Tuesday, May 18, 2010

CLUE database in Insurance

The CLUE (Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange) is a database of insurance losses and claims that was created and is maintained by ChoicePoint. ChoicePoint was taken over by LexisNexis some time back. LexisNexis C.L.U.E. Property reports contain up to seven years of personal property claims matching the search criteria submitted by the inquiring insurance company. So it's the equivalent of credit reports in the insurance industry. ChoicePoint also maintains a database for personal auto claims history.

When we apply for a homeowner's or auto insurance policy, the insurance company orders and review our CLUE report. A CLUE report is a document containing your personal information, as well as data regarding past property claims that have been paid under your previous insurance policies. CLUE reports includes the type of property (vehicle or home), dates of losses, loss descriptions and amounts paid.

Insurance companies use information on CLUE reports to evaluate homeowner's and auto insurance applicants for acceptability. Information can also be used to determine your policy premiums. CLUE reports are used almost exclusively to underwrite and rate new policies. Most insurers renewing existing policies do not access CLUE reports at renewal, largely because they already have loss histories for these properties in their own database. Only insurance companies that subscribe to CLUE can submit loss data and access CLUE reports.

A software program called Quick Connect has been designed by ChoicePoint for sending and receiving information electronically to and from ChoicePoint.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Conceptual model for SOA

Just read a very interesting blog post from Nick Malik, where in he provides a Common Conceptual Model for SOA. I was bowled over by the simplicity of the language and diagram. So easy to explain to a fellow architect embarking on a design assignment based on SOA.

The most important things to work on in a SOA project:
  • Canonical Data Model

  • Canonical Message Model (Shared Message Contract)

  • Service Interfaces

  • Business Event Taxanomy
I have seen that if you get these fundamentals right during the design process, then building scalable SOA based systems is a lot easier.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why Enterprise Architecture?

Recently a friend of mine asked me to explain in simple terms the benefit of having an Enterprise Architecture for an organization. The challenge was to translate the message in non-technical non-complex terms without any jargon. He apparently had read an EA white-paper by a big analyst firm and had his head spinning :) . I won’t blame him – this is a problem with ‘complex definitions’.

As architects, the most important challenge that we solve day-in and day-out is in reducing and managing IT complexity. Yet, it’s an irony that many architects/analysts use ‘complex long phrases’ to describe even the simplest of concepts.

Enterprise architecture is required to give a holistic view of the entire IT landscape of the organization. This enables the organization to view its current state and plan for the future state of its IT operations. EA is very useful to plan and prioritize your IT budgets in accordance with your important business priorities. It serves as a powerful communication tool between the business and IT teams and helps align new IT investments appropriately. Organizations have also started using EA as a tool for risk management and SWOT analysis.

Thus having an Enterprise Architecture Framework helps us in visualizing the ‘big picture’ and the relationship between different domains. It also leads to better governance and low maintenance cost enabled by enforcement of technology standards and architecture guidelines.

Quite often, EA is compared to ‘city planning’. In city planning, you look at the big picture and establish zones for specific purposes. It lays down the guidelines and best practices for buildings, roads, water supply, hospitals, etc. The design of each building is analogous to ‘Solution Architecture’. The special skill of designing a kitchen is analogous to ‘technical/application architecture’.

So to summarize, EA has the following advantages:
  • Helps build a common understanding of the future IT direction of the enterprise.
  • Provide clear mapping of the business processes and the IT systems supporting it. Provides visibility into how the business processes enable the mission of the enterprise.
  • Improves interoperability and integration by defining enterprise canonical message models and data models. Also integration standards and guidelines - for e.g. SOA, MOM, etc.
  • Enables organizational agility - If we need to respond to a business change, what is the impact on the IT systems, etc.
  • Less cost due to technical homogenity that is easier to support and maintain.
  • Powerful tool for communicating risk and change to all stakeholders in the enterprise.

There are a number of frameworks for defining EA – popular among them are the Zachman Framework and TOGAF. I had also blogged earlier about tools used for creating an EA.

OpenSource EA tools

Planning to evaluate a couple of open source Enteprise Architecture tools that are becoming popular. IBM System Architect was the de-facto commercial EA tool in the market and we were actively using it for our customers.

First is "The Essential Project" that was launched last year. It is based on the Protégé ontology tool and allows you to create a meta-model for your EA. It has a EA repository and reporting tools.

Second is a tool called "
iteraplan". This tool is more popular in Europe and also has an Enterprise Edition that is free for use, but without the source code.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Creating Dynamic classes in Java

Earlier I had blogged about the ability to create new classes from scratch in .NET.
I was looking for something similar to Reflection.Emit() in Java. Found a few examples on the web that use the Java compiler to compile source code dynamically and use Reflection to execute the methods.

Other option is to use byte-code manipulation libraries such as BCEL, ASM, etc. A good list of open source byte code libraries are given at:

Payment Gateways

We were exploring the various options for selecting a payment gateway for a new business opportunity. Found this site that has a good explanation of payment gateways and compares the popular payment gateways available in the market.
The site has a brief explanation on each payment gateway. The following gateways are explained.
  • Amazon Payment Gateway
  • Authorize.net
  • PayPal PayFlow Pro
  • VeriSign
  • Google Checkout
  • Moneybookers
  • VerePay
  • WorldPay

Monday, May 10, 2010

Parsing and reading text from PDF files

One of my development teams was looking for a PDF parsing library. They essentially wanted to search and extract data from PDF files. At first, I thought that OCR is the only way to achieve this, but there are libraries available to help us :)

PDFBox : This seems to be most popular library for extracting text out of PDF files. This is a Java library, but also has a .NET wrapper around it using iKVM.NET
Simple examples using this library can be found here and here.

iText & iTextSharp : These libraries are very popular for PDF generation and can also be used for extracting text from PDF files. Sample example can be found here.

I have heard that OpenOffice.org also provides you with a Java API that can be used to create and manipulate PDF files, but have not tried it yet.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Datawarehouse vs Datamart

The debate between creating a datamart or sourcing data from the datawarehouse springs up from time to time across organizations. Found some good links on the web on this great debate: