The situation facing one insurance company is that growth is good, so good the company is expanding rapidly and needs to implement a database system to store client details and general information, to be accessed by other employees as needed. The knowledge held within the company is currently divided between existing paper-based systems, the computer systems, and members of the staff. The company at this time has 4 branches, each employing around 10 staff members, and each office has separate methods of storing information. Some offices use manual systems, while others have set up their own basic databases, such as can be developed buy using a product like Microsoft Access. Fortunately for any change to be made, each branch employs at least 2 members of the staff who are competent with computer systems. What is needed is a plan for coordinating the information needs of the company as a whole so that each office will be able to include its records, update them as required, and access other information from other offices for procedures, statistics, actuarial information, and other data as required.
The insurance industry has certain information needs and certain MIS solutions for addressing those needs. Many information system (IS) managers in the insurance industry have become confused and frustrated with the various products and methodologies offered. Griffin describes the systems developed for a number of Blue Cross/Blue Shield organizations in three states. A staff of seven programmers work on the decision-support side of the company developing these systems, and they try to respond to the various requirements set forth. The real issue, says the manager, is the underlying data warehouse and not the end-user tool developed to access the warehouse. Custom programs have been developed to maintain the data integrity of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield systems. Some organizations find themselves facing management issues because of the lack of integration of warehouse management tools. Standard initiatives are coming into being to allow IS managers a way to overcome this. One such solution is the formation of the Metadata Coalition in Texas, a consortium of vendors and users working to develop a standard for metadata-to-metadata integration (Griffin 1996, pp. 74-76).
The development of data warehouses, also known as information delivery facilities, is discussed in terms of an insurance company management team by Hollander and Mroz, noting how the team may access and analyze the information it needs to make decisions. The development of a data warehouse, they note, should follow the identification of the business information which is needed but currently inaccessible, and project development should include the design and usage of a prototype system, account for data inconsistencies among different systems, and maintain realistic goals. Both large and small insurance companies have found value in the implementation of data-warehouse systems. Specific steps are set forth by the authors for how to develop a system that will be comprehensive and effective and serve the needs of this type of business, and these steps would be useful for any business trying to develop a good data warehouse management tool (Hollander & Mroz 1996, pp. 104-106).
For an insurance company, normal business needs must be addressed, meaning accounting, keeping client records, payroll, employee records, taxes, and permits and licenses. In addition, a company needs access to various records provided through government of driving records, car registrations, and similar data. Demographic data is maintained by industry organizations showing risks associated with different age groups, types of driver, areas of residence, and similar data showing where higher premiums might be warranted and where discounts might be offered. Also needed is a means of connecting various offices to compare data and keep track of different customers.
The current system makes use of normal business connections through e-mail, faxes, telephony, and Internet services that can be accessed by customers. Records can also be accessed from individual offices over the Internet through a secure system to provide agents with data they need, though such services could be expanded greatly. One of the primary uses of the current system is for accounting in the broadest sense, to keep track of sales, payments, and levels of business. Most records are kept in different form as paper copies or are duplicated for that purpose.
What is further needed by the company is a means whereby employees can gain insight each day into the daily workings, current problems, and future goals of the company and any subsidiaries it might have and to do so on an ongoing basis. Many of the employees may resist technological change, and a major technological upheaval would be especially disturbing to these people. The company needs to remain competitive and to provide the information needed to accomplish this to every employee in a timely fashion. To this end, the company should investigate the most effective solutions for today's market, with particular interest shown in the use of the world wide web, inter-office and global e-mail, cost effective software uniformity, and employee training programs in a general development of MIS for the benefit of all.
The use of an Intranet system would be one way to achieve these goals in an efficient and effective manner. An Intranet would be able to connect the different computers and computer systems of the different offices together in order to provide up-to-date information on all offices to every employee within the organization. The technology is familiar to many because it mirrors the world wide web. It is a more user-friendly system than the Internet and makes it easier for older employees who resist technological change to learn and accept precisely because they do not have to learn that much about computing and can access information with a point-and-click method.
At the same time, the use of a scanning system in the different firms would enable the company to reduce clutter, to reduce its use of paper, to provide a record of nearly every important transaction that could be accessed through the Intranet by every other employee who needs the same data, and would make the companies more efficient by allowing them to search stored data more extensively. For companies in the insurance business, this technology offers a better method of saving and accessing data and so of manipulating that data to produce reports, tables, comparisons, graphs, and other materials that are needed by the different departments almost daily. The computer enables the employee to manipulate this data and crunch numbers at a much more rapid pace than was ever possible before, and through the Intranet the data gathered, shaped, and manipulated by one department can be of immediate use to every other department without the need for repeating the same effort. Scanners are made today that make it easier than ever before to copy documents and store them, and once they are stored, retrieval is a simple matter. Employees can be introduced to this technology with a minimum of difficulty, and the introduction of both scanners and the Intranet can be coordinated so the employees learn how to make the best use of both in conjunction with one another.
In many operational information systems, the data represent a structured collection. This means that one record exists for each item and each has the same set of attributes. Information systems also have validation and referential integrity requirements, meaning there should be no duplications, and multiple references for the same classification of data should have the same characteristics (for example, the same address for multiple contacts at a single company in a customer database).
In transaction-based environments such as banking systems and accounts payable, the cycle and the pre? And post-transaction processing work is predictable. Therefore, the format and schedule of reporting is also predictable. In these applications, standard, cyclical reporting has proven successful for monitoring and controlling transaction processing systems. Knowledge-based work, however, is neither repetitive nor predictable. A knowledge worker uses a wide variety of resources, including information resources, to manage a heterogeneous workload. Because it is impossible to predict the order, style or timing of the worker's information requirements, the information system should not compromise variety, flexibility or responsiveness (Tribunella 2002).
Many organizations' reporting tools require significant programming expertise, which usually prevents a knowledge worker from working directly with information systems databases. The need for unencumbered access to information has made end-user reporting a key issue for the information system industry. In order to give knowledge workers flexible, responsive access to information system databases, software vendors have developed four broad categories of products: programmers' report-writing tools, database connect tools, business views, and natural language. In dealing specifically with production and operations management, analysts note that nothing ever remains the same as everything seems to be changing on a continuing basis. There are many reasons for this, identified as the four basic programmatic variables of scope, schedule, resources, and cost. A change in any one of the variables will have a corresponding effect on the other three. A common element underlying each…