Rise of insurance comparison web sites drives IT performance headaches

Processing costs soar due to flood of automated requests from popular comparison sites.


The increasing popularity of comparison web sites for obtaining insurance quotes is causing IT performance issues for UK insurance companies according to software company, Macro 4, an expert in application performance management.

“Performance problems are being exposed in the long established mainframe based IT systems used by many insurance companies. They can’t always cope with the flood of automated requests for quotes now coming in from the comparison sites and we’ve come across a number of insurers who’ve experienced IT performance problems and soaring computer processing costs,” says Phil Mann, Principal Consultant at Macro 4.

Each time a consumer applies for a quote from a comparison web site, the site will send out a mass of automated requests in the form of XML data streams – a standard format for exchanging data between computers – to dozens of insurance company web sites.

Any insurance site that is unable to send back a quote within a relatively short period of time – sometimes as little as a few minutes – is presented as “unable to quote” by the comparison sites, according to Mann.

The speed of development of this new sales channel, along with time and cost burdens has pressured many insurance companies into taking a 'make do and mend' approach to dealing with the comparison sites he says:

“They already have quotation 'engines' that generate insurance quotes, but these are often part of older systems, very often on mainframe computers, embedded in processes that were designed to be used by real people - such as sales and customer service staff.

The insurers’ IT teams have been forced to separate out the quotation processing element of their systems as separate standalone functions, and to repackage them so they can respond to automated requests from comparison sites.

But the clash of new web technology and older mainframe systems does not always produce the best results, explains Mann:

“Generating quotations - especially in sectors such as car insurance, where lots of different variables are involved in the calculation - is often the most processing intensive of tasks. The huge increase in the number of requests coming in from comparison sites - as well as the need for an 'immediate' turnaround - massively bloats the workload for the mainframe computer processor.

“The insurance companies can’t afford to miss out on potential sales from the comparison sites so they’ve tended to go for the quick fix of buy more processing power, which can be very costly and doesn’t always work if the problem is really an application performance problem.”

Mainframe processing power consumption is measured in MIPS (Million Instructions Per Second) and buying more processing capacity can run into millions of pounds, as Mann explains:

“Each additional MIPS typically costs around £2,500 in hardware and software charges. So if a company running a 10,000 MIPS system increases capacity by as little as ten per cent, the incremental cost will be in the region of £2.5 million. And that’s pretty typical.”

Before splashing out on additional processing power, Mann advises insurance companies or anyone facing mainframe processing and performance issues to call on mainframe performance experts who use a variety of tools to identify inefficiencies.

“It’s generally possible to use performance management techniques to correct inefficiencies in the way applications are running and using processing power. This can mean the same workload can be handled more efficiently using less processing power, so you don’t need to invest in additional capacity.”

About Macro 4
Macro 4 is a global software company that helps organisations to improve the performance of their critical business applications. Macro 4’s solutions for application performance, document management and application availability are easy to use, fast to implement and deliver value quickly in even the most complex IT environments.

US and European subsidiaries and a network of international business partners represent the company in every major market worldwide.

Application Performance Solutions help companies to increase employee productiv¬ity, postpone hardware upgrades and improve customer service by quickly detecting, diagnosing and resolving application performance problems such as slow response times and inefficient use of processing capacity

Macro 4 is a part of the UNICOM Group of Companies.