Liberty Mutual Insurance is known for its commitment to delivering high-quality insurance products to meet its customers’ ever-changing needs throughout the world, helping make it one of the largest insurers in the U.S. To make this possible, a powerful IT foundation and best-of-breed software and services keep everything running smoothly to support the complex applications used in the insurance industry. Liberty Mutual’s success relies on optimizing its mainframe to deliver customer satisfaction and improve the bottom line. In this interview, Mark Cressey, senior vice president and general manager of Liberty Mutual’s IT Hosting Services organization, answers questions about the company’s IT strategies and the daily challenges of meeting rapidly changing customer demands. Mark is joined by Jerry Nisbett, director of Mainframe Services, and Jeff Frame, manager of Operations Support.
Enterprise Executive: Describe the IT landscape for your organization.
Mark Cressey: At Liberty Mutual Insurance, we run a centralized IT infrastructure, with data centers in Portsmouth, NH; Kansas City, MO; and Redmond, WA. These three data centers manage all the host systems that support our customers.
We have three major lines of business: personal lines of insurance, commercial lines of insurance, and agency business—both commercial and personal lines. Each line of business has its own CIO, and there’s also a CIO for the corporate departments. An enterprise CIO also oversees the whole of IT—more than 3,700 employees in total in the U.S. and Belfast, Northern Ireland.
In the infrastructure group, our responsibilities literally span all IT assets—whether they’re mainframes, distributed computing, networks, desktop computing, etc. We’re moving in a “follow the sun” direction with respect to IT coverage, and we’re running Web applications that need to be up and running on a 24/7 basis. Our three data centers span the U.S. geographically, and we’ve started working with our subsidiary in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Liberty Information Technology, to reduce response time to our operations outside the U.S. and process their claims more quickly.
EE: What role does the mainframe play in delivering your end-user services?
Cressey: The mainframe is a critical part of our infrastructure, in large part due to our ability to rapidly provision capacity on demand. The insurance business is subject to cyclical workloads; the best example of that is when we need to meet peaks in demand for customer support after natural disasters. After a major weather-related catastrophe, we might have thousands of claims agents in hundreds of offices across the U.S., working around the clock to help our customers put their lives back together. During these events, the mainframe enables our employees to access and process information—sometimes within hours of a tragedy, and even from the site of the disaster itself.
The mainframe plays two roles in what it delivers to our end users. First, the mainframe provides services across all our business lines and second, it’s a strategic database platform and transaction processing engine. Whether we’re talking about personal or commercial insurance, the mainframe provides back-end databases for mission-critical systems. Its transaction processing engines process more than 26 billion transactions per year. In the area of personal insurance, we have many small offices and call centers that process claims and inquiries. All this processing routes through the mainframe. To improve both our capacity and flexibility, we’ve taken many of our distributed Linux systems and have moved them to the IBM zEnterprise Linux on System z environment. Last year, we also positioned for growth and expansion in our business by deploying six zEnterprise mainframes over a period of 60 days. We continue to exploit the advantages of Linux on System z virtualization, and we’ve also acquired a zBX [IBM zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension], where we’re collaborating with the applications group.
EE: What types of transactions do you run on the mainframe?
Cressey: In the personal lines area of our business, most of the main customer service operations are run out of 550 offices across the U.S. To support these offices, we’re running many applications under Linux on System z on zEnterprise. As the third-largest property and casualty insurer in the U.S., we need a high degree of uptime, whether it’s for processing claims, billing inquiries, or anything else. We need to get instantaneous answers to customer questions.