Infrastructure: It's Not An All Or Nothing Issue

In 1971, I purchased my first house. It was a small, well maintained home that was built in 1953. At the time it was built, it had a septic tank. Sometime during the 1960's, the community leaders determined that the rate of new home growth and housing density was reaching a point where continued reliance on septic systems threatened to develop into a pollution problem. The local government decided to invest in some infrastructure for the long term, and built a sewer system which included sewer lines that ran under the street in front of all the homes in the area. From that point on, any new houses that were built in the area had to be connected to the sewer. Existing homes, however, could remain using their own septic tanks as long as they remained adequately functional. The new infrastructure did not present an undue burden on the existing homeowners. They did not have to come up with funds to connect to the new sewer lines unless, and until, their individual septic systems showed signs of failure. In such an event, the ability to connect to the sewer line was a very welcome alternative to digging up their old, failing septic systems.

Mortgage lenders believed that, given the availability of a sewer line, their mortgage loan was more secure if the home was connected to the sewer. This presented another event in the life of each existing home where connection to the sewer line became mandatory. It was another logical time to require connection to the infrastructure. Given the major transaction of a home sale/purchase, it was not an undue burden to require the relatively small additional expense of connecting to the sewer line. The community was relieved of one more septic system which was no longer polluting the local ground area, the new buyer was assured that he would not have to face an unexpected septic system failure, and the mortgage lender felt more secure in the value of the property upon which its loan was based. So, when I purchased my first house, the home was connected to the sewer before the sale was closed.

Over a couple of decades, more than 70% of the homes in the area became connected to the new sewer system infrastructure without any undue disruption or hardship on the part of the individual homeowners who started out with septic systems. The community, and all the homeowners who became connected benefited from the new infrastructure.

The investment in new computer system infrastructure can, and should, be implemented in a similar manner that does not impose undue cost or hardship on the part of existing older sub-systems. The problem of increasing complexity presented by point-to-point connections, found in older enterprise-wide computer systems, can be mitigated by investing in a new core infrastructure based on a loosely coupled, data centric, message based system. The majority of existing sub-systems do not need to be disrupted by such new infrastructure.

One or two key older sub-systems can be chosen, based on greatest anticipated benefit, to interface with such a new core system. These, combined with any new added systems, can then form the beginning of such a new infrastructure. As time goes by, selected systems can be added to the core whenever they fit into planned improvements where desirable benefits can be forseen and achieved.

The beginning stages of such a new core integration system can immensely simplify a number of problems that have proven to be quite difficult under an older, point-to-point integration system. Some of these problems can include: keeping track of insured accounts (with multiple policies), integration of underwriters with automated work flows, real-time quoting, integrating with vendors, integrating with agency management systems (accepting electronic applications created in other systems), integrating with point-of-sale systems, and many others. Over time, as more legacy systems are able to interface through this core infrastructure, other difficult problems such as managing out-of-sequence endorsements can be more easily handled.

Just as a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step, implementing a new core infrastructure begins with a few small sub-systems and a few fundamental principles. Once the first step is made, regular and gradual addtional steps can be made on a continuing basis to improve an organization's ability to deal with the complex issues of tomorrow.

Robert C. Davidson - July 23, 2003