customer-service reps work from home.
When BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina wanted to improve the performance of its call center a few years ago, the health-care insurer created Web browser-based access to patient records and insurance claims stored on its aging but reliable mainframes. In a cost-cutting measure, the company on Monday revealed plans to upgrade its network so that a portion of its 350 customer-service reps could telecommute to work without affecting the quality of service to its 150,000 customers.

The health-care insurer's IT challenge was making multiple applications and large amounts of data accessible to customer-service reps within five mouse clicks, or about 10 seconds, says Bry Curry, director of .Net Systems for BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. In this case, .Net refers not to Microsoft but rather to a segment of the company's IT department that works specifically on browser-based projects.

To Web-enable mainframe data, BlueCross BlueShield last year turned to NetManage's Web-to-host integration tools including Rumba ObjectX, which uses ActiveX, Java, and Dynamic HTML to make legacy data available via a browser without changing source code. "We're not just talking about embedding green screens into Web pages," Curry says. "We wanted to bring screens up for reps that were already populated with customer information."

BlueCross Blue Shield's work with NetManage has paved the way for its latest project--extending that same mainframe access to customer-service reps working from home offices. This will let the company add reps while saving money on the cost of renting additional office space. BlueCross BlueShield is connecting its remote sites with Cisco 4700 and 2500 series routers and linking them with Cisco 7507 routers attached to the mainframes via channel interface processors to create a virtual call center. The company is also adding Cisco AS5300 universal access servers and a PIX Firewall for dial-in users.

BlueCross BlueShield is testing the project with 51 reps at this time but hasn't set a date for wider implementation.

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