Mar 18 ’13

Unum: A Model of IT Evolution

by Editor in Enterprise Executive

Insourcing, Mainframe Transformation Program and Self Service Workload Automation Help Leading Insurer Reduce Costs and Increase Agility

Unum is a Fortune 500 company and one of the world’s leading employee benefits providers to more than 170,000 businesses in the United States and the United Kingdom. As a leader in financial protection benefits, Unum provides disability, life, accident and critical illness insurance, helping protect the livelihood of millions of working people and their families in the event of illness, injury or loss of life.

Businesses have depended on Unum for many years to help them provide strong employee benefits packages while controlling benefit costs. To continuously maintain its leadership position, Unum is constantly reviewing how it can better serve the needs of its customers and quickly react to new business needs. Unum also regularly investigates ways to make its employees more productive and efficient, which helps support the company’s focus on excellent customer service.

Both customer service and Unum’s employees are seen as a competitive advantage. According to an independent study performed by Harris Interactive of nearly 1,300 Unum customers, 98 percent of Unum customers are likely to recommend the company to others, 94 percent give positive marks for overall quality and value, and 94 percent give positive marks to the customer service provided.

Enterprise Executive recently visited with Ron Tustin, the director of mainframe infrastructure at Unum, to learn about the company’s latest initiatives for continuing its success.

Enterprise Executive: Ron, what major initiatives has Unum recently undertaken that will help the company continue to reach its goals of maintaining excellent customer service and improved employee productivity?

Ron Tustin: We decided to focus on two major areas that we thought would have a significant impact in customer service and employee productivity. Since our mainframe is very much an integral part of our IT operations that support our business, we have implemented a mainframe transformation program. In addition, we have chosen to focus on areas where automation could improve our productivity. So, we implemented an automation project.

EE: Please tell us about your mainframe transformation program.

Tustin: We implemented our mainframe transformation program with the goals of continuing to improve service to our customers, increase our ability to serve changing business needs and optimally utilize our mainframe resources. In short, the mainframe transformation program enables us to take our mainframe environments that are separate due to mergers and acquisitions and run the mainframe environment as a cluster of mainframes in which any can service the work no matter what the business unit is. This will provide us a very highly available mainframe application environment. Before implementing the new program, we also made the decision to insource our mainframe engineering, operations and production control functions from the outsourced provider we were using, which gives us the ability to better manage all aspects of the mainframe transformation to ensure goals are accomplished.
EE: Why did Unum decide to insource its mainframe environment?

Tustin: For 10 years, Unum had outsourced its mainframe engineering, command center operations and production control staff. While outsourcing served the company’s requirements during those years, new business needs made it clear that we needed to thoroughly review whether continuing to outsource made sense or if bringing all the aspects for supporting Unum’s mainframes back in-house was better for us. Every company’s needs are different, but for us, we found the following financial and business benefits favored insourcing our mainframe operations.

First, lower total cost of operation would enable us to reduce costs and invest funds we saved. What’s more, increased mainframe application availability would help us deliver service to our customers faster—which is what they have been asking for. And taking that one step further, improved agility would enable us to respond quicker to customer needs while also being able to more readily implement changes to improve employee productivity.

EE: So what was required for you to move all aspects of your mainframe back in-house?

Tustin: To begin, we needed to hire a diversified IT infrastructure team. The IT infrastructure group needed to be comprised of a tightly knit team of experts within mainframe systems, but also those who were skilled in applications and distributed systems. This gave us the expertise we needed to overcome a variety of current and future technical challenges. We also recognized the benefit of having a team spread geographically, with staff located at our major office complexes and working remotely across the globe. After the team was in place, we needed to refresh the complete mainframe environment as our hardware and software were at older levels. The team spent the first year installing new hardware and bringing all mainframe software up to current levels. This in itself was a large undertaking and required the team to work almost every weekend in 2011. Once the team was in place, the mainframe transformation program was developed based on business needs and, more importantly, involving our applications architects, enterprise architects and application developers. 

The next challenge was upgrading the many pieces of software to the current level to improve operational efficiencies. In fact, we have implemented an N minus one policy so we are running current versions of software because it helps us reduce costs. There were also software solutions that the outsourcer owned that we needed, causing us to license new software. Of course, all the software had to be implemented as well, which takes a great deal of time to finish. There have been many long days, but the benefits are clearly being realized.

EE: Were there other challenges that had to be considered?

Tustin: Yes, at the same time, the economic climate dictated that we had to operate with very tight budgets. We had to be very methodical in executing the plan so that each dollar spent was truly the most cost-effective way of achieving the desired outcome. Sometimes budgets were reduced and we had to make adjustments along the way to continue progressing toward our goal. Yet, through all these challenges, the total cost of operation is clearly less.

EE: What will be the result of the mainframe transformation program?

