Southern Cross rings in changes

As premium rises focus attention on Southern Cross Healthcare, the company's IT staff will be busy working on upgrades to claims processing and customer management systems.

As premium rises focus attention on Southern Cross Healthcare, the company’s IT staff will be busy working on upgrades to claims processing and customer management systems.

The insurer’s new IS general manager, April Walker, says application changes and system amendments will be needed to accommodate the health insurer’s recently announced premium increases, but the changes on the IT side will be minimal. Instead, an upgrade of the claims processing system, a replacement of the Siebel customer management software and going live with a new data warehouse will be keeping all hands on deck in the IT department.

Southern Cross is set to implement a new data warehouse based on technology not before used in New Zealand, says Walker, who took up the position in July, replacing Roger Martin.

“We’ve almost completed proof of concept on the Wherescape Red data warehouse, which will run on Red Hat Linux on an HP-Intel platform,” Walker says.

It hasn’t been signed off yet, she says, but it’s performed well within acceptable limits. The underlying architecture is HP servers running Red Hat Linux with an Oracle real application cluster, part of the 9i database that enables a database to be installed over multiple servers.

HP and Oracle are providing a pre-packaged cluster customised to Southern Cross’ requirements. The company was involved in the customisation process, but not in the design of the underlying architecture, she says.

“We’re the first installation in New Zealand, but there are a number in the US and half a dozen or so in Australia.”

The data warehouse will replace Southern Cross’ existing system, the inhouse-developed Decision Support System. Walker says while that system served its purpose, it wasn’t as flexible and comprehensive as a product like Wherescape, “especially regarding the ease with which you can retrieve and analyse data”. Decision Support System ran in a Unix environment on Sequent Numa-Q servers.

Walker says she expects the project to be signed off within the next couple of weeks.

“We’re just waiting for full production configuration to validate that everything is running as it should on a complete copy of the production environment.”

Walker took up the new position in July and besides the new data warehouse, another project she’ll be involved with is replacing the insurer’s Siebel CRM system.

“We’ve found that for the parts of Siebel we use, the price isn’t appropriate. We don’t use the full CRM capability and are looking for something more cost-effective.”

Another reason for getting a new CRM system is that support for Siebel is provided through a large consulting firm. “Which means we’re a bit restricted regarding getting support.”

Southern Cross is also looking to upgrade its Perot Systems Diamond 950, the claims processing system it acquired when it bought former competitor Aetna Health in 2001.

While there were well publicised problems with shifting existing Southern Cross members’ details to the new system, resulting in delays in processing and paying claims, Diamond is now performing smoothly and an upgrade is on the cards within the next 12 months.

“The latest release, according to Perot, has richer functionality — it’s a question of housekeeping, maintaining the currency of release and being able to support the business as it moves forward.”

While there is “a whole programme” of work around keeping Southern Cross’ systems current, no major alterations, barring the data warehouse and CRM, are planned, Walker says.

Martin, who was filling the IS manager role on temporary contract until Walker was appointed, remains with the company in a consulting capacity.

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