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case study - Polaris UK Ltd

Polaris U.K. Limited
Outsourced acceptance testing service supports Polaris U.K. Limited's imarket electronic insurance trading portal.

A professional acceptance testing service makes all the difference for hard-pressed organisations. When Polaris U.K. Limited faced a growing workload of acceptance testing work for its imarket electronic trading platform, it decided to find an experienced partner. Thanks to OCS Consulting, Polaris now has a flexible and responsive resource, speeded-up the integration testing of commercial insurance software, and freed its staff for other projects.

Owned by the UK insurance industry, Polaris U.K. Limited improves the efficiency and reduces the cost of transacting business between insurers and brokers.imarket is an initiative run by Polaris - the company sets the business process and electronic data interchange standards as well as providing an electronic trading portal - and is currently backed by eight insurers and two underwriting agencies.

According to Development Manager Ann Reeves, the insurers behind the imarket initiative cover some 90 percent of the UK commercial insurance market. Over 2,500 broking firms currently use imarket directly or through software interfaces. The types of insurance supported range from shops and offices to hotels, the motor trade, and professional indemnity.

Common standards
The key to imarket lies in rigorous standards. These cover business processes - like the information provided by brokers to insurers to obtain quotations - as well as detailed electronic data formats for exchanging information between brokers and insurers. Used in encrypted XML files, the standards are supported by software applications at the broker and insurer ends. Services provided via imarket can be used directly through the imarket web portal or integrated through back-office systems.

"imarket allows brokers to trade electronically and more efficiently with the insurers. Most brokers use a system supplied by the five software houses currently integrating into the imarket portal," said Reeves.

As the UK General Insurance industry standards body, Polaris helps to improve quality and reduce the costs of doing business. But ensuring correct usage of the standards is a challenge even though the standards, portal, and acceptance testing service are free to integrators. The latter was previously carried on behalf of Polaris by the insurers but, as imarket use increased, the workload became a burden.

"We couldn't resource internally as we didn't want to divert our staff from key tasks. It was also getting harder to find available insurer staff too," said Reeves. "We were facing difficulties just covering the workload and responding within suitable time-scales.We thought the best thing to do was outsource."

By the middle of 2006, Polaris had found an independent partner to undertake this acceptance testing. Having worked with Polaris before, OCS Consulting was not only happy to build on the existing test scripts but satisfied the other requirements too.

"Our choice was based on an ability to meet our need for flexibility of resource, costs,and attitude to establishing the service," said Reeves. "OCS' professional approach, flexibility, and proven credentials from previous projects were key. And we knew that they would do an excellent job."

Outsourced tasks
OCS began by gaining a complete understanding of Polaris business requirements, reviewing the acceptance testing approach, and refining the testing tool kit. OCS was given full responsibility for acceptance testing of software houses' integrations including regression testing of previously approved but updated systems. This means thoroughly checking business processes as well as the XML integration to imarket.

Two software houses have since undergone a rigorous testing process for imarket integration. An OCS consultant experienced in business and technical skills runs the tests, writing any modified test scripts as required. Any errors are reported and the software re-tested when corrected.

The work is acceptance testing rather than software engineering. From the OCS point of view, it demands broad consultancy experience - a sound appreciation of XML as well as listening and communication skills, business process analysis, and testing along with an understanding of diverse hardware platforms. OCS also works within a tight service level agreement that calls for two week lead-times when requested to do acceptance testing work.

"OCS have done a very professional job. We can get resource to test system changes at the desired time and it also frees Polaris resource to concentrate on more critical tasks. Using OCS means that we can test more than one implementation at the same time too," said Reeves.

Strong partnership
The development of new or modified standards is important too. All the software houses are happy with the new testing arrangements, viewing OCS as an extension of Polaris. The work done has been of very good quality, to budgets and within time-scales.

"We've always found OCS people excellent to work with as they listen well - they're helpful and suggestive as to how things can move forward too. OCS are very professional and are good at keeping you informed," said Reeves.

As Polaris expands into new business classes of insurance and signs up more software houses, OCS will cover all the acceptance testing work. This includes producing and agreeing the scripts, running the tests, and advising Polaris of the outcome. Thanks to its new partnership with OCS Consulting, Polaris is now bringing imarket to more brokers and insurers than ever before.

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