Power of Peers: Who’s Got the Game Plan for Legacy Replacement?


Where do you get a game plan for a game you have never played?     

The St. Louis Cardinals recently got themselves into a scalding pot of legal and ethical hot water for their alleged hack of the Houston Astros database. Baseball pundits speculate that the Cardinals knew exactly what they were looking for, where to find it and the competitive advantage it held for their game plan. 

This isn’t the case for many insurers as they undertake core insurance systems replacements, often for the first time in their careers.

So how does someone go about acquiring the knowledge necessary to confidently execute a core system transformation? One way is to listen to the peer advice that is made available through conferences such as the recent IASA Conference which was held in Las Vegas. 

In a session aptly titled “Avoiding Legacy Implementations”, the panel addressed questions about using best practices in implementations, preparing for future upgrades and system flexibility, and determining the role the cloud can play in transformation success.

What struck me were the quality and quantity—and earnestness—of the questions from the 60+ people in the audience. Around 40% identified themselves as insurers in the throes of planning for an aging core system replacement or implementing new insurance solutions. They made it clear: Legacy replacement is not something they wanted to go alone.

Kudos to IASA. The value of each year putting together education sessions of this type was never more apparent to me. Let’s look at the reality. For most insurance IT professionals, and many CIOs, replacing core insurance software is a rare—perhaps only once in lifetime—activity. Most insurers only undertake a project of that nature every 15-20 years, if not less frequently. So where do leaders of these momentous projects get the game plan? Clearly, hacking into another company’s database is not the solution !

Events such as IASA allow participants the freedom to pose hard questions that might not be easy to ask within their own companies, observed session moderator and CEB TowerGroup Senior Executive Advisor, Karen Pauli, after the event. One audience member asked how the panelists handled a constant stream of project scope and requirements changes. “That can be a thorny subject to bring up internally, without stepping on some toes,” explained Pauli. “However, within the conference atmosphere, people felt free to talk about this difficult problem.”

Panelist Pascal Lavoie, CTO at Industrial Alliance Auto & Home (IAAH), who recently completed a rollout of the EIS Suite, found himself unexpectedly moderating an after-session discussion with two audience members on the merits of upgrading and extending versus replacing aging iSeries (AS/400) systems. IAAH had previously tried and given up its attempt to add a web layer and digitally modernize its iSeries-based system. His experience and advice were keenly sought by those facing the same challenges.

Another panelist, Scott Hunt, general manager of PAS Replacement at CSAA, got approving nods and comments on his caution to avoid having your policy admin system do too much. Instead, he recommended to focus first on what is “minimum necessary and sufficient” and to implement with upgrades in mind by controlling business requirements and limiting extensions and customizations.

There are of course valuable insights available from several sources. Insurance technology consultants and analysts can warn what plays to watch out for on the legacy replacement ball field. And experienced solution vendors usually have the benefit of having notched multiple replacement projects on their lockers and can make best-practice recommendations.

But these sources aside, there will always be something especially candid, refreshing and hopefully revealing about getting advice from peers who have “been there/done that” and gain only the professional satisfaction of easing others on down the right path and into the game.