Insurance company: 1, IT silos: 0

Aetna's three-year service oriented architecture approach is now a part of doing business.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

All good story SOA success stories seem to have common denominators -- starting with a successful sell (usually over skepticism) to upper management to get at least some of the C-level on board, followed by swift, incremental targeting of low-hanging fruit of redundant applications across the various silos.

That's the story just relayed by CIO's Stephanie Overby, who described how Aetna, a major health insurance provider, took on its silos and won. Aetna CIO Michael Mathais initiated the service oriented architecture effort in 2009, to lots of skepticism.  "It was a major shift in how we approached developing applications and capabilities. It took a while to get everyone on board."

How did Mathais sell SOA to Aetna's upper management?  He presented it as a three-year plan, which would commence with the building up of its enterprise architecture staff and capabilities. The effort is now more than three years old, of course, but is now woven through the organization's IT practices.

The EA group started out by developing a "business capability map" that identified IT silos that were ripe for cost-cutting. "Services that could be used by the most business units and customers were created first: for example, those pertaining to plan eligibility or cost of services, which would be accessed by all members, providers and plan sponsors."

Mathais also provides quarterly SOA results to the rest of the company. The CIO even ended up recruiting EA talent from outside the insurance industry.

While Overby's article doesn't get into details of how the SOA effort was structured or the systems it touched, she does provide some interesting end results: while Matthias' team initially expected to have SOA-enabled services reused across an additional one or two applications, the average reuse rate is at about eight apps. After three years, it is estimated that IT has saved about $50 million in cost avoidance.

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