Tustin: First and foremost, high availability for our mainframe applications. Although the mainframe already delivers a high standard of availability, the program will take it to the next level by allowing us to route work to the server that can most efficiently satisfy the request. We will finally have the opportunity to reduce, if not eliminate, planned mainframe down time because we will be able to perform system and application maintenance while also servicing the business. Mainframe computing availability, scalability and performance will improve, enabling us to enhance service to our customers and increase employee productivity. When our mainframe environment was outsourced and we needed to initiate a project, add capacity or implement something new, we had to take time to negotiate with the outsourcer and wait for their staff to implement the desired change. That hampered our ability to move quickly to provide the business with solutions they required in a timely and cost-effective manner. 

Today, we can make the decision in-house to make a change and use our own staff for implementation. For example, a business unit wanted to add a development environment to one of our mainframes. We were able to completely satisfy the business unit’s request in about a month, greatly decreasing the time it would have taken had our mainframe environment still been outsourced. Since the additional development environment could be added quickly, we were able to have another positive impact on improving customer service and employee productivity.

EE: You stated you had two major projects—the second being focused on improving automation. Tell us what you have done with automation.

Tustin: The team needed a solution that would relieve us from being bogged down in requests for a variety of fairly simple, everyday tasks so we could spend most of our time implementing and managing infrastructure. We looked at various products and found the BMC Control-M Workload Automation solution with self service capabilities. The product did what we needed and allowed us to focus more of our workday on our primary tasks without adding staff, exceeding our expectations for return on investment.

EE: Did you have any concerns about empowering your users with work that is typically done by the IT team? 

Tustin: There were a few things. We wanted to make sure that we had the right security in place and we also wanted to make sure that users were sufficiently trained and comfortable with taking on the work. 

Security is built into the BMC solution so user capabilities can be limited by their login information. All actions taken are also logged, providing an audit trail. After reviewing the solution with our auditing department, we started rolling it out.

EE: What about the user training and their willingness to take on the work and responsibilities?

Tustin: We decided to have sessions to train the users, and attendees quickly understood the productivity and financial benefits that could be gained—both at IT and business levels. The first session was with the application development unit and they immediately acknowledged that the product would greatly help business partners to gain quicker responses to their requests. While the main reason we licensed the product was to maximize my infrastructure team’s productivity, both IT and business users embraced the self service functionality of Control-M because it gives them more access and control over the things they care about most. They don’t view it as taking on more work or responsibilities—it’s giving them what they need when they need it so business runs smoothly. 

EE: What insights can you relate to our readers regarding your use of self service applications and Control-M Self Service specifically?

Tustin: Since our initial rollout of the product, various departments in Unum have already benefited from the Control-M Self Service solution, including Human Resources and the Data Warehouse groups. The scheduling interface is very intuitive and easy to navigate; it’s a fast and simple way for end users to submit and monitor their work without the hassle of submitting service requests. Not only does it benefit the end user by its ease of use and customized views, it also has contributed greatly to decreasing the number of manual interventions for operations. This product aligns with our Command Center strategy in automating the environment and providing operations with engineering opportunities. We’ve also noticed the solution has created a closer working relationship with the business and the various IT groups using it.

EE: What are the next steps? Are you done rolling out self service?

Tustin: We have more we can and will be doing. We implemented the web interface in our initial implementation. Our next step is to review and implement the Control-M Self Service mobile app. We are already telling users there’s an “app for that.”

EE: What other plans does Unum have to continue to improve customer service and productivity?

Tustin: There are many new opportunities we can now explore to continue improving customer service and employee productivity, and to provide significant, positive impact. The first is implementing a high-availability computing environment. This is where the mainframe transformation program comes in. While the mainframe has been known to be one of the most highly available environments for decades, our business and end customers demand more. We need 100 percent availability on a continuous basis, meaning that no outages—planned or unplanned—can be tolerated. The program we have started will bring the mainframe environment to the next level of availability that our business users are looking for.

The second opportunity is being able to obtain metrics to show the value of infrastructure. We would like to develop a model that relates the investment in infrastructure with an increase in business revenue much like what can be done with an application.

Another opportunity is exploring the benefit that running Linux applications on the mainframe server can be to the business. We have already completed a successful Linux on System z proof of concept and want to understand if and how this will play in our environment. In thinking about recovery alone and our ability to recover the mainframe environment at our second data center, this would be ideal for critical Linux applications.

So even though we have had great success in improving customer service and employee productivity through insourcing the mainframe environment, the mainframe transformation program and automation projects, there is still more work to be done.

EE: Ron, the progress Unum has made over the last two years has been amazing with great benefits to the business. Where do you want to be in a few more years?

Tustin: We want to be a high-availability environment with an infrastructure in place that will satisfy all current and future business needs and permit us to answer every new request from the business with “bring it on—we’re ready for more.”